Some thoughts on Senator Jesse Helms who died Friday, July 4, at the age of 86:
John Dodd, President of the Jesse Helms Center Foundation:
Jesse Helms understood both the value of teaching by example and learning through experience. He welcomed young people into what he called the Helms Senate Family and watched with pride when they graduated from their time in his office and took on new challenges in government or private life.
For 30 years “Helms University” nurtured the dreams and honed the skills of young people who recognized in Jesse Helms the virtues that they wanted to strengthen in their own lives. The lessons were not easy because there was never, ever, a compromise on honesty, accuracy, or respect for others. The hours were long because no matter what their titles, they shared the same job description — service to their country and to their constituency, all of the people of North Carolina. The pay was the lowest on Capitol Hill, but the benefit plan was the best because they worked with Sen. Helms. They were encouraged to excel; they were groomed for their own leadership roles. They were prepared to carry on the fight against policies and attitudes that would weaken America at home or abroad.
You may not yet know most of their names, but today they are already building careers in business, as elected officials, as advocates for public policy, as leaders on campuses and in churches, as advisers at the highest levels of government. Our nation is already benefiting from their decision to model their conduct after the man they proudly served as they demonstrate their own integrity and commitment to hard work in pursuit of high goals.
Ed Feulner, President of The Heritage Foundation:
Helms wasn’t afraid to stand alone for what was right, even if his opinion wasn’t always in line with that of his fellow elected officials. “I did not come to Washington to win a popularity contest,” he noted once while filibustering a bill. He did come to Washington to win policy disputes, and usually succeeded.
One way he did so was to slow down the legislative process when other lawmakers were racing to pass a bad measure. Time, after all, often showed Helms had been right all along.
For example, during the 1990s Helms led the fight to reduce the amount the U.S. paid to support the United Nations. Even though Washington provided an astounding 25 percent of the U.N.’s budget, bureaucrats at the world body wanted ever more, and diplomats around the globe accused the U.S. of being stingy.
Helms insisted that our share of the U.N. budget be reduced, and also demanded that it undertake vital reforms. Because of his hard work and willingness to stand alone, the U.S. reached a compromise and the U.N. was forced to (slightly) pare back its free-spending ways and deal with some of its shortcomings.
Danielle Pletka, Vice President for Foreign and Defense Policy Studies at the American Enterprise Institute:
Helms was a believer, and fundamentally, what he believed is the quintessence of America. The American constitution is the word of the land, trumping the fashionable vagaries of international law. Handouts create dependency, locally and internationally, but generosity to those in need is never amiss. Freedom is the heart’s blood of civilization. He loved Tibet, he loved Taiwan, he loved the Cuban people, and he loved real freedom fighters everywhere because he knew that he was one too.
Washington is full of people who say they love freedom. But what do they do? Jesse Helms faced down Soviet dictators, Arab thugs, Chinese communists, Latin American creeps and more, using every tool at his hands. He faced down the corruption of the United Nations, the fecklessness of the U.S. Agency for International Development, the anti-Americanism of the United States Information Agency, and the tyranny of all those who go along to get along. Often he did so in ways that frustrated the careerist bureaucracy that runs Washington.
Marc Rotterman, Senior Fellow at North Carolina’s John Locke Foundation
Most of the pundits had written off Ronald Reagan as presidential prospect after his efforts to unseat then President Gerald Ford resulted in a string of defeats in the 1976 Republican primaries. Senator Helms support for Reagan in NC in the 1976 primary produced 52-48 victory for Reagan’s troubled candidacy – propelling him on to the Republican convention in Kansas City where Reagan captured if not the votes the hearts and mind of the delegates with his performance and speech that year. Many would agree that 1976 set the stage for Reagan’s victory in the 1980. The “Reagan Revolution” that followed pulled America out of’ Jimmy Carter’s malaise”, and back on the road to fiscal prosperity. And with Jesse Helm’s help Ronald Reagan hastened the end of communism worldwide.
Marc Thiessen, currently chief White House speechwriter and formerly Foreign Relations Committee spokesman for Sen. Helms from 1995 to 2001:
In 1985, his dear friend Ronald Reagan was preparing for his first summit with Mikhail Gorbachev when a Ukrainian sailor named Miroslav Medvid twice jumped off a Soviet ship into the Mississippi River seeking political asylum. The Soviets insisted that Medvid had accidentally fallen off – twice. The State Department did not want an international incident on the eve of the summit. But Helms believed it was wrong to send a man back behind the Iron Curtain – no matter the cost to superpower diplomacy. He tried to block the ship’s departure by requiring the sailor to appear before the Senate Agriculture Committee, which he chaired then – and he had the subpoena delivered to the ship’s unwitting captain in a carton of North Carolina cigarettes.
Despite Helms’s efforts, the ship was allowed to leave for the Soviet Union with the Ukrainian sailor aboard. Miroslav Medvid was not heard from again until 15 years later, when he came to Washington to visit the man who fought so hard for his freedom. I was working at the time on Helms’s Foreign Relations Committee staff and witnessed this emotional meeting. Yes, Medvid told Helms, he had been trying to escape – that was why he joined the Merchant Marine in the first place. When he was returned to the Soviet Union, he said, he was incarcerated in a mental hospital for the criminally insane. The KGB tried to drug him, but a sympathetic nurse injected the drugs into his mattress. Eventually he was released; today he is a parish priest in his native village in Ukraine.
In 2002, The Heritage Foundation honored Sen. Helms with its Clare Boothe Luce Award, praising him as a “dedicated, unflinching and articulate advocate of conservative policy and principle.”