September 3, 2002

Goodbye, Good Men

By: Timothy P. Carney

This election we lose.

Even if Republicans gain in the House and retake the Senate, the cause of freedom suffers a major loss this fall. To be more precise, it suffers three losses: Jesse Helms, Phil Gramm and Bob Smith.

These three Senators have held the torch of liberty in the Senate for years, and they have held it proudly. Besides sharing a commitment to individual freedom, conservative values, and the Constitution as the true principle in governing, these men shared something almost non-existent in this town: the courage to stand up to the establishment–both the liberal elites as well as the Republican Party “leaders.”

Jesse Helms is the elder statesmen of the right. We do not admire him because he believed firmly in freedom. We don’t respect his career because of his foresight into the folly of Communism. What sets Jesse Helms apart is his courage.

Millions of Americans understood the danger of Communism. Jesse Helms, side by side with Ronald Reagan, fought the Cold War. Decent people all knew that the National Endowment for the Arts and other government agencies were rotten to the core. Jesse Helms worked to exterminate them.

For his efforts, Helms earned nearly universal disdain from the media and from academia–the Soviet apologists and agents welfare-state. His name was a curse among my New York State public school teachers, and the words “Jesse Helms” would likely cause a shocked silence in a Georgetown or Upper West Side cocktail party.

Helms wore this contempt as a badge of honor.

But for Bob Smith, emulating Helms’ courage was his mortal sin in the eyes of those who drove him out.

Congressman John Sununu defeated Smith last week in the Republican primary in New Hampshire. Sununu ran an ad promising to be a Senator New Hampshire could “be proud of.” The clear implication was that Smith was an embarrassment. And Sununu was right.

Bob Smith embarrassed the Republican establishment by showing how its top men were unwilling to fight for what they claimed to believe.

When Smith was out of the GOP in the summer of 1999, he introduced a measure that was straight out of the Republican Platform. He would eliminate the unconstitutional federal Department of Education. On the Senate floor he received 17 votes for his legislation.

Bob Smith showed America that the leaders of the Republican Party and a majority of the GOP’s senators were unwilling to enact a plank of their platform. And then they called Smith disloyal.

The question of loyalty to the party depends on how you define the party. If the Republican Party has anything to do with ideas–if it stands for anything permanent, such as freedom–no one was more loyal than Bob Smith. Smith repeatedly introduced legislation that was culled from the GOP’s alleged principles, and if he even got a vote he could not get a majority of his party.

The Republican Party’s motivating principle is self preservation. It exists so that it can exist. It serves to protect the careers of the private school elites and their sons. Loyalty, in the minds of these political bosses and the journalists doing their bidding, means not making the party look bad.

Bob Smith was a soldier on the ground, fighting for the causes the right claims it stands for. Smith introduced a bill establishing that a human being was a human being from the moment he or she is conceived, and accordingly is worthy of protection under the 14th Amendment. He only got two co-sponsors for this bill: Sam Brownback of Kansas and Jesse Helms.

That was embarrassing, and so Smith had to go.

I won’t defend the unsightly way in which Smith returned to the party, or some of his pro-government greenie votes. Every Senator is bad on some issues, and every human makes mistakes. But these failings are only pretenses on which to disown Bob Smith.

The party couldn’t stand someone making them look bad, and so they duped real conservatives into the effort to dump him.

Phil Gramm also made some conservatives blush. He ran repeatedly for president and never got close. This criticism is used against Smith as well. No Republican has credibility mocking these men for their Quixotic runs because it was the GOP elites who actually thought Bob Dole could win.

Gramm, like Smith and Helms, did the real work of trying to make us a freer people. He boldly and plainly articulated that freedom is inversely proportional to government. He is a man skilled at rhetoric, and so he took that skill, grew some thick skin, and went out attacking big government and high taxes. He did this while under constant ridicule from the left, and that just made him fight harder.

The leading conservatives in the Senate will now be Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma and Jon Kyl of Arizona.

Helms’ seat will probably turn over to Liddy Dole. If ever there were an establishment Republican, it is this woman–a two-time former cabinet secretary and wife of two-time national loser Bob Dole. Mrs. Dole will be fairly disciplined and vote with the president probably more than she would like, but she will certainly never step out of line and stand up to the GOP when it abandons its principles.

Texas Atty. Gen. John Cornyn will replace Phil Gramm. Cornyn has not shown any liberal leanings, but also has not shown the fire of Gramm. I find no fault with Cornyn, but Gramm is a rare breed with a unique ability to express the truth about what government actually is: the opposite of freedom. Ask anyone in Texas–eloquence is not Cornyn’s strong point.

And finally there is John Sununu, who hopefully will beat New Hampshire Governor Jeanne Shaheen. Sununu is a solid conservative. He will be one of the best Senators if he wins. Luckily the Republican Party doesn’t hold that against him though.

The trade of Smith for Sununu is a fine one (it is entirely plausible Sununu will be more effective in advancing our cause). The shame is how successful the establishment was in driving out Smith, and how willing the right was to go along.

These three seats will be filled. But these three men will not be replaced.