Jul 042008

Today is a day or ironies. George Bush is visiting Thomas Jefferson’s beloved Monticello on this the 232nd anniversary of our declaration of independence from a king named George. As Jefferson warned that Americans would have to be ever on their guard against those who might turn the presidency into the tool of their “elected despotism,” I doubt he would be greeting Bush.

We live in a time where the very freedoms bought at so great a price by the founding fathers are being left in shreds. Dick Cheney has successfully convinced Americans they are safer with a “unitary executive.” How have American’s bought into this lie? This is the thing the founders were most interested in guarding against.

We have become a country comfortable with torture, willing to accept indefinite detention of both Citizens and non-citizens without benefit of habeas corpus, and we have come to believe we can trade our freedoms for security. We now have neither.

In another ironic twist, Jesse Helms, 86 year old retired Senator from North Carolina died today. All the pundits will take to the airwaves to talk of how Jesse Helms was a great American…a real patriot. Jesse Helms was neither, and will be someday acknowledged as the father of divisive politics in America. It is from Helms that political operatives learned how to use scapegoats and fear mongering to turn Americans against some enemy (even themselves) in order to further their own political aims.

Karl Rove perfected the technique, but Jesse Helms is the man who developed it. When the Soviet Union fell and Helms lost his primary enemy, he learned he could create an inside threat. First, it was gay people in general, then, as manna from God came AIDS, and Jesse could attack Gays as public health enemies who deserved what they got. Despite what you will read and hear, on this 4th of July, America lost not a patriot, but one of it’s greatest enemies.

Some find hope in the Obama candidacy. I hope it sparks a renewal of the American Spirit, but great damage has been done, and it will take much to reverse the decline of the great American Experiment. I hope he can inspire an American renewal, but my enthusiasm is tempered.

On this day when we pause to consider Patriotism, I find it being attacked on all sides. The first great precept of Patriotism is the right and obligation to question the leaders of government. The current government insists that to question them is to be unpatriotic. We squabble over what a person wears on his lapel, but I tell you that those who demand these superfluous shows are usually the least patriotic, but we take up their cause with enthusiasm.

Patriotism, true patriotism, is not found in a lapel pin, but in the soul. I find patriotism in the trembling hands of an American Veteran wearing his American Legion hat and proudly raising his hand in salute during the Presentation of The Colors. I know patriotism when I feel that chill run up my spine as I look at the flag flying in the mountain breeze against a brilliantly blue North Carolina sky while the ASU Marching Band plays the National Anthem. I see patriotism in the people who write their representatives and demand better from them.

On this day when we celebrate patriotism, I try to maintain hope, knowing it’s easier for me than for those founders 230 years ago as they took those tentative steps towards a brave new form of self-government. But we have traveled a long way from those innovative thoughts. Perhaps this generation doesn’t have the courage or strength for self-government, but I will continue to hope, I will continue to do what little I can, and I invite you to demand a return to the found ideals of America. The served us well for the first 200 years.

Jesse Hopes Jesus Reads

 Politics, Society  Comments Off on Jesse Hopes Jesus Reads
Jun 112005

"Here’s Where I Stand," to be published in September by Random House, contains Jesse’s first extended comments on national affairs since he retired from the Senate in 2003 after five terms.

Helms, as a TV commentator in Raleigh in the 1960s, raved against civil rights and desegregation and opposed nearly every civil rights bill while in the Senate. He has never retracted his views on race or said segregation was wrong.

According to his book, Helms believed voluntary racial integration would come about without pressure from the federal government or from civil rights protests that he said sharpened racial antagonisms. "We will never know how integration might have been achieved in neighborhoods across our land, because the opportunity was snatched away by outside agitators who had their own agendas to advance," he wrote. "We certainly do know the price paid by the stirring of hatred, the encouragement of violence, the suspicion and distrust.". I guess we will also never hear him admit he was trying to stir the pot himself.

Helms also was an outspoken opponent of laws to protect homosexuals from discrimination and of funding for AIDS research, but he writes in the book that his views evolved during his final years in the Senate. He cited friendships he developed with North Carolina evangelist Franklin Graham and rock singer Bono, both of whom got him involved in the fight against the AIDS epidemic in Africa.

I remember those good ole boys out in the eastern part of North Carolina, and how they used to say, “You might now like Jesse Helms, but you always know where he stands. I loved to ask him where he stood on things like capital gains taxes, trade deficits, the national debt, etc.

Funny, they never knew where Jesse stood on those issues…all they knew was that he hated communists when that was in fashion, and queers (and by extension the National Endowment For The Arts) when communism was no longer a threat. In fact, you never really heard from Helms until about a year before re-election, and then he’d come charging out of the closet with some attack in queers, people with aids, or some artist that produced objectionable stuff. Then he was all over the news for the coming year, and got re-elected….because, “you know where Jesse stands.”

At 83 years old, I suspect Jesse now knows where he stands too…in the twilight of his life. I’m guessing he wants to try to justify some of hatred and vitriol he spewed over the years, or re-write his history all together. I suspect maybe the mighty Jesse is starting to think about how he’ll explain things when to St. Peter at the Pearly Gates, and I’m sure he’s hoping God will read his book…you know, so he can understand that Jesse meant well along. Really, it didn’t mean anything…it was all just for the sake of politics.