So yeah, the Heritage Foundation hosts a “Jesse Helms” lecture series…

Senator Cruz got in trouble for praising Jesse Helms the other day. In particular, Cruz is quoted as saying: “We need 100 more like Jesse Helms in the U.S. Senate.” This is a ridiculous thing to say. But the most ridiculous and indecent aspect of this story isn’t anything Cruz actually said. It’s the simple fact that the Heritage Foundation chooses to host such a lecture series in the first place.

I won’t bore you with a recitation of the many, many examples of Helms’ awfulness over his long career. My personal favorite was Helms’ charming habit of referring to African-American men, out of earshot, with the uniform moniker, “Fred.”. But wow, there’s much choose from, ranging from his opposition to civil rights to his disparagement of immigrants  to his concerted opposition at the worst possible moment to effective measures against HIV/AIDS.

The normally mild-mannered David Broder nailed it on Helms’ retirement:

What really sets Jesse Helms apart is that he is the last prominent unabashed white racist politician in this country — a title that one hopes will now be permanently retired…. [T]he squeamishness of much of the press in characterizing Helms for what he is suggests an unwillingness to confront the reality of race in our national life.

My own paper, The Washington Post, carried three stories about Helms’s departure. In their 54 paragraphs, exactly two — the 10th paragraph of one story and the last paragraph of another — alluded to the subject of race.

Rather than say more, I simply offer this inspired bit of ACT-UP guerilla theatre in the video below. If Republicans wish to establish a decent, inclusive party, some house cleaning is in order.

Author: Harold Pollack

Harold Pollack is Helen Ross Professor of Social Service Administration at the University of Chicago. He has served on three expert committees of the National Academies of Science. His recent research appears in such journals as Addiction, Journal of the American Medical Association, and American Journal of Public Health. He writes regularly on HIV prevention, crime and drug policy, health reform, and disability policy for American Prospect,, and other news outlets. His essay, "Lessons from an Emergency Room Nightmare" was selected for the collection The Best American Medical Writing, 2009. He recently participated, with zero critical acclaim, in the University of Chicago's annual Latke-Hamentaschen debate.

4 thoughts on “So yeah, the Heritage Foundation hosts a “Jesse Helms” lecture series…”

  1. One particularly galling anti-AIDS measure is the ban on the use if federal funding for syringe exchange. It was removed by a bipartsanish vote (modtly democrats plus 5 brave in 2009 (for FY 10) and restored by the R house two years later. Tens of thousands of people have contracted HIV that would have been avoided as a result. Alas the ban has gotten deeply encoded in the Republican Party and its not like there’s any logical place to go to get them to change their minds. They are impervious and skeptical of the published studies (showing it does reduce infections and does not increase/reduces substance abuse). It’s most vexing. That ACT UP protest was amazing.

    1. Ok. That should have read “5 brave Rs” thanks so much autocorrect. Also in case I wasn’t clear Helms was the originator of the federal ban on syringe exchange. That Rundgren song was pretty cool. I wasn’t familiar with it.

Comments are closed.