Senator Jesse Helms might well be the most mis-understood, mis-cast and "mis-appreciated" figure in American politics today. I cringe as I think of the lies and half truths that will be told today by the mainstream media in repsonse to the former Senator's passing yesterday in his Raleigh, NC home.
Consider: without Jesse Helms, we might not know the name "President Reagan." Oh, we would know Ronald Reagan the actor and Governor Reagan of California...but a case can be made that President Reagan would not have happened without Senator Helms. Reagan's first ever primary win was the 1976 shocker over President Gerald Ford in North Carolina. That was orchestrated by the Helms machine. It started, if you will, the "Reagan revolution" that had Reagan fast closing on Ford at the 76 GOP Convention. (The "Reagan Revolution" ended, in my opinion, with George Bush 43's "new tone"...but that's another debate).
Ford won that nomination but was beaten by Jimmy Carter in the general election thrusting Reagan to the position of being the titular head of the Republican Party and conservative movement. He easily defeated Carter four years later starting a run in the White House of eight years that is paying big dividends to this day (the little Justice Kennedy issue notwithstanding). A case can be made that none of that would have happened without Jesse Helms. Before there were "Reagan Democrats," there were "Jessecrats."
Helms has also been one of the preeminent fighters of communism on the world stage in the last 50 years, with Reagan and Thatcher and others. While the United States was trying to "play nice" with the Soviet Union ala Détente (fore runner of new tone I think....), Helms was an ardent support of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn's visit to this country on Capitol Hill because Helms understood...as did Reagan...that the USSR was an evil empire that could, should and would implode with the proper political and economic pressures applied. Helms was happy to provide some of that pressure. The Soviet dissident Solzhenitsyn came to the Unite States; Helms won, the State Department, President Ford and eventually the Soviet Union lost.
Widely miscast as a racist, Helms did fight against affirmative action and other civil rights legislation on the merits of the legislation not on the color of skin involved. As an example of his true feelings, however, he has also been right there with Bono as an advocate for relief of poverty and aids in Africa. These two even formed a highly unlikely friendship. Unlikely that is, in the mind of liberal media pundits...not so much in the mind of anyone who ever met the gracious Senator. He had one of those great central North Carolina accents. (His wife Dot has an accent so fabulous BTW it should be enshrined in the Smithsonian. She makes Liddy Dole sound almost Brooklynesque in comparison...)
Helms had incredible personal charisma that DID NOT translate across a television screen. On the tube, he could not hold a candle to Reagan or Clinton or for that matter, his alter ego in the Senate Ted Kennedy. The camera lens did not "love him" as they say. However, he was a giant in person and anyone who has been in close proximity as the senator can attest. Widely personally liked by even political enemies, he dominated every room he was in.
The Republican Brand, they say, is in trouble. Indeed. The loss of Reagan and Helms from being forces in the party for the last decade plus is a huge reason why. Two men never seeking to be loved....only loving their country to the point of always trying to do the right thing regardless of what others said about them. They are already sorely missed.