The man who was my senator (not by my choice) for most of the first half of my life died this morning at age 86.
Normally, I'd speak respectfully of the dead, but this man had no respect for anyone who didn't agree with him, and he actively and willfully caused harm to people for many, many years.
One story that was spread widely about him was that he was the main reason that Reagan did not take action on AIDS during the 1980's. The reported conversation was along the lines of "Look who it's killing -- gays, Haitians and drug users. Let it do our work for us." It may prove to be apocryphal, but it's certainly easy to believe as true.
Unquestionably, Helms went to great pains to stop federal funding for AIDS research and AIDS education programs. He said that telling people how not to get AIDS was promoting homosexual activity, and the government shouldn't pay for that. He was famously quoted as saying that if young people read about safe sex practices, they would want to try them. Whoopi Goldberg's response was, "Well, Jesse, who are you fucking and what's his name, because I know you read the pamphlet."
Yet if you go to the Helms Center's web site, Helms is painted as a tireless fighter against AIDS (in Africa).
In 2005, Helms wrote a memoir in which he claimed a change of heart on AIDS (in Africa, not in degenerates and illegal aliens). Well, this is one instance in which forgiveness should not be on the table. His actions in the 1980's almost certainly killed people or at least contributed to their deaths, and saying "I was wrong" just ain't nowhere near enough to make up for the devasation he left in his path.
He was also famous for another quote (quoting here from Frommer's): In response to the popular desire for establishing a North Carolina state zoo, "(f)ormer Senator Jesse Helms, a right-wing conservative, once asked, 'Why build a zoo when we can just put up a fence around Chapel Hill?'"
People from Chapel Hill are very fond of this quote, and they will recite it at any given opportunity....
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