The horrible thing about him was he made the extreme mainstream in the Republican Party. He made fascism respectable.
The WSWS noted Helms' dubious career when he retired back in 2001. Elizabeth Dole replaced him. The WSWS reiterated the fact Helms didn't have overwhelming popularity in North Carolina and in fact came close to losing a number of close re-election campaigns. Only through the help of a well-financed radical right operation (which he helped create) saved his bacon. Helms was also raised on bigotry:
Bigotry was the font of Helms’ politics. His home town, Monroe, was notorious as a stronghold of the Ku Klux Klan. Racial oppression was so intense that it sparked one of the most important acts of armed resistance by black residents during the civil rights era, led by Robert F. Williams, head of the Monroe NAACP. Williams was ultimately framed up on charges of terrorism and fled the United States, living for a decade in exile in Cuba and China. A new biography of the civil rights leader recounts an incident of his boyhood:
“Walking down Main Street, Williams watched a white police officer accost an African American woman. The policeman, Jesse Alexander Helms Sr., an admirer once recalled, ‘had the sharpest shoe in town and he didn’t mind using it.’ His son, U.S. Senator Jesse Helms, remembered ‘Big Jesse’ as ‘a six-foot, two hundred pound gorilla—when he said “smile,” I smiled.’ Eleven-year-old Robert Williams looked on in terror as Big Jesse flattened the black woman with his huge fists, then ‘dragged her off to the nearby jailhouse, her dress up over her head, the same way that a cave man would club and drag his sexual prey.’ Williams recalled ‘her tortured screams as the flesh was ground away from the friction of the concrete.’ The memory of this violent spectacle and the laughter of white bystanders haunted him for decades.” (Quoted from Timothy Tyson, Radio Free Dixie: Robert F. Williams and the Roots of Black Power, University of North Carolina Press, 2001)
Such was the environment that produced Jesse Helms. It is an indictment of American capitalist society that this son of a racist policeman, bigot and defender of mass murderers became a powerful figure in American politics. Like scum on a stagnant pond, the rottenest elements in American society rose to the top of the political system during the last quarter of the twentieth century.
Helms left a very vile, very shitty legacy.