Normally, death is nothing to speak about. No, not for dread, but because it is the one thing about which there is absolutely nothing to say. It is the veil, and we all know a veil. Because we cannot speak of it, through it, or around it, we pull feints of language, and we say that "we lost" a person. Death rings his dampened bell, and we come out swigging.
You can lose your mind, lose your soul, or lose your life, but it is always "we" who lose somebody. Then there is finding, which we can do also of souls and peace of mind and living, but which "we" can never do of a person. I remember some of our losses in the public sphere, and I do feel sometimes that we found a new spirit in the form of Barrack Obama.
Today, though, we have "lost" Jesse Helms. Jesse Helms, the man whose hand Paul Wellstone would not shake, and with good reason. Jesse Helms, the man who favored extraterritorial laws. Jesse Helms, the man who said that AIDS was God's vengeance on gays. Jesse Helms, the man who poured money into lung cancer research to hope for the day when cigarettes would be safe. Jesse Helms, the man who reportedly whistled "Dixie" when a Black senator got on the elevator. As the BBC says, "His death was reported" today.
Today is the 4th of July.
If he died today, there is something wrong, or right. First, it means that we probably will have our first Black president (according to the "one drop rule") over his dead body, and we will have a president who is the product of "miscegenation." When Bobby Kennedy was shot, Jesse Helms, then a right wing blowhard on television, said that that's what comes of "mixing the races."
Perhaps there is a fitting note, in that a particular type of fear and self-righteousness is quite American, quite as American as enlightenment and progressivism. If it dies this July 4th, then perhaps there is short term hope. Jesse Helms was personally amiable, personally gracious, personally charitable, personally friendly with gay, Black, and all others, but he ran and acted as an agent of intolerance. When he retired from the senate, it was good riddance, but his death offers nothing, symbolically or substantially, except the passing of the last of the Dixiecrats.