- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 6, 2000

I am about to shock and perhaps demoralize many in the media and the Washington chattering class.

On Friday night, I saw Sen. Jesse Helms alive and well.

He arrived on time for a dinner party at a Washington hotel, not on a stretcher, but on his own two feet.

He was accompanied not by concerned physicians, but by the lovely and delightful Dot Helms and his able and amiable chief of staff, James Broughton.

Contrary to recent reports and morbid cable news blather, he looked fantastic. He sounded fantastic. He laughed a lot especially at those who for some bizarre reason have suddenly begun to predict his imminent demise.

As those of us who follow the good senator know, he can really bring a house down when he takes the podium. This night was no exception. His remarks were inspired, and downright moving. Like a deep breath of fresh air, his very presence combined with his words seemed to remind all of us that faith, duty, courage and honor still have a place in this town.

Following additional speeches by other notables and a pretty good hotel meal, the senator got up to leave. No less than 45 minutes later after stopping to chat and pose for pictures with everyone who asked he left the building. Again, not on a stretcher, but on his own two feet. Dot and Jimmy followed close behind.

I am sure that just about everyone reading this knows exactly why I feel compelled to explain my impressions of Mr. Helms' fine state as I witnessed it. And I am also sure that many of those readers are as sick as I am of recent reports to the contrary.

For those who have no idea, a quick primer: The second-biggest story since election night (soon to become the "biggest," perhaps) has been the narrow margin by which the Republicans maintained control of the U.S. Senate. Early on, it looked as though they would hold a breathtakingly slim majority of 51 seats to 49. As I write this, the balance of power has become even more delicate at 50-50, thanks to a Washington State recount in which Republican incumbent Slade Gorton was surprisingly picked off. Under this scenario, Republicans are still taking some comfort in the likelihood that Dick Cheney will actually become vice president of the United States and, by virtue, president of the Senate, serving as a trusty GOP tie-breaker. Even still, control of the Senate conceivably hinges on the health or ill-fortune of a member or two.

According to recent reports, we can be sure that two Republicans will drop like flies any day now.

The morbid media and the "chatterers" desperate to fill time in the very long 24-hour cable news cycle are hysterical over this "certainty," and have launched nothing less than a determined death watch on Sens. Strom Thurmond and Jesse Helms.

We're used to hearing that about Mr. Thurmond. We've been hearing it for, what, 20 years or so? That said, the fellow's nearly 100 years old now, so I will grant that there is perhaps little room for outrage at such speculation. (As for me, I still think Strom is likely to outlast us all and I believe he thinks so too.)

But Mr. Helms? What gives?

Yes, he tools around Capitol Hill in a motorized cart from time to time. And when the cart won't do, he is sometimes seen with a walker. Other than that, he's the same old Jesse Helms. And on any given day, his schedule is at least 10 times as grueling as mine and certainly of those conducting the death watch.

As the senator said to those gathered on Friday night, he has developed an unfortunate but far from life-threatening condition which often leaves him without sensation at the bottom of his feet. This is a good thing to have (his words) if one enjoys falling on one's face from time to time. Hence, the occasional cart, or walker.

In plain English, Mr. Helms has a foot problem not a foot in the grave.

I do not know the senator well, but I have friends and associates who do. All agree that at this very moment, he's better and stronger than ever. Some say that he has made his most important and lasting contributions as a United States senator in the last year alone. They speak of his historic U.N. speech the very finest example of American political rhetoric since Ronald Reagan's earth-shaker delivered at the Brandenburg gate.

They speak of a man with a gigantic heart who deserves much credit for recently helping to make Pope John Paul's millennium plea for Third World debt relief a reality.

They speak of a man whose greatest pleasure as a U.S. senator is hosting children and young people in his vast Senate office.

They speak of the great pride that the senator takes in the newly completed Jesse Helms Center in Wingate, N.C., where young Americans for generations to come will learn about freedom and liberty, and will learn how to defend it via the examples set by America's greatest leaders and patriots (A utterly horrifying thought to those currently staked out on the death watch).

They speak of a man who, simply put, has much work left to do.

So to the media and the chattering class, let's call off the death watch. Leave the senator alone, for crying out loud. While you're at it, go ahead and live with the fact that even in retirement, it is highly likely that through the Helms Center and other means, he will continue to confound you for years to come.

Christian Josi is executive director of the American Conservative Union.

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