Among all the encomia to North Carolina Senator Jesse Helms’ "strong, principled conservatism," while Republicans across the nation laud his tough leadership and contribution to their cause, let’s not forget what the man was:

Often he was the lone voice of dissent in a Senate of 100 often like-minded members. He fought his Republican colleagues as often as his Democratic counterparts. He was the only senator to vote against confirming Henry A. Kissinger as secretary of State during the Nixon administration and Frank C. Carlucci as secretary of Defense during the Reagan presidency. And he was the only senator to vote against making the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday a national holiday. His lone dissent came only after he conducted a 16-day filibuster against the King holiday, during which Helms took to the Senate floor to decry the assassinated King, a pacifist and beloved civil rights leader, for his "action-oriented Marxism."

When you hear Mitch McConnell praise Senator Helms as "a leading voice and a courageous champion for the causes he believed in," don’t forget what those causes were:

During the ensuing months the election contest played to a national audience, and Helms campaigned hard against what he described as yet another effort by liberals to give racial minorities unfair preference in employment. Among the more effective of his television ads was one that showed the hand of a white man crumpling a job rejection letter while an announcer intoned, "Your needed that job … but they had to give it to a minority."

When White House spokesperson Scott Stanzel says "the country lost a great public servant and a true patriot today," think of what our country would be like if Jesse Helms had prevailed:

In 1982, Helms fell short of pushing through measures that would have stripped the Supreme Court’s jurisdiction on cases involving abortion, school prayer, and school busing. He voted often to outlaw or restrict abortion rights and eliminate the use of busing for school integration. He also tried to do away with food stamps.

Jesse Helms excoriated every American leader in his lifetime who took steps to make our world a safer place:

His obstinacy in foreign policy, where pragmatism often guides policy, was remarkable. Few administrations escaped his wrath. He condemned President Nixon’s historic 1972 trip to Beijing as "appeasing Red China." He castigated President Carter, saying he "gave away the Panama Canal." And after the newly elected President Clinton proposed that gays be allowed to serve openly in the military, Helms said Clinton "better have a bodyguard" if he visited North Carolina.

And the world is a less safe place because of direct steps he took to stop progress in its tracks:

Because of Helms, several major treaties never became law: the Kyoto Protocol against global warming, the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, the proposed land mine treaty — all were stopped at his insistence.

Finally, Jesse Helms had a special place in his black heart for LGBT Americans (although I know for a fact he employed several in his Senate office during his long tenure there):

Helms’ demagoguery was a lightning rod for liberals. He called homosexuals "weak, morally sick wretches." During debate on a 1988 AIDS bill sponsored by Sens. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) and Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah), Helms said, "There is not one single case of AIDS in this country that cannot be traced in origin to sodomy."

While Jesse Helms will command respect and teary-eyed testimonials from modern Republicans today, he was among the greatest of the big-time GOP electoral money cheats and a world-class vote-suppressor as well, creating a political action committee that freed him from the national party’s fundraising legalities:

But respect only goes so far–so the Helms campaign hedges its bets by cheating. In 1986, the Federal Election Commission penalized the North Carolina Congressional Club $10,000 and ordered it to reorganize, saying it had illegally subsidized Helms’ 1984 campaign. Last year, a decade after the race, the FEC penalized the Helms for Senate committee $25,000 for accepting $700,000 in illegal contributions. And in 1992, the Helms campaign and the Congressional Club settled a Justice Department complaint over a pre-election mailing of postcards falsely threatening 125,000 black voters with jail if they went to the polls.

By double-checking the dates, you will recognize that these vast Helms illegalities were discovered during GOP Presidencies, long after he’d been re-elected.

In the mid-nineties, Jesse Helms made clear that he was a creature who created himself in the media for purposes of the media, not to add any significant positive accomplishments to America’s resume:

Helms also keeps the media guessing. His staff refused an interview for this article, but Helms recently exhibited his disdain for journalists when a Washington Post reporter asked him what he considered his biggest accomplishment as senator. "Raising the blood pressure of reporters and editors like you so easily and so often," Helms replied.

So, don’t let the Independence Day paeans fool you. Jesse Helms was a bigot, a racist, a homophobe — and a media charlatan. America would be a much worse place if he’d had his way on his many signature issues. Our nation’s birthday is brighter for him not in it.

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{YouTube of Jesse Helms’ re-election ad "Hands" courtesy of SnakesOnABlog}