WHILE THE REST OF the Republican Party is trumpeting itself as
the harbinger of new ideas, Jesse Helms can say he's been there
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
But from the very start, Jesse Helms never wavering from his
"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
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
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
"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. …