Saturday, July 5, 2008

Jesse Helms, RIP

Sen. Jesse Helms was to liberals what Sen. Edward Kennedy is to conservatives -- a convenient whipping boy who symbolized all that was hated about the opposition. Like Kennedy, he was a great fundraiser for the opposition. Groups like the ACLU should build great shrines to Jesse Helms because of all of the money he helped them raise by being one of their designated bogeymen.

It was somehow fitting that this great American died on the 4th of July, since he was a true patriot who loved his country and served it well.

Among his many accomplishments were two things:

1. Without Jesse Helms, Ronald Reagan would likely never have been elected President. Reagan had a string of primary losses to Gerald Ford in 1976, and was down for the count. Jesse Helms was responsible for the strategy and implementation of Reagan's win in the North Carolina primary, which boosted him to what ended up being a challenge to Ford that the latter won only by a whisker. Reagan came into the convention with half of the delegates, and stole the show with his impromptu speech at the end. From that point he was the presumptive nominee for 1980, and had grassroots organization in every corner of the country by the end of the campaign.

Had Reagan lost in North Carolina, he would have had to drop out of the 1976 race, and he wouldn't have had the organization in place, and he would have had a hard time making the case in 1980 that a conservative could win the nomination and the Presidency. Thank you, Jesse Helms.

2. Sen. Helms instituted the practice of forcing roll-call votes in a U.S. Senate that had increasingly adopted the practice of shuffling legislation on through without Senators having to go on record. Helms thought that Senators shouldn't be able to hide whether they did or didn't support a specific piece of legislation, and he forced roll-call vote after roll-call vote.

In the political climate of the time, this had the added benefit of leading to the electoral defeat of many a liberal Senator who had heretofore been able to portray a more moderate image back home. But even without that, the now routine practice of making Senators go on record should be applauded by all who value transparency in government.


Anonymous said...

Your comment about transparency in votes reminded me of the recent Ann Coulter column that mentioned how Montana Sen. Jon Tester had a more liberal voting record in 2007 than New York Sen. Chuck Schumer. I wondered if that was indeed the case, and I looked up the web site of the liberal Americans for Democratic Action. And indeed, Tester scored a 95 percent in 2007, compared to Schumer's 90 on 20 key votes. (

In fact, only 3 senators had "perfect" scores that were higher -- Casey, Klobuchar and Stabenow. Obama and Clinton only had 75s, but that appeared to be because they missed a number of votes, probably because they were campaigning.

Among the "liberal lions" that Tester "beat" were Boxer (80) Kennedy (85) and Kerry (85). Max was at 80.

It will be interesting to see if Tester keeps up this trend. Probaby like Max his vote pattern will get more conservative as his next election approaches.

I would think most Montanans would be surprised to know that Tester has one of the Senate's most liberal voting records. Shouldn't that be news?

Montana Headlines said...

Yes, it should be news. Will it be? Probably not, except to the extent that we keep talking about it on blogs.

Anonymous said...

You are probably right. Sounds like Tester is a likable guy, and the press doesn't want to complicate things for him. He's gotten awfully kind coverage. He's the Sally Fields of Montana politicians.

The governor, on the other hand, seems like the Joan Crawford of Montana pols. But that approach seems to work too.

Guess Republicans need to stop using the reasonable, middle approach--the Nancy Reagan or Shirley Temple Black technique--and adopt something on one extreme or the other.

Montana Headlines said...

Never heard anyone recommend that Republicans in Montana need to be more extreme, before...

Anonymous said...

"Guess Republicans need to stop using the reasonable, middle approach--"

Either this is acid-dripping sarcasm or sheer boneheadedness.

Anonymous said...

I was being tongue in cheek. But basically you are right, there's really nothing Republicans can do to get the sort of friendly treatment that Democrats like the governor and Tester enjoy. Short of changing parties, of course.