By Patrick Martin:
7 July 2008
The US media treated the death of former senator Jesse Helms [on] July 4 as a major national event. His demise led several of the national newscasts and there were lengthy obituaries the next day in the national newspapers. But one would search in vain for serious analysis of how this bigoted hatemonger came to play a significant role in American political life, to the point where he was described, in numerous right-wing tributes, as the “second most important conservative” of the past half century, after former president Ronald Reagan.
Particularly obscene were the commentaries—from the Wall Street Journal, the Reverend Billy Graham, several Republican congressmen from North Carolina, and, inevitably, President Bush—which noted the coincidence of Helms’s death and the US Independence Day. The official White House statement declared, “Jesse Helms was a kind, decent and humble man and a passionate defender of what he called ‘the Miracle of America.’ …
In 1960 Helms took a job as a TV commentator, the position that would prove the real launching pad for his political rise. For 12 years he railed against “Negro hoodlums,” “sex perverts,” Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and other civil rights “agitators,” and denounced welfare recipients, saying in one broadcast, “A lot of human beings have been born bums.”
By 1972 the Democratic Party in North Carolina was deeply split over the issue of race. Senator B. Everett Jordan, a three-term incumbent and longtime defender of segregation, was challenged for the Democratic nomination by Congressman Nick Galifianakis, who won a bitter primary fight with the support of many newly registered black voters. Helms switched parties, sought the Republican nomination and won a narrow victory, becoming the first Republican ever to win a Senate race in North Carolina. Former Democrats, many motivated by white racism, provided his 54-46 percent margin.