Alexander's Column

Jesse Helms will be missed

Mark Alexander · Aug. 24, 2001

The political snipers are scrambling for the high ground – as one of conservatism’s frontline patriots announced he’ll retire from the field of battle. Senator Jesse Helms, the gentleman from North Carolina, declared Wednesday that he would not seek re-election after the end of his fifth Senate term next year.

“I am by no means announcing my retirement,” Helms said, indicating he intends to remain active in conservative causes. But the Senate will be much degraded in his absence. “You see…when my present fifth term ends in 2002…I will then have served 30 years as a senator for North Carolina…. [N]ot in my wildest imagination did it ever occur to me that such a privilege would ever be mine,” Sen. Helms remarked.

We at The Federalist can count the reliable constitutional conservatives in the Senate on the fingers of one hand – and we could always count on Senator Helms first.

House colleague Rep. Walter Jones praised Helms for his long record of service and accomplishment: “For those of us who are conservative, we are going to miss his conservative leadership. There are so many issues Jesse Helms has been out in front on, sometimes alone, especially on the [the Panama Canal treaty]; he has also been a staunch supporter of the rights of pre-birth babies, those who have been victims of their government, such as China and Cuba. If we had more people like Jesse Helms in the U.S. Senate and the U.S. House of Representatives, it would definitely be a better America. He will be sorely missed.”

If one person could be selected as most to be thanked for launching Ronald Reagan into the presidency, aside from Mr. Reagan himself, Jesse Helms might be that one. During the 1976 presidential primary season, Sen. Helms assisted Reagan in gaining his first victory in North Carolina, which led to other primary wins – and catapulted Reagan into the premier position to be the 1980 Republican presidential nominee.

The Leftmedia are gloating, of course, as they have long hated this effective conservative. To wit, Leftist darling Bryant Gumbel sniped: “Helms is, let me pick my words here, an unapologetic right-wing conservative…. His departure good news for all but hard-right Republicans?” And lest anyone forget, NBC’s Andrea Mitchell called his 1990 re-election “heart-breaking.” ABC’s Sam Donaldson referred to Helms, saying “beneath that courtliness beats the heart of a dictator.”

Not to be outdone, the Clintonistas were swarming out of the woodwork. “The departure of Jesse Helms now gives both the Democratic and the Republican parties an opportunity to field a slate of candidates who are much closer to the thinking and the beliefs of most Americans,” said NAACP president Kweisi Mfume. And Mrs. Gloria Steinem proclaimed from the Left Coast, “We should have been able to retire him much earlier. He never represented the majority of opinion in his state, only those with enough ability to go to the polls.”

The Helms retirement portends significant difficulties for the future of the Republican Party and the success of President Bush’s administration. Without sturdy, courageous conservative allies like Helms, Mr. Bush is left in a much weakened position – lacking Helms’s wise counsel, and dealing with Senators striving ever leftward instead of holding the line.

More political sniping is coming from other directions as well. On Monday, Mr. Bush launched his budget “best defense is a good” offensive with calls for funding defense and education first: “Let us keep our priorities straight and start with the things that matter most to our country’s security and our country’s future. This year, let us have responsible spending from Day One and put the national security and education of our children first in line when it comes to the appropriations process.”

A day later, referring to himself as “watchdog of the treasury,” he provided a list of practices of congressional budgeting “business as usual” he finds objectionable, including redefining routine spending as an “emergency ” measure not constrained by spending caps, calling a less-than-expected increase a “budget cut,” adding last-minute pork barrel spending in vote swapping, and exceeding legislated budget limits during the spending year. “The biggest threat to our [economic] recovery is for the Congress to overspend,” Mr. Bush continued. “We have the funds to meet our obligations, so long as they resist the temptation to spend.”

Mr. Bush is right about defense – and deserves commendation on that count. He’s wrong on education, however, as that is in no way a proper concern of the central government.

Speaking of the budget, Mr. Bush was offering up a preemptive strike about projected surpluses – before Demo-gogues began blaming his reduction of government wage confiscation for reducing the surplus to deficits. With an accounting keeping Social Security funds “off-budget,” the “surplus” has dwindled to about $1 billion, down $125 billion from April estimates.

With a different perspective, taking the budget in its entirety, “The fiscal 2001 surplus of about $158 billion is the second largest in history, indicating that despite the recent tax cut, taxpayers continue to be substantially overcharged,” observed Chris Edwards, director of fiscal policy studies for the Cato Institute.

But Demo-Gogue Pictures has apparently just released its fright-pic sequel, “Mediscare II: Attack of the Killer Red Spenders”! “There is no question in my mind that Medicare is already being diverted and that we are headed into the Social Security trust fund,” said Demo Sen. Robert C. Byrd, chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee. Waving his Internal Revenue Service notification of his upcoming tax refund, Byrd continued, “This is where the real spending took place. …I see no more irresponsible act than that of the Bush administration’s tax cut. It was a tax cut based on faulty projections.”

(This is the same Byrd whose multiple references to “white niggers” were spiked by the Leftmedia earlier this year. Can you imagine the outrage had Sen. Helms uttered such inane drivel?)

“We already have a budget, unfortunately, that’s doing that, and that really worries me. We said at the time the tax cut passed that we thought that it was too large, too unfocused, and that it would cause us to go into Social Security and Medicare. …The president needs to present a new budget and explain how he will work with Congress to solve this mess of his own making,” chimed in House Minority Leader Dick Gephard.

With a reliable dissenting view was Senate Democrat Zell Miller, who noted, “The tax cut does not get into the Medicare and Social Security trust funds, as some protest. What would eat into them is hog-wild spending on other items. That’s where a problem could arise.”

This whole debate is fraught with so much nonsense, it’s hard to know where the debunking should begin! First, taking the carryover national debt into account, there is no extra money that would make for a true “surplus.” Furthermore, there is no “lockbox” for either Social Security or Medicare that reserves their funds from overall budget commingling, so that “off-budget” accounting is not currently meaningful. Moreover, the only truly serious underlying issue is that the Constitution in no way authorizes such levels of confiscation of citizens’ earnings – and especially not so for government-sponsored transfer payments between citizens.

Amid the din, one might fairly conclude that the Demos’ midterm campaign theme will be “Cutting Taxes is Irresponsible!” And, amazingly, the Leftist lemmings will buy it!

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