F.R. Duplantier reporting Behind The Headlines

Week of:
September 24, 2001
Greatest Senator of Our Generation



F.R. Duplantier

by: F.R. Duplantier

When Senator Jesse Helms retires at the end of his current term, the conservative movement and America too will lose a great champion.

In a recent issue of the national conservative weekly Human Events, editor Terence Jeffrey pays tribute to "one of the few modern-day politicians who never lost his grip" on the religious and moral underpinnings of politics. "In an age of libertines, in a city where many exalted men think nothing of lying under oath or committing adultery with aides or interns, Jesse Helms provided a living, if lonely, link to the great souls of the American past," Jeffrey affirms. "He put his faith in the permanent things that made America great, and always held fidelity to unchanging values above mere party loyalty or the much vaunted, and very often phony, collegiality of the Senate. Helms," he declares, "was a hero, not just for the conservative movement, but for the American cause."

Jeffrey expresses admiration for the courage of Jesse Helms, which "shone most brightly in the three great struggles of our time -- the Cold War, the Culture War, and the long march to subsume American sovereignty into a New World Order of unelected international bureaucracies. In the 1970s," he recalls, "when President Nixon, a Republican, advanced a policy of d–tente and accommodation with Soviet and Chinese Communists, Helms fought back, first as a commentator [for a North Carolina television station] then as a senator. In the years before Ronald Reagan was elected President, he became the voice of Reaganism in Washington -- the voice of victory in the Cold War. In the 1990s," Jeffrey concludes, "when the Big Business wing of the Republican Party joined with the Clinton Democrats in advancing international trade agreements that undermined the U.S. Constitution, Helms challenged his GOP colleagues to stand up for their country."

Eventually, Jeffrey predicts, "some honest historian will dare to tell the truth: Jesse Helms was the greatest U.S. senator of the last quarter of the 20th Century. No one else comes close," he asserts. "On the issues that mattered most, Jesse Helms stood closest to the truth, and fought hardest to defend it. He sometimes stood alone. But he never flinched or retreated."

I never had the privilege of meeting Jesse Helms, but I did correspond with him on a couple of occasions. The first was twelve years ago, when an issue of the news magazine I edited at the time appeared with photographs of Helms and Daniel Inouye, the liberal Democratic senator from Hawaii, side-by-side on the same page. The pix had been inadvertently switched at the printer's and the magazine appeared with Helms identified as Inouye, and vice versa. I didn't really care what Inouye might think, but I did send Helms an abject mea culpa. His gracious response soon followed, assuring me that no apology was necessary and expressing admiration for the quality of the magazine. That's how I can confirm what any honest person who's ever met the man will tell you: that Jesse Helms is not only a great senator, a great conservative, and a great patriot, but a gentleman as well.