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Jesse Helms’ Revenge


Today in the annals of the World’s Worst Deliberative Body, we have the case of Robert Pastor. Pastor, who died the other day, was something of a wunderkind in the field of foreign policy toward Latin America. At the ripe old age of 29, he shepherded Carter’s treaty giving the Panama Canal back to Panama through the Senate.* In 1994, President Clinton nominated Pastor to be Ambassador to Panama. And this is where our old friend Jesse Helms comes into the story.

In 1994, when President Bill Clinton nominated Mr. Pastor to be ambassador to Panama, many conservatives remained critical of the loss of the canal. Senator Jesse Helms, Republican of North Carolina, who headed the Foreign Relations Committee, prevented Mr. Pastor’s nomination from being voted on by the full Senate even though his committee had approved it, 16 to 3.

“He presided over one of the most disastrous and humiliating periods in the history of U.S. involvement in Latin America,” Mr. Helms said.

Mr. Pastor asked that his nomination be withdrawn in 1995. Administration officials told The New York Times that he would almost certainly have been approved had the nomination come to a Senate vote. (The post ultimately went to William J. Hughes, a former Democratic congressman from New Jersey.)

If by “humiliation” Helms meant “treating nations with respect instead of stealing their land,” and of course that is humiliating for a racist like Helms, then sure. But I do love how a nominee can pass committee 16-3 and be held up by one senator.

Like any good very concerned Beltway pundit, I now see how Harry Reid is destroying the Senate by making it operate in ways that move slightly toward real democracy! Now will Fred Hiatt please hire me!

*We can discuss this in comments, but I’m of the rather decided belief that Carter’s legacy is the second most complex of any postwar president, outside of LBJ of course. The Panama treaty was really a very good thing and something of a repudiation of a century of American imperialism in Latin America. But of course Carter made so many mistakes in other areas.

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