For five terms in the Senate, Jesse Helms was the dreaded “Senator No,” whose unbending conservatism and prickly insistence on the prerogatives of the Senate complicated the lives of presidents and secretaries of state from both parties. In this memoir, Helms does more than refight old battles; he provides a window onto a worldview that continues to shape U.S. foreign and domestic policy.
In retirement, Helms is unrepentant. The 1977 Panama Canal treaties, abortion, normalized relations with communist China, the Martin Luther King, Jr., national holiday: Helms did not like them then, and he does not like them now. Proud of his “conservative political philosophy,” he still relishes combat with liberals — and he welcomes their hatred.
Meanwhile, his loves are deep and enduring: his Christian faith, the values he imbibed in a small North Carolina country town, a United States of America that he believes has a special blessing from and responsibility to God. Readers of Helms’ memoir will not find much original thought or sparkling prose; Helms prides himself on the application of traditional values and likes plain writing and plain speaking.
But Helms’ political philosophy remains a powerful force. For the foreseeable future, it is unlikely that any treaty Senator No would oppose can be ratified.
Book Review from Foreign Affairs, by Walter Russell Mead
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