" Tom Sawyer found someone else to paint the fence, and so did I," said Jesse Helms at Ronald Reagan's coronation at the Republican National Convention in Dallas. At Kansas City eight years earlier, and even at Detroit in 1980, the Tar Heel senator had been a belligerent outsider waving a fistful of right-wing amendments, never sure his voice would be heard. By contrast, in the steaming Dallas of August 1984 Helms showed up at the platform committee meetings more as guardian than insurgent. Only once, when Senator Lowell Weicker objected to strongly worded language for a space-based defense system, did Helms enter the fray. "I am pro- Reagan and anti-Weicker," he said. "I will do anything I can to prevent Weicker from possibly undermining one of the finest presidents we ever had."
But the senator had little need to worry. No Republican moderates (or "liberals," as Helms insisted on calling them) had much say on the militantly conservative platform that emerged from the convention. Senator Helmshad, like Tom Sawyer, found "someone else" to paint his fence. His helpers, banded together informally as the "Conservative Opportunity Society," were an energetic group of young congressmen, including Senator Robert Kasten of Wisconsin, Congressman Jack Kemp of New York, Congressman Newt Gingrich of Georgia, and Congressman Vin Weber of Minnesota. One platform drafter told a reporter: "They are the Jesse Helmses of this convention."
Like most of the delegates who came to honor the Great Communicator and certify him for another four years in the White House, neither the Old Guard nor the Young Turk conservatives sought to mar Reagan's celebration with a platform-kicking contest. From the start the draft platform reflected the President's stamp. The final platform touched all the conservative bases, from a reiterated stand against tax increases in 1985 and support for school prayer to demands that the President appoint Supreme Court justices opposed to abortion. No mention of the Equal Rights Amendment appeared, but there was support for a constitutional amendment to adopt a balanced budget.
Senator Helms found the convention in Dallas thoroughly satisfying. He was again cochairman of the North Carolina delegation, but unlike the Detroit convention, where the Tar Heels were split over the vice presidency, Dallas was devoid of major controversy. The senator, now among the best-