September 12, 2013

There are times when Ted Cruz seems like nothing more than a kid poking a wasp's nest with a stick, and yesterday was no exception when he heaped praise on Jesse Helms during an event at the Heritage Foundation named for the late North Carolina Republican Senator.

via Roll Call

Sen. Ted Cruz might raise some eyebrows outside of his conservative base for comments he made Wednesday in praise of former North Carolina Sen. Jesse Helms.

“I’ll tell you something … the very first political contribution I ever made in my life was to Jesse Helms. When I was a kid, I sent $10 to Jesse Helms, ’cause they were beating up on him, they were coming after him hard and I thought it wasn’t right, and at the time my allowance was 50 cents a week,” the Texas Republican said. “I am willing to venture a guess that I may have been Jesse Helms’ single largest donor as a percentage of annual income.”

Cruz also recalled a story about when a young Helms received a campaign donation check from John Wayne. He explained that, according to the story, Helms figured out how to get in touch with Wayne and called to thank him for the support.

“Apparently Wayne said, ‘Oh yeah, you’re that guy saying all those crazy things. We need 100 more like you,’” Cruz said. ”The willingness to say all those crazy things is a rare, rare characteristic in this town, and you know what? It’s every bit as true now as it was then. We need a hundred more like Jesse Helms in the U.S. Senate.

As Roll Call noted though it was his pronounced racism and homophobia which gained Helms' lasting notoriety.

But it was, of course, Helms’ views on social policy and matters of race that were the most contentious.

“One of the centerpieces of Helms’ lengthy social policy agenda is his crusade against homosexuality,” according to the PIA profile. Helms also led a fight against designating Martin Luther King Jr. Day a national holiday.

For 16 days, Helms filibustered the legislation making the holiday designation, at the end of which he was the only senator to vote against it. That’s a point noted in obituaries of Helms, who died in 2008.

The late Washington Post journalist David S. Broder wrote in a 2001 column on the occasion of the North Carolinian’s announcement of his retirement from the Senate: ”What is unique about Helms — and from my viewpoint, unforgivable — is his willingness to pick at the scab of the great wound of American history, the legacy of slavery and segregation, and to inflame racial resentment against African-Americans.”

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