The Right Wing

5 Takeaways From Jim DeMint, One of Washington's Most Hated Men

A new book takes ideological blinders to a new level.

Photo Credit: Image by Shutterstock, Copyright (c) Christopher Halloran

Just when you thought you’d heard every ridiculous claim by right-wingers, comes a new book by one of the movement’s puppet masters. Jim DeMint says all America needs to solve its problems is more love—while pouring buckets of bile on people who happen to rely on government during hard times.   

In January 2013, DeMint, then the Republican senator from South Carolina, shocked the GOP establishment by resigning to become head of the big conservative think tank, Heritage Foundation. Since then, he has become “the most public face of the Tea Party vs. establishment battle,” as Politico.com put it, which credits him for the GOP’s internal warfare that led to the federal government shutdown last fall and asked if he was "the most hated man" in Washington.

After the government reopened and House Speaker John Boehner said he had enough with DeMint and his Tea Partiers, DeMint retreated to the shadows. But he’s back with a new book. Falling In Love With America Again is not just as tacky as its title suggests. It is a looking glass into the beliefs and prejudices of right-wingers who believe America went astray with the New Deal and all the progressive social movements since, from civil rights and women's rights to the environment and LGBT rights.

What follows are five points from the opening pages that reveal what’s behind the biases DeMint and his ilk spew, which include Florida’s Sen. Marco Rubio, Pennsylvania’s Pat Toomey and Kentucky’s Rand Paul—all of whom DeMint championed in 2010’s Tea Party wave—as well as Fox News’ endless negativity and false moralizing.

1. Blames the private sector’s greed on the government.

DeMint’s book opens by bemoaning the woeful state of the economy on working people, but then pivots and assigns the blame, not on employers for paying poor wages, or the numerous corporations that keep raising prices of life’s necessities, but instead on big government. That’s completely upside-down, because business, not government, sets wages, prices and benefits under a capitalist system that prizes profits more than people.

“Despite all the trillons of dollars flowing from Washington, the official unemployment figure, as I write, hovers between 7 and 8 percent—and some Americans have dropped out of the labor force altogether. The real wages of the average American worker have not risen in 30 years. And we have a permanent underclass dependent on government from everything from their food to their housing. No matter how hard conservatives in Congress and I tried to stop it, the federal government kept metastasizing, invading every aspect of life of every American.”     

2. Politics sickened him, so he joined the Heritage Foundation.

If there was ever a case of the pot calling the kettle black, this is it. DeMint says politics is filled with so much negativity and ugliness that he had to leave the Senate for a purer podium. Where did he go? To the Heritage Foundation, which, in a big shift from its historic ideas-centered role, created an advocacy arm. Heritage Action then went to war against moderate Republicans in 2012, wreaking needless havoc and forcing the federal shutdown to multi-billion-dollar cuts in the anti-poverty food stamp program. But DeMint bemoans the destructive politics he’s personally cultivated.

“We live in an age where instant communication and instantaneous polling, massively funded by special interests, have created a politics of misinformation and blatant pandering. Permanent campaigning has not only polarized politics, it has divided America. It has smothered our love of country and love for one another.

“I lived in this poisonous political environment for over 15 years, as a candidate, congressman, and senator. Then, in January 2013, I resigned from the Senate to join the Heritage Foundation as its president and CEO, convinced I could do more to help save the American Dream for this generation and future generations from outside rather than inside the Washington establishment.”    

3. The answer is loving America more—like the Tea Party does.

Like the 1960s-era Beatles tune, “All You Need Is Love,” DeMint says the solution to America’s woes is, you guessed it, more love. Love of neighbor. Love of God, country, anything and everything, but not love of government. And who are DeMint’s flower children spreading the love? The Tea Partiers.

“There is a way and only one way to start and change America’s course, to turn back in a direction that will reunite our nation and preserve the blessings of liberty for all: We must fall in love with America again….

“If we can convince voters who want more freedom and opportunity—and less government intrusion into their lives—to register and vote, they can defeat the proponents of big government. This is what happened in the 2010 elections, when voters inspired by the Tea Parties and their spontaneous grassroots activities turned out in force. It can happen again.”

4. Everything “big” is bad, except for big things he likes.

Politicans like DeMint believe they are exemplars of principle, while not seeing their contradictions. Nowhere is this more apparent than in DeMint’s introduction of how much he despises almost everything that’s not small-scale and small-town America. He loved his kid’s elementary school but not their high school; it was too big. He loved his community bank that gave him a loan after a phone call; not the bigger bank that acquired it. DeMint says almost everything that’s big undermines what’s inherently good in people. And the biggest beast of all is government—except the branches he likes, such as the military.

“All of us have experienced the frustration of dealing with the complex billing systems and impersonal computerized customer service of big telephone companies, cable operators, and monopoly utilities. I am not arguing that all Big is bad, and all little is good—you need a strong government when you go to war, to take the most obvious example. But there is an enormous difference between the government of power-hungry progressives and the constitutional government created by the Founders…

“Even when people are dependent on the services of Big—whether government or private organizations—they are likely to resent their dependency and lack of choices while disdaining the people who control them.”

5. Government creates dependency and undermines self-esteem.

There is a reason to try to parse DeMint’s contradiction- and fantasy-filled world. It goes deeper than refuting his twisted assertions. DeMint and many of the older, whiter Tea Partiers who share his prejudices have underlying beliefs that don’t always come into the open. DeMint cynically and absurdly believes that when people rely on government social programs they become addicted to handouts and that dependency lowers their self-esteem, rendering them less able to help themselves and their communities.

“By their very nature, needs-based public assistance programs tend to discourage work and marriage—which are the stepping stones to upward mobility and the foundation of civil society, since in most cases marriage or increased work leads to a reduction in benefits. It should come as no surprise, then, that since the mid-1960s, the greatest surge in out-of-wedlock births and the greatest disintergration of the family has occurred within our nation’s poorest communities.”

Never mind that America’s high divorce rate crosses all class lines. Or that right-wingers like DeMint oppose marriage equality for LGBT couples. Or that they have worked for years—aided by like-minded Democrats—to cut social welfare programs but not boost the minimum wage, or not raise Social Security to keep up with inflation, or not lower student loan interest rates to increase academic opportunities. And on and on.   

DeMint believes that Americans have become weak, dependent and unpatriotic. He says he’s compassionate and wants an America filled with more love at every level. But his beliefs are fundamentally divisive. He sneers at government’s inadequate solutions while working endlessly to undermine their effectiveness. He imagines that America’s social service voids would be taken up by religious institutions, charities and private enterprise—overlooking the fact that that hasn’t been true for decades, if ever, which pushes people and their problems to government’s underfunded doorstep.

Steven Rosenfeld covers national political issues for AlterNet, including America's democracy and voting rights, campaigns and elections, and many social justice issues. He is the author of "Count My Vote: A Citizen's Guide to Voting" (AlterNet Books, 2008).

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