Good riddance to Jesse Helms, one of the most unreconstructed reactionaries on the political stage for the last three decades.
Never one to shrink from playing the race card, Helms opposed the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday and infamously won reelection one time by making a commercial against affirmative action that showed a white person's application being torn up.
When Carol Moseley-Braun, Democrat of Illinois, became the first black woman elected to the U.S. Senate, Helms greeted her with his usual class. Riding in an elevator with her, he started whistling "Dixie."
A nativist in foreign policy, Helms opposed the U.N. at almost every turn.
He used anti-communism as a cudgel, banging away at Fidel Castro and the Sandinistas.
And he snuggled up to the most rightwing and brutal regimes on the face of the Earth.
"He embraced the vicious system of racial apartheid and its morally repugnant leaders in South Africa and Rhodesia," Al Hunt wrote in The Wall Street Journal. "He was the leading supporter of an array of South American thugs-Pinochet in Chile, Paraguay's Stroessner, D'Aubuisson in El Salvador, and Cedras in Haiti."
His was the most distasteful brand of conservatism, rooted in white privilege and the romantication of dictators who favored American business.
So exit stage right, and be gone.
Unfortunately, some of Helms's views will be with us a while longer. His disdain for international agreements, his nativist knownothingism, has taken up residence in the White House.
In time, this policy may come to be seen as backward as Helms's racism, but we're not nearly there yet.
Still, Helms's packing it up is a cause for rejoicing.
There's one less bigot in power.
Copyright 2001 The Progressive, Madison, WI