`Senator No' Becomes Mr. Chairman Jesse Helms, New Leader of the Foreign Relations Panel, Has Never Wavered in His Conservative Views

By The | St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO), January 8, 1995 | Go to article overview

`Senator No' Becomes Mr. Chairman Jesse Helms, New Leader of the Foreign Relations Panel, Has Never Wavered in His Conservative Views


The, St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)


WHILE THE REST OF the Republican Party is trumpeting itself as the harbinger of new ideas, Jesse Helms can say he's been there before.

To the senator from North Carolina, the GOP agenda - line item veto, tax cuts, school prayer, family values, deregulation, the end of the welfare state - is old stuff.

As old as the days when Helms grew up in this cotton mill town, when his teetotaling family attended the Baptist church twice a week and his father served as the police chief.

Since that time, Helms has argued for "small-town values" and battled for them relentless and cunningly. He has used bluster and bombast and has earned every enemy and every friend he has. And he has a lot of both.

When Helms joked that President Bill Clinton was so unpopular on North Carolina military bases he'd need a bodyguard to visit there, and when he suggested that he might block Clinton foreign policy initiatives unless the vote on the GATT agreement was postponed, no one who knew him was surprised.

But the stage is new. Last week "Senator No," a man admired as an idealist and despised as a bigot, became chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Helms never has served in an executive position in government; aside from a term on the Raleigh City Council in the 1950s, he had never held elective office until he was elected to the Senate in 1972.

But from the very start, Jesse Helms never wavering from his conservative mission.

"I'd say he's more moral than a politician," said Hoover Adams, a newspaper publisher in Dunn, N.C. "If it's right, he'll say it."

This is how Helms himself put his credo, in a book published a few years after he reached the Senate:

"Atheism and socialism - or liberalism, which tends in the same direction - are inseparable entities. When you have men who no longer believe that God in charge of human affairs, you have men attempting to take the place of God by means of the Superstate."

The result is government that, in redistributing wealth, "rewards the indolent and penalizes the hard-working," he said.

Helms opposed the U.S. military mission in Haiti, calling President Jean-Bertrand Aristide a "murderer" because of his alleged encouragement of violence.

Foreign aid is a special target for Helms, who has said too much goes "down foreign ratholes." For years, he has questioned the value of U.S. contributions to the United Nations. He supported white-minority governments in Africa because they were alternatives to communists.

In domestic matters, Helms' can be just as blunt, whether in a fight over funding for what he calls "obscene art" or opposing the nomination of a housing official he described as a "militant-activist-mean lesbian."

When a newspaper dropped the comic strip "Little Orphan Annie," he fumed that it was "because she personified the virtues of hard work, frugality and free enterprise."

He uses Senate rules to hold up nominations and delay legislation. He drafted an amendment to prohibit first-class air travel by some midlevel federal officials, and even wrote legislation to require foreign governments, now shielded by diplomatic immunity, to pay parking tickets in the capital.

At the same time, Helms has created a highly sophisticated political fund-raising apparatus that bankrolled his campaigns and conservative causes.

"Senator Alms," the magazine New Republic once called him, referring to this direct-mail fund-raising machine, the National Congressional Club. Over the years, it has raised tens of millions of dollars, often by sending out appeals over the senator's signature. Helms broke with the group in August, reportedly unhappy with some unauthorized mailings.

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