Fare Thee Well, Spiritual Warrior Jim DeMint

“The bigger government gets, the smaller God gets.” — Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC)

Jim DeMint, heralded for a time by political pundits as the most powerful member of the U.S. Senate, shocked even his own staff yesterday when he announced that he’ll relinquish his seat next month to become president of the Heritage Foundation, the preeminent Washington, D.C. think tank for social conservatives. There are a few things worth unpacking about this development.

Media christened DeMint as the great “Tea Party Hero” in 2009-10 largely because he supported primary challengers against Senate candidates favored by the GOP establishment: Mike Lee, Christine O’Donnell, Rand Paul, and others. As Dave Weigel recounts, DeMint’s operational philosophy was to shun hands-on legislative maneuvering in the interest of exerting influence by less conventional means — working closely with conservative media to promote his vision of Small Government. DeMint proudly refers to himself as a “marketing” guy, not a guy terribly concerned about the ins-and-outs of policy-making.

In popular media accounts, the “Tea Party” was originally portrayed as an amazing grassroots coalition of disaffected conservatives and libertarians so fed up with excessive government spending and exploding debt/deficits that they spontaneously banded together to save America from certain fiscal doom. We were told that these folks had set aside “social issues.” This narrative was always a total sham, and DeMint’s move only crystallizes it.

For one, the quote above should dispel common notions of “economic” versus “social” issues. Social conservatives like DeMint are not generally opposed to government spending on principle, because they are happy to shower the military, Law Enforcement, and other government agencies with profligate funds at a moment’s notice. What they are opposed to is social welfare programs, because in their eyes these programs foster dependence and indolence, and therefore inhibit the flourishing of a properly God-fearing society. When secular authorities provision healthcare and foodstamps, so DeMint’s thinking would go, they instill secular values into the populace. Reductions to such spending is therefore viewed as just as much a “social issue” as same-sex marriage or abortion.

In DeMint’s mind, any unwarranted encroachment of government authority into private business constitutes a subversion of Christianity. Regulations displease God, because God looks kindly on profit-generating free markets. Right-wing Christians are shrewd enough that they will often frame their arguments against government spending in terms of “fiscal responsibility,” but with perhaps a few exceptions, this is typically a ruse. Social conservatives were happy to vote for any expansion of government requested by George W. Bush, an Evangelical Christian. Their fear is not of governmental power per se, but governmental power wielded by the wrong person for ungodly purposes.

At 61, DeMint is not looking for a quiet retirement. 61 is not very old for a U.S. Senator. Rather, he stated yesterday that his goal is to exert even more political leverage than was available to him as a member of the world’s most powerful legislative body. In an interview with Wolf Blitzer, DeMint conceded that while he wields “enormous power” in his current capacity, assuming the Heritage Foundation presidency will afford him greater power. (You may have noticed that accrual of “power” is a key theme.)

“They were hoping and praying for a few members of Congress to stand with them,” DeMint wrote in a 2011 memoir, The Great American Awakening: Two Years that Changed America, Washington, and Me. “Something deeply spiritual was happening in the nation.” For him, the “Tea Party movement” was a fundamentally “spiritual” movement to change the moral character of America, not a movement principally focused on reigning in nebulous “spending.”

As president of an agenda-setting “Establishment Republican” institution, DeMint’s campaign of spiritual warfare is destined to continue.

About michaeltracey

Journalist based in Brooklyn, New York. Follow me on Twitter at @mtracey.

  • Reginald Selkirk


  • C Peterson

    Calling the Heritage Foundation a “think tank” devalues all the organizations (of any political viewpoint) that genuinely contribute intellectual value to our society. The Heritage Foundation does no such thing; it is merely a corrupt lobbying organization that seeks to influence public opinion on matters that affect the economic position of its members.

  • Baby_Raptor

    The less of the christianist god there is in the government the better. 

  • http://cryofly.myopenid.com/ anuran

    God gets small? God does not exist on any scale, Mr. DeMint. Government grows because there are crooks around us. Anyways hope you have fun Minting money at the HF.

  • Zugswang

    Complain for years that government is too powerful.  Leave government position to join a private political organization because it gives you more power than your high ranking government position.

    Smells like…like…something.  Some kind of decaying organic matter.  But for the life of me, I can’t think of what it’s called.

  • http://abb3w.livejournal.com/ abb3w

     Perhaps not so much a “think tank” as a “spin engine”.

  • Octoberfurst

     I, for one, am glad to see DeMint go. He is a right-wing Christian nutjob who catered to the Religious Right any way he could.  As a Tea Party favorite he pushed their wacko ideas  in the Senate. Let the Heritage Foundation have him. He’ll be right at home there. (And he’ll do less harm.)

  • http://twitter.com/mtracey Michael Tracey

    Most think tanks are merely “corrupt lobbying organizations” — unfortunately, this is not unique to Heritage.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1220871538 Alan Eckert

    He’s in it for the money and power, not what he can do for his constituents. Otherwise, he would have remained in office for the remaining 4 years of his 6 year term for which he was elected. To me, it’s like spitting in the faces f the people who elected him, REGARDLESS of party.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1220871538 Alan Eckert

    But who will the governor appoint (if not herself!)?

  • C Peterson

    While many have a specific bias, that doesn’t mean they don’t produce cogent results. I don’t think most reputable think tanks are lobbying organizations.

  • http://cryofly.myopenid.com/ anuran

    Colbert, of course.

  • http://twitter.com/silo_mowbray Silo Mowbray

    Slippery Jim DeMint.

    (Anyone get the reference? Anyone? Bueller?)

  • http://www.holytape.etsy.com Holytape

    Dear Senator Demented,

    Please do not let the door hit you on the way out.

    Gratefully Yours,
    The Rest of Humanity

  • http://twitter.com/mtracey Michael Tracey

    Rumor has it that she will appoint Rep. Tim Scott, who’d be the only black U.S. senator (as a Republican) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tim_Scott_%28politician%29

  • Pawel Samson

    And he’d be the first black senator from the south since Reconstruction.  Kind of a big deal.  He’s also a 47 year-old “committed bachelor,” so I’m sure Lindsay Graham is excited at the prospect.

  • Lurker111

     I smell a stainless steel rat.  ;)

  • Alajackd

     “What they are opposed to is social welfare programs, because in their
    eyes these programs foster dependence and indolence, and therefore
    inhibit the flourishing of a properly God-fearing society”

    Um, false. This couldn’t be more WRONG. We’re opposed to socialism and central planning because confiscation and redistribution is polar opposite form giving from the heart. You can’t freely give when coerced, it’s impossible. Charitable giving is EXTREMELY important to the Christian faith.

  • Duke OfOmnium

     She’d appoint Sanford, but he’s somewhere on the Appalachian Trail.

  • WoodwindsRock

    “Their fear is not of governmental power per se, but governmental power wielded by the wrong person for ungodly purposes.”

    Indeed, they may claim to be small government, but I’ve noticed a trend – they only want government to be small in ways that they will be able to keep their money and their guns. For example, they don’t care how much the government intrudes into the rights of a woman to have an abortion. And by that I mean, really intrude – those laws that required a woman to have to see the baby forming in them. That’s total government intrusion, but government intrusion is of no concern to conservatives as long as it is enforcing their “morality”.

  • http://www.agnostic-library.com/ma/ PsiCop

    Re: “Social conservatives were happy to vote for any expansion of government requested by George W. Bush, an Evangelical Christian. Their fear is not of governmental power per se, but governmental power wielded by the wrong person for ungodly purposes.”

    This is absolutely true, but it also indicts these people as — ironically — unChristian. This sort of hypocrisy is precisely what Jesus himself forbid them ever to engage in. They need to stick crowbars into their Bibles and open them up to Matthew 7:5 and Luke 6:42, among others. They might also want to pay special attention to Matthew 7:21-23.

  • Carmelita Spats

    Christianity is concerned about the welfare of others? Christians “give from the heart”? B.S…Your cult is fixated on USING and ABUSING poverty the way a heroin dealer distributes smack so as to hook others and gain control. The Dead-Guy-On-A-Stick, the Christian Superhero, did not give a rat’s behind about “the poor”…Says Yahweh’s brat, “For ye have the poor always with you; but me ye have not always.” (Matthew 26:11)…What is even CREEPIER is that in order to stage your delusional and narcissistic “Christian-Me- Show”, you need to manipulate “the poor” as moveable props in your twisted theatrics. You NEED poverty to live out your Christian fantasy at the expense of others! To wit, Christianity’s “deep concern” for the poor sounds more like the self-righteous squawking of cultists who are so deeply disturbed by their own lack of bone-deep ethics that they’re compelled to spend the rest of their days braying about “socialism”. Please leave “the poor” alone. I would suggest other types of volunteer work, but I don’t recommend any kind of personal contact. Christoholics lack empathy. Many cities, even small ones, have beautification programs involving cleanup and planting trees, which might do for a start. The cultist will be enriching the lives of others, improving her own health, she can proudly point out “her” trees, and she’ll feel self-righteous with damn good reason for a change. If you are truly worried about “BIG GOVERNMENT” and the scary “WELFARE STATE” then support abortion rights as the complete emancipation of women from a livestock version of compulsory reproduction and dependency. Mr. Demented believes that BIG GOVERNMENT should stick a wand up a woman’s vagina before she has an abortion even if her gynecologist finds this unnecessary. This is sexual assault by GOVERNMENT. Rep. Bobby Franklin of Georgia, Teabagger, believes that every miscarriage should be investigated by the local police as a potential homicide. Before you scream about “socialism”, take note of the totalitarian, authoritarian, nature of the Tea Baggers. A-men, A-woman, A-six pack, A-midget and a  partridge in a pear tree.

  • Alajackd

    I stopped reading your emotional drivel after the first lame jab at Jesus Christ. Can’t your mega-logical brain come up with some better material? The same old stuff is getting old – God sucks, piss on Jesus, F*** Christians, blah blah blah.. Just more emotional fail.

    Here’s the fact Jack: Christians give to the needy exponentially more than any other social group on the face of planet Earth. So, that being the case, the evidence is in my corner.

  • http://twitter.com/silo_mowbray Silo Mowbray

     Lurker111 wins one Internet. :-)

  • Octoberfurst

     Tell ya what. When Christians start taking care of ALL the poor, the sick and the needy I’ll take you seriously. I love how your side says that we don’t need government to help the less fortunate—that the churches will do that. Uh-huh. Riiiight.  Most churches have to beg their members to give money just to keep the church open.  And those that are prosperous don’t really go out of their way to help the poor. I know one church in my area that has 2,000 members and the church is super posh.  You know that programs they have to help the needy? None! Zip, zero, nada.  Oh they do a canned food drive around Thanksgiving and Christmas every year. Big whoop.  So don’t give me your crap about how charity  minded Christians are.  How much charity is the Vatican doing with all its billions?  Oh wait, they are using that to pay for their sex abuse scandals.
      Oh and I loved the “socialism” remark. Oh how terrible that is. Socialist countries like Sweden and Norway are just hell-holes. God forbid we be like them!  LOL.

  • http://reasondecrystallized.blogspot.com/ extremities

    That opening quote …

    It’s not even that I agree with it or disagree with it, it’s that the premises which underlie the statement are so far divorced from reality as I perceive it that agreement or disagreement would be meaningless.

  • Drakk

     Oh baw. Why the fuck should anyone take your dead god-on-a-stick seriously? So long as you keep believing in a magic zombie jew, we’ll keep calling it a magic zombie jew.

    And now to your “facts”. This is based on what population sample exactly? The US, with its ~73% christian population? The whole planet, where the the fraction is around 1 in 3? Even if I grant your statement of “more than any other social group”, that could just be because there are so many christians compared to anyone else.

  • Donalbain

     Citation needed.

  • Nigel Patel

    DeMint is part of the shadowy cult The Family (not so shadowy that a shmoe like me can’t read about it) do it’s no surprise to me that his North Star is power. The Family is vestigially Christian but in reality they use Jesus as a metaphor for power. 

  • cipher

    I think you meant “proportionally” -  not that you’re right.

    I’ve browsed through some of your other comments; you’re obviously confused about the meaning of the word “fact” as well.

  • pamsfriend

     Don’t forget Luke 6:30 – the bane of “bootstrappers” everywhere.

  • Alajackd

    That little spewing nonsense was good. Feel better now? Yawn… Unfortunately, government social programs aren’t giving, it’s theft. One cannot freely give that which is already stolen (free will is kinda a big deal to us Christians).

    On charity… Christians give exponentially more than any other social group on planet earth. Tell you what, get back to me when you bigoted atheists build a hospital for sick children like Christians do, and fund it via charity.

  • Octoberfurst

     What “nonsense” are you talking about? Everything I said was true. Oh so government programs are “theft.” Have you ever heard the saying, “taxes are the price we pay for living in a civilized society”? I thought not.  What you call “theft” I call a common sense way to help other–i.e. social programs.  Too bad you are so greedy that it pisses you off that some of your precious money is used to help others.  (How “Christian” of you.)
    What’s that? Your complaint is that YOU don’t get to decide who is worthy of your money? Aww too bad. So sad.
      Let’s see, there are 2 billion Christians on earth so I would say that yes they do give a lot to charity with those kind of numbers. And they are organized in churches and in other meeting places. We atheists don’t have a place to meet nor do we have any type of hierarchy telling us what to do.  And atheists DO give money and time to charities. We just don’t go around saying, “Hey I’m an atheist and I’m giving money to help the poor.”  Atheists have funded hospitals and orphanages but Christians have the advantage in that they can name their hospital “St Lukes” or whatever which lets people know it is a “Christian” run hospital. (It would look stupid to have, say, “The Atheist Hospital of Cleveland” or something like that.)
      So pat yourself on the back all you want. But it doesn’t mean you are better than us just because you put the Christian lable on everything you do.  (We’re not that egotistical.)  As I said before when you Christians take care of all the poor I’ll agree that government social programs aren’t needed. Until that time please shut the hell up. Have a nice day.   

  • Ibis3

    Horses are guided by means of reins, not reigns.  

  • Godlesspanther

    Yes, the Heritage Foundation is not as public, not as visible, as the US Senate. 

    People like DeMint can be much more dangerous when they are not in plain sight.