"I'm ashamed I've done so little,"
February 21, 2002 9:08 AM   Subscribe

"I'm ashamed I've done so little," said Senator Jesse Helms who expressed regret that he hadn't done more during his tenure to fight the global spread of AIDS and HIV. Lame ducks are the strangest animals of all.
posted by likorish (38 comments total)
*grabs Sen. Helms' shoulders, aims him out of D.C. and toward North Carolina, leans forward to whisper into his ear*

Run, Jesse, run!
posted by allaboutgeorge at 9:20 AM on February 21, 2002

He's got a lot more than that to be ashamed of.
posted by briank at 9:21 AM on February 21, 2002

Should a person's motivations matter? Should his past mistakes matter?

I'm glad that he's decided to make AIDS research and relief efforts central to his last year in office. Helms is a powerful man and I think it's good for the cause for him to be on board. Better late than never.
posted by chris0495 at 9:43 AM on February 21, 2002

I think Mark Morford put it best in his commentary this morning in the SF Gate Morning Fix email:

"I have been a rampant misogynistic gay-bashing homophobic chunk of ultra-conservative bile for upwards of 30 years and it's high time I made a couple token gestures to you sinful rainbow Liza-lovin' homos so you don't kill me right here and now, some small and obviously desperate plea to the universe in a futile attempt to slightly appease the angry demons currently gnawing at what remains of my shriveled soul before I die, so I can hopefully avoid eternal damnation and repeated viewings of 'Mama's Family' in hell, though I'm sure it's already way, way too late for that," he should've added, in a pained whisper.
posted by judith at 9:43 AM on February 21, 2002

How sad!
posted by mcsweetie at 9:44 AM on February 21, 2002

Should a person's motivations matter? Should his past mistakes matter?

Yes and yes. The fact that he's been a racist, homphobic prick for most of his life isn't just forgiven because he's a doddering old fool now.
posted by owillis at 9:49 AM on February 21, 2002

judith, i think EVERYONE should get the morning Fix. Really. Great stuff. Coffee-out-your-nose reading.

bad people can do good things. Lets just wait and see HOW he goes about making an impact. Pushing abstinence or providing money for research and condoms? He can get a lot more involved in the fight against HIV and still be an ass about it. What if his approach is encouraging gay men to find christ and be healed so they can have safe, un-sinful married hetro-sex?

His actions will speak volumes more than his words.
posted by th3ph17 at 10:08 AM on February 21, 2002

He praised Janet Museveni, first lady of Uganda, for running a campaign based on "biblical values and sexual purity"...

What exactly is "sexual purity"?
posted by goto11 at 10:10 AM on February 21, 2002

seriously... who is this guy kidding... throughout the history of helms political career he has been spouting hate like a broken water main... check this for some lowlights:

In a tirade highlighting his routine opposition to AIDS research funding, Helms lashed out at the Kennedy-Hatch AIDS bill in 1988: "There is not one single case of AIDS in this country that cannot be traced in origin to sodomy." (States News Service, 5/17/88)

I think that may be the most tame quote in the article... see for yourself... bon appetit!
posted by adamholz at 10:13 AM on February 21, 2002

As a citizen of NC, let me just say: I'm sorry. I can't explain why we kept putting the man in office. Many of us are looking forward to our state finally joining the 21st century.
posted by Dean King at 10:18 AM on February 21, 2002

Better late than never, yes, but maybe it's my own cynicism that makes it hard for me to look at Jesse's turnabout as little more than selfish concern that he leaves some sort of smiley-faced, do-gooder legacy to counter his past positions.
posted by likorish at 10:23 AM on February 21, 2002

The 1997 documentary Dear Jesse explores what filmmaker Tim Kirkman jokes are the similarities between himself and Helms: born within three miles of one another, went to the same college, worked in journalism, and "are both obsessed with gay men." Joking aside, it's a film worth seeing, as Tim attempts to present a balanced portrait of the man who tells a grieving mother that he's sorry her son decided "to play Russian roulette with his sexuality."
posted by judith at 10:36 AM on February 21, 2002

man, he's old.
posted by tomplus2 at 10:58 AM on February 21, 2002

Why is abstinence a bad thing?
posted by byort at 11:46 AM on February 21, 2002

Voluntary abstinence is not so bad. Involuntary abstinence can be a terrible burden.
posted by kindall at 11:50 AM on February 21, 2002

Why is abstinence a bad thing?

It's not a bad thing, however it's not a thing that most people choose as a lifelong lifestyle choice. Abstinence only education is rather like teaching driver's education by simply saying that the only way to avoid car accidents is to avoid ever driving a car while blocking funding to programs that promote the use of seat belts, and defensive driving.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 11:59 AM on February 21, 2002

Chimes in Hitler, "Looking back, maybe I shouldn't have killed all those jews."

Yes, I know comparing what Hitler did to what Helms has done is a bit of an overexaggeration....but you get my point
posted by aacheson at 1:16 PM on February 21, 2002

This is just another old racist trying (eventho much too late) to get into heaven.
posted by bas67 at 1:58 PM on February 21, 2002

Do people in Africa not understand that sexually transmitted diseases are transmitted sexually?

Do these people (as a general group, I'm sure there are exceptions) understand nothing?

Should we be giving our tax dollars to help cure people this ignorant and stupid?

I have little sympathy for people who acquire AIDS as a lifestyle choice. It's like smoking and getting lung cancer, you should know better. That doesn't mean you don't deserve treatment, or that you shouldn't get treatment, I just don't think you should get free treatment. Don't get me wrong, I do not think AIDS is some sort of just punishment for your lifestyle, but I think many people can and should avoid it. I have much more sympathy for people who acquire it as a result of a blood transfusion. And then there are the millions of orphans in Africa, all of their parents dead as a result of AIDS. The key is probably to educate them about how one gets AIDS, and how it can be avoided.

I guess I'm just still pissed at that Captain Planet episode which told me that people get AIDS because I don't care enough.
posted by insomnyuk at 2:16 PM on February 21, 2002

Wow, insomnyuk. That may be the stupidest goddamn thing I've ever read on metafilter. And that's saying something.
posted by Optamystic at 2:36 PM on February 21, 2002

insomnyuk, how the hell is someone supposed to know where and how they first became HIV positive? Lifestyle choice? That's just ridiculous, any type of sex risky. Your post reads like a condemnation of gay males without actually coming out and saying it.

As far as "free" treament goes, Africa is the poorest of all continents. Its either aid from richer countries or no treatment at all.

The key is probably to educate them about how one gets AIDS, and how it can be avoided.

You need to be alive to learn something. Oh also you need schools and other infrastructure.
posted by skallas at 2:38 PM on February 21, 2002

Being literate helps too.
posted by skallas at 2:38 PM on February 21, 2002

insomnyuk, perhaps the worst part of your statement is this:

Do these people (as a general group, I'm sure there are exceptions) understand nothing?

because it reveals your sweeping prejudice for "a general group", your complete ignorance of the lack of health and educational infrastructures of much of the world around you, your assumption that everyone has the same access to health care information that you have been fortunate to have. "lifestyle choice" is a very western notion.

and your attempt to tie the AIDS pandemic to the horrific epidemic of infant rape is equally appalling. both are brutal horrors that should be eradicated. to claim that the whole continent of africa is "ignorant and stupid" because there are horrible crimes happening against the children of south africa, or the brutal murders happening in nations like rwanda, is a willful denial of the way in which the rest of the world has been complicit in allowing or even encouraging conditions of extreme poverty, political chaos and corresponding depravity.

The AIDS epidemic in Africa - and in America and the rest of the world, for that matter - has significantly less to do with willing choices on the individual level and far more to do with social and political structures on the macro level. Implying otherwise, especially with your focus on Africa, reveals a larger prejudice on your part.
posted by judith at 3:15 PM on February 21, 2002

In fact, a lot of people in Africa didn't know that their behavior was putting them at risk for AIDS. Information dissemination there is not what it is here, and for many years governments were denying that there was a problem. I remember one African head of state who claimed that there was no AIDS problem in his country because there were no homosexuals. Also, keep in mind that the time between becoming exposed to HIV and showing symptoms of AIDS can be many years.

In light of this information, calling getting AIDS a "lifestyle choice" is inaccurate, to say nothing of insensitive.

Independent of whether people knew of the risks and of questions about using your precious tax dollars, if you have no sympathy for anyone who suffered consequences because they did something foolish, then there are probably few people for whom you have sympathy. But I guess that's not surprising.
posted by anapestic at 3:19 PM on February 21, 2002

Why can't a person be praised for doing something right just because he's done a lot of wrong in the past? I do not believe that praising a man's action forgives him of his past wrongs.

Do we not want to encourage people like Helms to support more money for AIDS research and relief efforts? He'll never be a spokesperson for the gay and lesbian community and he'll never be mistaken as an enlightened individual. He wont be respected outside of his neck of the woods. He might, if he keeps at it, be a role model for other misguided souls to change their public persona and personal agenda.

Lots of people find religion late in life, maybe people are starting to emphathize with people that do not fit into their own marketing demographic late in life. After all, multiculturalism is the new religion.
posted by chris0495 at 3:38 PM on February 21, 2002

I did not make any comment relating to sexual orientation, please don't put words in my mouth. I said lifestyle choice, meaning choosing to have unsafe sex.

I also disagree with the notion that people who are poor are somehow forced to have sex, or doomed to get AIDS. To say that these people make no conscious choices for which they are responsible is ridiculous. To their credit, South Africa was completely outraged by the infant rape incidents, but I find it incredible that such a belief (having sex with a virgin will cure you of stds) exists. I know better, but it's still astonishing.

there are probably few people for whom you have sympathy -anapestic

Note that I said little sympathy. I do feel bad for someone doomed to die because of a terminal illness. The way they acquire this illness, however, modifies my feelings towards them. If this is insensitive, well, I don't really have an argument for that. I have never considered insensitivity a reasonable argument. But I guess that doesn't surprise you.
posted by insomnyuk at 3:49 PM on February 21, 2002

You need to be alive to learn something. Oh also you need schools and other infrastructure.
Being literate helps too.

I agree with you there, did I somehow indicate that I did not?
posted by insomnyuk at 3:52 PM on February 21, 2002

I have to chime in a bit and agree with some of insomnyuk's statement. Not counting children who have HIV, a good portion of the folks inflicted participated in some kind of risky behavior resulting in their illness (unsafe sex, drug usage). In developing countries, it seems the problem is half miseducation, and half old school machismo (such is the case in a country like Jamaica). I tend to have more sympathy for someone who has cancer through no fault of their own (non cigarette smoker) than someone who just couldn't be bothered to put on a condom or just had to have a "hit".
posted by owillis at 3:59 PM on February 21, 2002

Yes, people do take risks which make them likely AIDS victims, and however stupid these risks are, they are either legal or easily gotten away with activities. And of course none of them would amount to a sentence of death, which is essentially what the sentence is if there is no sympathy from the Congress (who work for us, btw).

I really can't agree with owillis here though. However stupid or illegal the activities which gave the person AIDS are or were, knowing you will die painfully, shamefully and at great expense seems to even the score. People who have to confront death in this manner, often in their prime, are in a situation which is totally beyond our comprehension. As Wittgenstien said, whereof one doesn't know, thereof one musn't speak. Or something along those lines. I think we all make a few exceptions to this rule on metafilter though.
posted by Settle at 4:45 PM on February 21, 2002

Since when is compassion something people have to earn, or something that one threatens to take away from the unworthy? That's fucked up. I'd like to send y'all into a room full of lung cancer victims, adult diabetics and AIDS patients, and watch you tell them that really, it's their own damn fault. That would be very Helmsian, wouldn't it?
posted by varmint at 4:49 PM on February 21, 2002

"lifestyle choice" has long been a euphemism for "homosexual sex" when talking about HIV, and in this modern world of talking about things indirectly, people assumed you were using it in that manner, thats all.

HIV is not some will-o-god punishment for being gay, it is a disease that needs to be fought with education and lots of condoms, as well as the smashing of social customs that prohibit safe behavior
posted by th3ph17 at 4:54 PM on February 21, 2002

varmint, great point. I hope owillis and insomnyuk don't make any important decisions at any hospital or charitable organization.
posted by skallas at 5:17 PM on February 21, 2002

owillis and insomnyuk, while I understand what you trying to say, ie "shooting dope and having unsafe sex(not gay sex, unprotected sex) is a stupid risk to take in this day and age" and that correctly(or incorrectly) you don't like being told that the spread of AIDS is due to your lack of caring. I've read enough posts from both of you to get the impression that your both decent compassionate people.

However, what I've seen of the ravages of this disease I wouldn't wish on my worst enemy. What we really need is not more rhetoric from either side, just a lot of good minds working overtime to stop this disease from spreading and to banish it from the earth. Or alternately as a button I once read said: "Fuck the red ribbons, find a cure!"

posted by jonmc at 5:54 PM on February 21, 2002

Why can't a person be praised for doing something right just because he's done a lot of wrong in the past?

Because this is not Return of the Jedi, Jesse Helms is not Darth Vader, and saying he wished he could do more about AIDS sure as shit ain't pitching the Emperor over the railing.

Oh, wait, maybe that childish morality tale does apply here! I mean, you know, sure Helms has been a horribly wretched human being and has done nothing to stem the tide of the worst health hazard in modern times - I mean, it's only a plague, Jesse, a good Christian like you should know all about that! - but now that he's a doddering old fool and feels the icy hand of Death approaching, he gets to say, "I wish I had done more!" Oh, let us throw ourselves at his feet and accept his empty little words!

Fuck you, Helms. The 8th Circle awaits, for hypocrites and sowers of schism.
posted by solistrato at 9:24 PM on February 21, 2002

I'll probably regret even posting in this thread, but sjc, according to the article, Helms hasn't "done nothing to stem the tide of the worst health hazard in modern times."

"In 2000, as then-chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Helms co-authored and pushed through Congress legislation authorizing $600 million in U.S. funds for AIDS treatment and relief in Africa and other poor nations."

I make no judgment as to the adequacy of his efforts other than to say that apparently, again according to the article, Helms thinks that he hasn't done enough.
posted by EatenByAGrue at 9:38 PM on February 21, 2002

Remember, Helms has DONE NOTHING so far, it's just a bunch of words. I just sort of blink, shake my head and think, "Nice try, I almost got pissed, I know you like the sound of your own voice, but now prove it".
posted by yonderboy at 10:31 PM on February 21, 2002

Of course, if an AIDS vaccine was invented, I'm sure there would be the occasional conservative who would oppose giving it to people because "that would only encourage them to have sex."
posted by insomnyuk at 12:43 PM on February 22, 2002

from NC again, coming in late (and probably never to be seen) -- an article just published locally: What's worse, the old, uncaring Jesse, or the new, falsely repentant Jesse?
When asked to explain his new position on AIDS, Helms suggested his views had been shaped by his unlikely friendship with Irish rock star Bono of the band U2. The pair met in September 2000 when Bono managed to bend Helms' ear by citing Bible passages--passages that urge Christians to help the afflicted.
Helms' office did not return phone calls from The Independent. But when staff members in [the Alliance of AIDS Services-Carolina] called and asked what AIDS policies the senator had been referring to when he said he'd done too little, they were told in no uncertain terms that Helms had been talking about foreign, not domestic AIDS programs.
posted by Dean King at 7:17 AM on March 1, 2002

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