Jim DeMint’s Long Audition

Jim DeMint’s long audition


I read somewhere once — and wish like hell I could remember who wrote it — that about half of American history has emerged from the nation’s reaction to South Carolina acting out.


Well, to paraphrase a famous American conservative, there they go again. This time, it’s U.S. Sen. Jim DeMint’s announcement that he’s leaving the Senate to become president of The Heritage Foundation. Heritage, founded in 1973, is one of the original conservative think tanks, constructed as a bulwark against the insidious notions that taxation is not by definition evil; government is capable of accomplishing worthwhile things; and American foreign policy need not ride, like Slim Pickens in Dr. Strangelove, astride a nuclear warhead.


These are dangerous ideas, clearly. So it’s a nice fit. DeMint is regarded as a kind of spiritual father of the Tea Party crowd, with his hard-right stances on abortion, border security, immigration and health care, and his well-honed skill as a plate-passer for Tea Party candidates’ campaigns. His leap from the Senate to Heritage reflects — along many, many other things — the reverence these patriots hold for such an august and venerated institution as the United States Senate. That is to say, little to none.


The efforts of DeMint and his fellow Senate Republicans to filibuster practically everything that lands on their desks have given rise to serious calls for filibuster reform. Congress as a whole is well on its way toward an ignominious record:


According to a recent Gallup poll, only 18% of Americans say they approve of the work this Congress has done — so it’s more than likely it won’t go down as one of the more popular congressional bodies.


But with only weeks to go before it concludes, the 112th Congress (2011-2012) is on track to make another type of history.


By passing just 196 bills into law so far, it is in the running to become the least productive Congress since the 1940s.


In fact, that amount is 710 fewer public laws than was produced by the 80th Congress (from 1947-48), which first earned the moniker “Do-Nothing” Congress.


No accident, this, and Jim DeMint is a standard bearer for this new kind of holder of elected office, who serves on a public body to neutralize it. It was darkly funny to read this Washington Post story on Thursday about the meaning of DeMint’s departure and the “legacy” he leaves behind in the Senate: “’It’s no secret that he spent much more time on grassroots advocacy and campaigns than he did on legislating,’ said one senior Republican Senate aide granted anonymity to speak candidly. ‘He clearly was not drawn towards the nuts and bolts of lawmaking.’” No, you think?


That, then, is what service in Congress (or any other public body) means to a particular subset of American politicians, and voters would do well to remember it: It’s a tryout, an audition, a stepping stone. Which is fine — no one cares for career politicians — but for the Jim DeMints of the nation, the audition has nothing to do with an ability to introduce meaningful legislation and help it pass into law, which is sort of the reason Congress exists. In fact, on the right, it’s helpful to do the opposite: In this Congress, DeMint introduced 35 bills, including, most recently, the “Commemorative Coins Reform Act of 2012.” Not one passed. He was the head of the Heritage Foundation in spirit long before he walked into the think tank’s packed auditorium Thursday to a standing ovation.


“I feel like I just walked in the front door of my own house,” DeMint told the multitudes. “Leaving the Senate to become president of the Heritage Foundation is a big promotion.”


Postscript: This, from the Post’s resident conservative blogger, Jennifer Rubin, is just too head-smackingly amusing not to share. DeMint’s defection is good for the Senate and bad for Heritage, see, because DeMint is a “pol”:


By embracing him, Heritage, to a greater extent than ever before, becomes a political instrument in service of extremism, not a well-respected think tank and source of scholarship. Every individual who works there should take pause and consider whether the reputation of that institution is elevated or diminished by this move.


Yes. ‘Tis a sad day when The Heritage Foundation, bastion of scholarship and intellectual rigor, stoops to such filthy depths. What rough beast, its hour come round at last, slouches toward K Street to be born?