Jesse and Joe

Jesse HelmsI dreamed I saw Joe Hill, last night,
Alive as you and me.
Says I “But Joe you’re ten years dead.”
“I never died says he.”

This old song popped into my head while I was reading a rightwing blogger’s paean to Jesse Helms. The blogger praised Helms as a “heroic warrior for conservative values.”


Jesse Helms was the son of a rural police chief who kept people in line in the post-Civil War South, making sure that plantation culture stayed intact, though the name had been changed to “sharecropping,” and making sure that the textile mills had cheap labor by exploiting racial divisions while suppressing workers’ rights. Jesse displayed his ‘heroism’ during World War II by using daddy’s political influence to get a job as a navy recruiter. This kept him safe on the home front while “white men” and “colored boys” he recruited went off to fight and die.

While Jesse’s warrior heroism spanned the length and breadth of his recruiting desk, his ‘values’ redefined conservatism.

The early colonists, moving to America to found societies seeking greater freedoms, championed education. Although the Pilgrims arrived only in 1620, and suffered massive death tolls and primitive living conditions, by the 1640s they had set up public schools. They were convinced that freedom and education were inseparable.

Jesse feared that they were right. He devoted his political energy to opposing public education everywhere and in every way he could. His corporate paymasters knew that one of the great dangers to unlimited profits is an educated population. Jesse fought constantly against public education.

The people who wrote our Declaration of Independence and our Constitution tried to give the citizens freedom. Patriots fought and died to ensure such freedom. Jesse fought to give corporations the freedom to discriminate; the freedom to pollute; the freedom to lie in advertising; the freedom to profit from public resources; the freedom to have citizens pay for clean-up of corporate messes.

“The copper bosses killed you, Joe,
They shot you Joe” said I.
“Takes more than guns to kill a man,”
Said Joe, “I didn’t die.”

Jesse fought for the freedom of agri-business to rule colonial South America with death squads. He fought for the freedom of oil companies to use U.S. troops to “protect” our chosen client government in Saudi Arabia. He fought for the freedom to break unions and imprison or kill union organizers and leaders.

Traditional conservative values, like the Puritans brought to America, included taking care of children and the elderly. But Jesse’s conservatism stridently opposed any social safety net, including social security and medicare for the elderly. Jesse was a tireless promoter of the tobacco industry and an opponent of any effort to educate people to the dangers of the narcotic and cancer inducing effects of tobacco.

Takes more than guns to kill a man, said Joe, I didn’t die. Ideas survive the death of any one proponent. And Jesse’s loyal obeisance to corporate greed survives his mortal passing.

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