I was away from the interwebs when the news came across that former right-wing Senator Jesse Helms
had died. So I was unable to say that America would have been better off if Helms, the personification of the Republican Party's cynical resort to nake racism for political game, had been hit by a bus in 1940 or so. (No, that isn't a very nice sentiment. But unlike Republican types, at least I wish it had been an accident, instead of calling retrospectively for his assassination.)
Anyway, current speechwriter for the de facto Bush White House Marc Thiessen takes exception to some of the less than glowing coverage of the late racist's inglorious career. Thiessen, who the Post reminds us worked for Helms for six years, walks us through what he sees as Helms' legacy here
(with my comments italicized):
"As chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Helms led the successful effort to bring Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic into the NATO alliance. (Coincidence does not equal causation. Senate chairman are always claiming credit for stuff that was actually done by the President...)
He secured passage of bipartisan legislation to protect our men and women in uniform from the International Criminal Court. (True. Maybe not good though.)
He won overwhelming approval for his legislation to support the Cuban people in their struggle against a tyrant. (Helms is unfortunately not alone in holding responsibility for continuing the absurd and self-defeating American embargo on Cuba, although he played a leading role. Conservatives were confident that engagement with apartheid South Africa would bring around change - but not with Cuba? Was that because they felt comfortable engaging with racists?)
He won majority support in the Senate for his opposition to the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. (Too bad.)
He helped secure passage of the National Missile Defense Act and stopped the Clinton administration from concluding a new anti-ballistic missile agreement in its final months in office -- paving the way for today's deployment of America's first defenses against ballistic missile attack. (In other words, Helms helped secure passage for a program that does not work - and probably will NEVER work effectively, unless you think a system that allows a third of incoming missiles to deliver nuclear warheads against American cities? This is massive corporate welfare for the arms industry.)
He helped secure passage of the Iraq Liberation Act, which expressed strong bipartisan support for regime change in Baghdad. (And we see how swimmingly THAT has gone.)
He secured broad, bipartisan support to reorganize the State Department (true if you believe "starving it of resources" equates to effective reform)
and bring much-needed reform to the United Nations, and he became the first legislator from any nation to address the UN Security Council -- a speech few in that chamber will forget. (That just proves that Helms was obnoxious enough to cow the UNSC into letting him speak, for fear that he would again cut off US funding.)
Thiessen is basically right when he writes, "What his critics could not appreciate is that, by the time he left office, Jesse Helms had become a mainstream conservative. And it was not because Helms had moved toward the mainstream -- it was because the mainstream moved toward him."
At least the mainstream of the Republican Party had moved toward him. Toward a nasty, vindictive man who preferred destruction and obstructionism to effective government, who delighted in cutting social programs while throwing more cash at defense contractors often for programs even the Pentagon didn't want, who was happy to make openly racist statements and run racist advertisements to win re-election - yes, very much a mainstream Republican kind of guy.
Helms was not solely responsible for this movement over the past 40 years. In varying degrees, Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, George W. Bush, Newt Gingrich, Tom DeLay, and others deserve "credit" for this. But Helms was a big part of the movement.