Neanderthal Helms tries to stem the humanoid tide

The US Republicans are at war - with themselves. John Carlin reports

The mother and father of all world wars took place 50,000 years ago, according to the latest scientific evidence, when our humanoid ancestors wiped Neanderthals from the earth.

The drama of those savage, fateful days is being re-enacted today in Washington in a contest billed as a battle for the soul of the Republican Party. Jesse Helms, playing the part of the bull Neanderthal, is locked in an allegorical fight to the death with William Weld, a champion humanoid in the Republican ranks.

The pretext for combat is the refusal of Mr Helms, the Republican chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, to allow Mr Weld, who has just retired as governor of Massachusetts, the honour of serving his country as ambassador to Mexico. President Clinton has nominated Mr Weld for the job but Mr Helms, citing Mr Weld's support for the medicinal use of marijuana, says that the ex-governor is too soft for the all-important task of subduing the Mexican narco-traffickers. Suspicious of humanity's democratic impulses, Mr Helms has taken full advantage of the tyrannical powers his weighty office affords to deny his free-thinking rival the courtesy of a senatorial hearing, the constitutional prerequisite for all ambassadorial confirmations.

But these are trifles. The underlying cause of the war concerns an altogether more profound, more elemental question that has more to do with Darwin than with drugs. The Republican species has reached a fork on the evolutionary road. Will the Helms strain go the way of its dinosaur forebears or will it prevail in battle and condemn "homo sapiens" to extinction?

Mr Weld threw down the gauntlet 12 days ago when he announced his decision to quit the cosy humanist citadel of Boston and go to war - "a land war, if need be", he proclaimed - for the future of civilisation. Mr Helms took up the challenge, responding last week with a bravado compellingly evocative of great Neanderthal leaders of yesteryear. "I'm determined to stand still," he bayed, "unless somebody pushes me aside."

But it was Mr Weld, blessed with a weightier cerebral mass, who was best equipped to put into words the nature of the contest in which the Grand Old Party is engaged. "In plain language, I am not Senator Helms' kind of Republican," he declared. "I do not pass his litmus test on social policy. Nor do I want to."

Mr Helms' Neanderthal political beliefs possess the solitary virtue of brutal simplicity. During the 25 years that he has sat in the US Congress he has based all his judgements on a literal reading of the teachings of the Old Testament. The Cold War was a Holy War between the forces of darkness and the Lord's vengeful warriors, anti-Communist torturers, assassins and mass murderers in Latin America and Africa whom he lovingly grappled to his righteous bosom. A Southerner of the old school, he has only recently disabused himself of the notion that his black compatriots are tainted with the curse of Ham. More recently he has been turning his atavistic fury on homosexuals and the purveyors of godlessness and pornography at the National Endowment for the Arts.

Mr Weld, a wealthy patrician bred in the eastern Ivy League establishment, looks down his nose at the uncouth North Carolina senator. Scornful of fundamentalist ideologues, he favours gay and abortion rights and takes a generously indulgent view of human foible. While Mr Helms views Mexico as a nation of dangerous, dark-hued desperadoes, Mr Weld's respect for his neighbours' common humanity is such that he has declared his intention to do the Neanderthal unthinkable and take a course in Spanish.

Chairman of the mighty Foreign Relations Committee Mr Helms might be, but he is too congenitally obtuse to understand that no other national security concern is more urgent for the US today than Mexico. America's giant southern neighbour is undergoing a political upheaval the like of which has not been seen in 70 years and having a bright, able and politically sensitive ambassador in place in Mexico City in the event of any number of calamitous contingencies will be vital to the US in the coming years.

And yet the broader strategic picture has been entirely obscured by the dust of the primeval in-house scrap raging among the thespians of Capitol Hill. The drama will run and run at least until the end of the summer, ending only when one of the two great rivals lies vanquished on the stage floor.

It may well be, for thus the critics prophesy, that the day will belong to the prehistoric House of Helms. But not the war. New champions will follow in the wake of the pretender Weld. History is on the side of the humanoids. Only the fittest will survive and, at 75, the old warhorse is doomed soon to pass away and join his fallen comrades in Neanderthal nirvana. The future does not belong to Jesse Helms.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer - Junior / Mid Weight

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: To support their continued grow...

Recruitment Genius: Marketing Data Specialist

£22000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are the go-to company for ...

Recruitment Genius: Search Marketing Specialist - PPC / SEO

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join the UK's leadin...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This caravan dealership are currently recruiti...

Day In a Page

Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

Is this the future of flying?

Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

Isis are barbarians

but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

Call of the wild

How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate
Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

The science of swearing

What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

Africa on the menu

Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'
10 best statement lightbulbs

10 best statement lightbulbs

Dare to bare with some out-of-the-ordinary illumination
Wimbledon 2015: Heather Watson - 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

Heather Watson: 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

Briton pumped up for dream meeting with world No 1
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve
Dustin Brown: Who is the tennis player who knocked Rafael Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?

Dustin Brown

Who is the German player that knocked Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?
Ashes 2015: Damien Martyn - 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

Damien Martyn: 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

Australian veteran of that Ashes series, believes the hosts' may become unstoppable if they win the first Test