Bill Link: Biographer says Helms wasn't the caricature he's been made out to be





University of Florida history professor Bill Link said it's no surprise that his biography subject, U.S. Sen. Jesse Helms, continues to cause controversy after his death.

"It's quite indicative of the man," he said. "He was a lightening rod for all kinds of things."

Helms died July 4 at the age of 86.

The North Carolina Republican served 30 years in a congressional career marked by his strident opposition to civil rights, foreign aid and modern art.

His death has brought obituaries and stories recalling that controversial history - including writer Christopher Hitchens calling him a "senile racist buffoon" in a piece on Salon.com.

Link's book, "Righteous Warrior: Jesse Helms and the Rise of Modern Conservatism," was published in February. He said researching the book showed him that Helms was more complicated than the caricature that sometimes appeared in the media.

"There's a tendency to see Jesse Helms as a kind of a dumb Southerner, and he wasn't," he said.

He said Helms was an innovator in using broadcast media, direct mail and other sophisticated techniques. Those techniques helped mobilize voters and raise money for conservative causes across the nation, he said.

"His major legacy is how important he was in moving the country to the right," he said.



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Michael Green - 7/9/2008

I will echo Professor Link and say that we all make a big mistake if we characterize or caricature Jesse Helms as a "dumb southerner." He was a very smart southerner (a very smart American) in this sense: he grasped and appears to have shared people's worst fears and prejudices, and knew how to capitalize on them. To quote another North Carolina native named Edward R. Murrow, who was quoting someone else, the fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves.

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