Anecdotes

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"Anecdotes"

Alan Jacobs offers one about the late Senator Jesse Helms:

[A] story I heard years ago from a young man who as an undergraduate did an internship in Helms’s office. Senator Helms was a particular target of Bono’s persuasive powers, and indeed near the end of his career he threw his considerable weight behind increased funding for AIDS projects in Africa. This young man claimed that he was in the office one day when Bono came by with the Edge in tow.

“Senator Helms,” Bono said, “I’d like you to meet the Edge.”

Helms stuck out his hand. “It’s a pleashuh to meet you, Mistuh the Edge.”

Other wacky anecdotes include Helms’ staunch support for apartheid South Africa, whistling “Dixie” in front of Carol Moseley Braun when she joined him in the United States Senate and how he enjoyed “railing against [Martin Luther] King, ‘Negro hoodlums,’ the media, ‘sex perverts,’ and anyone on welfare.”

One strange aspect of the settlement of the Civil Rights controversy was that this social and political upheaval resulted in surprisingly little actual political turnover. Instead of segregationist politicians being defeated and hounded of out public life, in essence they agreed to stop challenging the core principles of the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts (gutting enforcement under GOP presidents was still okay) and in exchange everyone else agreed to sort of ignore their backgrounds. I’ve written about this before with regard to John Stennis and James Eastland but it’s remarkable how little removed we are from the era when vast power was wielded in American politics by people with backgrounds as white supremacist politicians of which I guess you’d say Robert Byrd is the last.

And, of course, within that group there were considerable distinctions, with Helms holding distinction as amongst the very least-repentant.

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