The Speartip Of The Moral Majority
July 18, 2018 8:43 AM   Subscribe

“ 1984 the future of the conservative party had already been in Washington for a dozen years. Jesse Helms, a junior senator, was among the group of North Carolinian and Texan conservatives that created their own wave without full national party backing, without complimentary ads from Nixon and his squad, without the money or even full-throated support of the North Carolina Republican Party. His election registered nationally, but only because of what the national media and audience saw as the byproduct—a one-off Republican conservative slipping through while the Democrats picked up two Senate seats and kept a healthy lead over their counterparts in the GOP. Helms was initially cast as an aberration; he wasn’t. He was a reaction, and the future.” How though direct mail, mudslinging, open racism, and television appearances Jesse Helms Invented The Republican Party (Splinter News)
posted by The Whelk (27 comments total) 31 users marked this as a favorite
Right... one more on the list of people to go back and time and stop.
posted by Foosnark at 8:55 AM on July 18, 2018 [8 favorites]

One of my first political memories is being mocked as a kid by the rednecks and rich kids in class for casually mentioning in a group discussion that my parents were voting for Harvey Gantt over Jesse Helms.

Helms destroyed North Carolina, and has rendered it an Arizona-style right wing lock for probably many decades to come. This article puts in words what progressive North Carolinians have intuitively known for decades: that the mean, trolling, gleefully racist Republicans that are a daily occurrence in American life now were once not so common, and, like Pepsi, they are a 'taste born in the Carolinas'.

Every time I hear of some awful thing a Republican has done or said, I think back to Jesse Helms repeatedly calling Harvey Gantt a "nigra" (which he insisted was just his Monroe-accented way of saying "negro", as if that were better). If hell does not exist, I can't imagine where Jesse Helms is now.
posted by littlerobothead at 9:14 AM on July 18, 2018 [32 favorites]

R. CRUMB ‘80
posted by bonobothegreat at 9:21 AM on July 18, 2018 [2 favorites]

My own political awakening was being in college in Raleigh in 1990, witnessing the Gantt - Helms race up close and seeing the slime that dripped off of everything Helms touched... and then watching racial prejudice carry Helms to victory.

Haven't set foot in the state since graduation.
posted by delfin at 9:56 AM on July 18, 2018 [3 favorites]

At the time, when Bono actually managed to convince Helms to vote in favor of AIDS prevention in other countries, I thought this was a bit of a breakthrough. I now sadly stand corrected.

Lighthearded comment - every time I hear Helms' name, I flash back to a comment made by the stage manager of a show I worked on in 1992 - after the show closed, he and his boyfriend were due to travel from NYC to Georgia or Miami or someplace far south, and would be going by train. He quipped that they had gotten a private compartment solely so that while they were en route, "we're going to roll up the shades and my boyfriend is going to give me scandalous head throughout the entire state of North Carolina." It was their fuck-you to Helms.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:07 AM on July 18, 2018 [27 favorites]

This is a pet peeve of mine, and for that matter it may be only my peeve and nobody else's. But it grates slightly every time (like a majority of the time, even here) I see the term "GOP" used even in "liberal" contexts - are people no longer aware it stands for "Grand Old Party"? If the reporter or commenter clearly doesn't consider the Republican party "grand", why are they using that phrase? It seems like a sort of insidious underhanded normalization of the far-right or something.

Okay, rant over, I just had to get that off my chest because it's been bugging me for ages.
posted by Greg_Ace at 10:26 AM on July 18, 2018 [7 favorites]

"Gross Old Pricks" works too.
posted by Foosnark at 10:28 AM on July 18, 2018 [13 favorites]

I like referring to the Republican party as the GOP. It tells me exactly who they are. The kind of people I learned at an early age that believe in "Tradition". Tradition being a word that means in this context: "I get to fuck you, because I can."
Fuck the GOP.
posted by evilDoug at 10:35 AM on July 18, 2018 [2 favorites]

I remember watching Superchunk (and others) play at the old Durham Bulls field at a Rock Against Jesse Helms concert in 1996. Twelve years later, I recalled this as I watched Superchunk (with Arcade Fire)play a pro-Obama Early Voting Rally at the Farmer's Market down the street from my house. I remember thinking, I'm so glad we're past those bad old days.

Reader: I was so naive.
posted by thivaia at 10:54 AM on July 18, 2018 [18 favorites]

Fair enough, Foosnark and evilDoug; but I doubt such usages could be attributed to mainstream media, so it still bugs me.
posted by Greg_Ace at 10:58 AM on July 18, 2018 [2 favorites]

On the other hand, they're currently trying to dismantle the concept of small-R-republican government, so I'm not sure there's any generally accepted name that works.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 11:35 AM on July 18, 2018

Once they established this as a running occurrence, Helms started slapping riders concerning hot-button topics like forced busing or abortion onto appropriations bills, forcing his opponents across the aisle to speak out and oppose them via a counted, on-the-record vote. The amendments were completely performative, but they served their purpose—to tie the Senate in PR knots and give an otherwise inexperienced politician a national platform, one that could stretch its arms past the South and embrace all those who dreamed of “the old days.” The point wasn’t to initiate serious legislative action, but to show a nationwide base who was fighting for their values (namely, Jesse Helms) and, more importantly, who wasn’t.

It doesn't specifically come up in the piece, but as part of this performative strategy let's not forget Jesse Helms and Dana Rohrabacher tag-teaming on legislation to destroy the NEA, or, failing that, silence queer voices specifically. Or, failing that, whip up homophobia, misogyny and racism in the service of the above strategy, which was probably the real goal - hence the Helms amendment directed at the NEA (no, not that Helms amendment - that one was designed as a rearguard action against Roe v. Wade).

NYT, 1989 - Helms Amendment Is Facing A Major Test in Congress:

After months of debate over how the National Endowment for the Arts should be permitted to spend taxpayers' money on culture in America, the legislative battle will be renewed today in the House of Representatives. Both sides in the dispute are convinced the stakes are high, involving issues of artistic freedom and censorship, the proper role of government in the arts and the right, if any, of taxpayers not to have to pay for art they abhor.

Representative Dana T. Rohrabacher, a 42-year-old freshman Republican from Long Beach, Calif., will lead foes of the endowment in an attempt to have the House adopt the so-called Helms amendment. At the heart of his strategy is an unusual parliamentary maneuver.

Ultimately, Congressional critics of the endowment like Representative Rohrabacher and Senator Jesse Helms, a North Carolina Republican, hope to capitalize on a mood of irritation with the agency to institute closer government scrutiny of it, reduce its budget and add moral standards to its grant-making criteria.

Just before the Senate adjourned for its August recess, Senator Helms seized the occasion of a sparsely attended evening session to gain passage by voice vote of an amendment that would restrict Federal grants for art deemed ''obscene or indecent'' or that ''denigrates, debases or reviles a person, group or class of citizens on the basis of race, creed, sex, handicap, age or national origin.''

Representative Rohrabacher, a conservative who recruited Oliver L. North to campaign for him last year when he first ran for election, will be facing a formidable opponent in Representative Sidney R. Yates, a skilled and respected Chicago Democrat who is chairman of the appropriations subcommittee that originates the annual budget for the endowment.

Helms was able to seamlessly fuse racism and homophobia when he went after Marlon Riggs' Tongues Untied (but still couldn't manage to get the title right when he was bloviating about it in the Senate).

Some vintage NEA-related speechifying by Helms via C-SPAN:

Helms banging on about "lesbian themes."

Senator Helms on Blood of Mugwump
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 11:59 AM on July 18, 2018 [1 favorite]

This is a pet peeve of mine, and for that matter it may be only my peeve and nobody else's.

No. I hate the term "GOP," and I hate the so-called "liberal" media using it because it's a nickname that implies a value judgment.
posted by Gelatin at 12:01 PM on July 18, 2018 [2 favorites]

I grew up in North Carolina and fuuuuuuuuuuuck yooooooou Jesse Helms!!!!
posted by scose at 12:25 PM on July 18, 2018 [7 favorites]

Right... one more on the list of people to go back and time and stop.

When someone can get some plutonium from the Libyans and fire up the DeLorean, count me in to give it a shot, but I think this gives way too much credit to the "great man" theory of history.

If you could go back and run Helms over with a car when he was 12, I am entirely unconvinced that the present would be very different than it is today. The conditions that allowed Helms to get into office, the people who voted for him, the underlying anger and ideology — all of that would still be there, waiting for someone else to do the same thing.

The way I view Helms and other high-profile populists is that they're nucleation points for the vapor of hatred and discontent. They're the tiny specks of dirt around which the disorganized, undirected, chaotic activity of individuals becomes organized, directed, and regular. But they are not especially unique or even that uncommon. They are, after all, common as dirt.

We could try, I suppose, to cleanse ourselves of them, and thus remove those nucleation points around which ugly political activity coalesces... but I don't think this is likely to be successful. It's just too hard a task. Studying them can be interesting, but if you want to look at the why, the root cause, you have to step back and look at the system as a whole: what is it that's creating the conditions that lead to their ability to provoke such a violent, sudden change?

Helms and his ilk — to which I would include a lot of populists, including the current POTUS — are opportunists. That they exist is unfortunate, but not the problem; the problem is that they are given the opportunity.
posted by Kadin2048 at 12:26 PM on July 18, 2018 [12 favorites]

His obituary thread is a nice retrospective.
posted by TedW at 12:40 PM on July 18, 2018 [1 favorite]

A 2008 piece in the Raleigh/Durham IndyWeek that followed his death is worth reading:

Hodding Carter III:
The quest for authenticity takes you right up a dead end. Authenticity is only as good as what it actually represents, and we as Southerners have had to spend several centuries trying to grow away from the instincts which Jesse Helms so authentically represented. At each step of the way, there were people like Helms saying: "No, no, no. Listen to the voice of oppression, to the voice of racial hatred, to the voice of bigotry, of fear. I say to you, that is your best instinct."

... He was a man without scruple when it came to assaulting others, and a man of extraordinary talent in knowing exactly how to evoke our worst instincts. He used with extraordinary skill the various perquisites of senatorial life to block the careers of decent and able people and the progress of legislation that was in the best interest of the great majority of American people. He was a great lover of Latin American dictators.
Bob Hall:
Helms' fundraising organization] The National Congressional Club wasn't the pioneer of direct mail, but they did refine that and also develop the use of independent expenditure committees, outside groups connected to the candidate but not regulated in the same way—precursors of the 527s we have today. They were finding the loopholes in the law that would allow them to move large amounts of money to their advantage and do it quicker than their opponent. From their point of view, they were on the defensive—they felt the media was against them and they had to do this.

... A lot of people looked at the new right and said, "Wow, this values thing, the way they craft a message that resonates with Americans, it's about framing and values." But I remember being told by one of the Helms strategists that they believed in messages that are pre-rational, primordial, that connect with a person's gut. They didn't have to do with values; they had to do with emotion. The appeal was basically fear: They're coming after your children, your country, your home, your job—that white hands ad, the racism.
Mandy Carter:
As a black lesbian, I remember that long before he came after us as the gay community, he had no love lost in terms of the African-American community during that whole civil rights era.

... I will leave with the quote of "Never forget, and never again." I don't think anyone could ever replace this man—he was one of a kind. Thank goodness. Helms ran five times and won five times, but in the long run, he has come and gone. We're still here as a movement and as a community, black folks and LGBT folks.
posted by octobersurprise at 1:27 PM on July 18, 2018 [5 favorites]

From octobersurprise’s link above:
...Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who gave a eulogy.
posted by TedW at 1:39 PM on July 18, 2018

Slate: North Carolina Republicans’ Latest Judicial Power Grab May Have Backfired Spectacularly

Remember back in 2016 when the NC Republican headquarters was fire-bombed and a whole bunch of RespectableTM liberals "went high" and donated money to get it up and running again?

Ah, good times.
posted by Atom Eyes at 2:37 PM on July 18, 2018 [3 favorites]

Remember that time Sonic Youth invited Jesse H into the pit at their all ages show?
posted by nightrecordings at 3:15 PM on July 18, 2018 [3 favorites]

Shit, somehow I forgot to celebrate this July 4th. That was the 10th anniversary of Jesse Helms' death. Usually I at least have a shot of bourbon or something and think happily on how that miserable piece of shit is now long dead.
posted by Nelson at 3:29 PM on July 18, 2018 [2 favorites]

My friend Tim grew up gay in NC and his first feature film Dear Jesse just got added to Amazon Prime. I have guiltily not watched it yet, this is a good reminder.
posted by JauntyFedora at 3:36 PM on July 18, 2018 [2 favorites]

Our biggest shitstain, Jesse. He is NC's Mitch McConnell.
posted by yoga at 3:40 PM on July 18, 2018 [2 favorites]

I'm not that familiar with Jesse Helms other than this headline from The Onion's 'Our Dumb Century' book.

"January 22, 1990 - Congress Grants Mapplethorpe 'All The Money He Wants' - 'I Want To See More of These Hot, Hot Cocks' Raves Sen. Jesse Helms (R-NC)"
posted by GallonOfAlan at 4:36 PM on July 18, 2018 [5 favorites]

If you could go back and run Helms over with a car when he was 12, I am entirely unconvinced that the present would be very different than it is today.

Maybe not. Maybe not. But you'd know...
posted by Naberius at 6:11 PM on July 18, 2018 [3 favorites]

The moral majority, as somebody said at the time, is neither.
posted by Pouteria at 6:24 AM on July 19, 2018

Mitch McConnell

Mitch McConnell is the worst Senator in modern history due to his very effective, shameless, and most importantly boring abuse of the system. The fact that there will never be a "Rock Against McConnell" is the very reason why he sends me into fits of rage.
posted by bookman117 at 1:42 PM on July 19, 2018 [2 favorites]

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