“We need 100 more like Jesse Helms…”

Senator Jesse Helms salutes during a Senate foreign relations committee meeting in February 2002. Photograph: Mark Wilson/Getty Images
Senator Jesse Helms salutes during a Senate foreign relations committee meeting in February 2002. Photograph: Mark Wilson/Getty Images

I love when those so anxious to re-imagine history and the figures entrenched in it actually say something so asinine that all I can do is shake my head.

That happened earlier this week when Texas Senator Ted Cruz spoke in praise of former North Carolina Senator Jesse Helms, who passed away in 2008. In a speech at called the Heritage Foundation called “Jesse Helms Lecture Series,” Cruz declared the U.S. Senate needed a 100 men more like the deceased former North Carolina senator:

Cruz told a story of Helms receiving a $5,000 political donation from actor John Wayne, who apparently later told Helms he liked him because “you’re that guy saying all those crazy things” and that there needed to be 100 more of him.

“It’s every bit as true now as it was then,” Cruz said. “We need 100 more like Jesse Helms in the U.S. Senate.” (SOURCE)

Yes, he actually said this. He actually praised the last U.S. senator who was unapologetic in his racist, homophobic world views.

This is the same Jesse Helms who sang Dixie in front of Carol Mosley Braun, the one and only black female senator to have ever served in Congress, in an effort to make her cry. This is the same Jesse Helms who, in an effort to appeal to his white North Carolinian base, approved running the blatantly racist, infamous White Hands campaign ad to exploit anti-affirmative action sentiment.


This is the same Jesse Helms who held firm in his segregationist roots, who led a 16-day filibuster naming a national holiday after Civil Rights icon Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who made homophobic and disparaging remarks about HIV/AIDS, who voted against the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and the Civil Rights Act of 1964, etc. I could go on and on, but I’m sure there are many instances in which I can prove just how vile and repugnant Jesse Helms’ politics and opinions were.

While I can stomach conservatives wanting to praise the champions of causes so near and dear to their hearts, there are some folks who should go down in history as pure bigots. And Jesse Helms is one of those people. I’m not sure what is the root cause, but people tend to develop sanitized views of national and world leaders once they’ve passed and have had time to reflect on their tenure. The same revisionist history happened when Margaret Thatcher passed away earlier this. People were quick to praise her for her tough stance on various issues, but forget that she turned the other cheek when it came to issues such as apartheid.

The same can be said for politicians looking to score brownie points with the establishment. Trent Lott did it with his praise of Strom Thrumond, and now Ted Cruz is following in the same footsteps in his adoration of Helms’ leadership style. No, the U.S. Senate does not need the likes of Strom Thurmond or Jesse Helms. Or even Robert Byrd for that matter. We do not need politicians who are throwbacks to a time in which people like myself and other marginalized bodies were denied equal protection under the law and basic civil rights and liberties granted to white, male, heterosexual, able-bodied, protestant men in the good ol’ U.S. of A.

We do not need politicians who proudly cling to Confederate, Antebellum ideas and traditions. We do not need politicians who happy engage in passive aggressive forms of blatant racism in an effort to make a black woman cry. We do not need politicians who want to rollback women’s rights, who proclaim HIV/AIDS isn’t worthy of a cause to take up and who would prefer the GLBTQ community live in secrecy.

We do not need any more men and women like Jesse Helms. Helms has served his time in the Senate and I’m sure the people of North Carolina appreciate his public service. Rewriting history and whitewashing Helms’ past does a disservice to the marginalized groups he publicly expressed contempt for.