Sunday, July 06, 2008

Speaking about the dead

Generally, people seem to adhere to the old principle that one shouldn't speak bad about the dead. Especially not when they are recently dead.

To some degree I concur with this - when someone is dead, it's not possible for them to defend themselves, and it brings anguish to those people left behind. However, that doesn't mean that one shouldn't speak truthfully about the dead, and make clear what kind of person they were - especially not if it was a public person.

Why do I bring this up? Well, because of Jesse Helms.

Like when Jerry Falwell died, a lot of people seem to be busy with saying good things about Jesse Helms, and his contributions to US politics. Others, being more realistic, tries to tell the truth about his politics, but to say nice things about his personality.

A good example of the first group, is President Bush, who has praised Helms saying that he was a "unwavering champion of those struggling for liberty". Here, I presume Bush means "as long as they were not Gay or People of Color", whose liberty Helms' had a long record of opposing.

To the second groups belongs the New York Times, who in their obit of Helms goes to great pains to portrait him as a likable man, even while describing his politics fairly accurately.

Well, I am sorry, but Helms' record speaks for itself. He opposed the liberty of homosexuals and minorities, and his attempt to stop funding for AIDS research did real harm to a lot of people. There is nothing good to be said about the man, and while I'm sorry for his family, I think the US is a better place for him not being there any longer.

For a better obit of Helms, I recommend the one in the Guardian, which contains passages like this one.

What is beyond question is the malign impact of Helms's innovation on all subsequent American politics. He inaugurated the age of massive back-door political donations, now euphemistically known as "soft money". In his own 1984 re-election battle, he spent $16.5m, then the most expensive Senate campaign in American history (and the federal election commission twice penalised him for using illegal contributions). Sixteen years later, a New Jersey candidate would lavish $60m on gaining a Senate seat, making it evident how effectively Helms's initiative had opened political office to the highest bidder.

Given the age of these people, I guess that we will have a lot of this sort of obits in the next few years.

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