Jesse Helms Dead at 86

United States Senator Jesse Helms, 1921-2008Former North Carolina Senator Jesse Helms died this morning, joining John Adams and Thomas Jefferson in the distinction of passing on Independence Day. Raleigh’s WTVD notes,

In North Carolina Helms was a polarizing figure, and he freely admitted that many people in the state strongly disliked him: “They (the Democrats) could nominate Mortimer Snerd and he’d automatically get 45 percent of the vote.” Helms was particularly popular among older, conservative constituents and was considered one of the last “Old South” politicians to have served in the Senate. However, he also considered himself a voice of conservative youth, whom he hailed in the dedication of his autobiography. He is widely credited with helping to move North Carolina from a one-party state dominated by the Democratic Party into a competitive two-party state that usually votes Republican in presidential elections. Under Helms’ banner, many conservative Democrats in eastern North Carolina switched parties and began to vote increasingly Republican.

Because of recurring health problems, including bone disorders, prostate cancer and heart disease, Helms did not seek re-election in 2002. His Senate seat was won by Elizabeth Dole, wife of long-time colleague and former Senator Bob Dole. Helms remains to date the longest-serving popularly-elected U.S. senator in North Carolina history.

I got the news from Rob Bluey, who calls Helms “a truly great American and champion of freedom.”

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Black Political Analysis says:

    While many blacks had, how do we say this, mixed feelings on Senator Helms, you always hate to see anyone die. But, I’m not sure he was the last of the “Old South” Senators. Even though he’s recently out of office, I think you could include Trent Lott as the last “Old South” senator even though he didn’t get to Congress until the 1970s.

  2. Jim Henley says:

    you always hate to see anyone die.

    Au contraire!

  3. legion says:

    I’m with Jim. AmericaBlog has a long list, but here’s just one snippet of Helms’ “championship” of freedom:

    And the man ABC News now describes as a “conservative icon” (8/22/01) in 1993 sang “Dixie” in an elevator to Carol Moseley-Braun, the first African-American woman elected to the Senate, bragging, “I’m going to make her cry. I’m going to sing Dixie until she cries.” (Chicago Sun-Times, 8/5/93)

    That was 1993, people. The man was unrepentant slime, and both Congress and humanity are better off without him.

  4. Tom Traubert says:

    His was a long life for which there is nothing to celebrate.

  5. bains says:

    Jim Henley, representing the social libertarian left.

    Well said… and speaks much to your values ambitions.

  6. bains says:

    Ain’t it interesting who really dances on graves.

  7. William d'Inger says:

    Ain’t it interesting who really dances on graves.

    Yeah. With their beloved patriarch Ted Kennedy on the short timer’s list, one would think they would have more consideration for mortality.

  8. jeff b says:

    One less ignorant bigot in America.

  9. FanOfBarry says:

    I started calling myself a conservative because I was proud to be associated with the ideas and politics of people like Barry Goldwater. I stopped calling myself a conservative when the title became too closely associated with assholes like Helms. Good riddance.

  10. Steven Donegal says:

    I don’t know who Rob Bluey is and based on his comment, I never want to know.

  11. Benedict says:

    You know, James, it’ll be interesting to see whether any of the enlightened champions of civil rights who have so far posted on this thread show up to comment on your post announcing the death of Exalted Cyclops of the KKK Robert “White Nigger” Byrd.

    Or, as William d’Inger mentioned at 6:25, whether they show up to offer a remembrance of Mary Jo Kopechne when you announce Ted Kennedy’s death.

    I’m thinking it’ll be nothing but crickets and excuses.

  12. William d'Inger says:

    In spite of my anger, I am going to keep this civil.

    For the record, I never mentioned Mary Jo Kopechne in this thread (before now), and I am outraged that somebody would use her name in a sentence beginning: “as William d’Inger mentioned”. Whatever I do say is fair game for anyone wanting to take a shot at me, but I will not abide people putting words in my mouth. Understood?!

  13. Anderson says:

    With unintentional humor, Jim Lindgren at the Volokh blog gets all huffy b/c NBC referred to Helms as having “led the rise of the modern conservative movement.”

    I thought that wonderfully illustrated the disconnect between people who describe themselves as “principled” conservatives, vs. the other 95% of the movement who actually supply the votes.

    (Not that Lindgren himself is a self-described conservative, but some of his best friends are, and they would never have followed a Jesse Helms … etc.)