'The taxpayers' greatest ally'

"'The taxpayers' greatest ally'" Continued...

Issue: "Hurtling toward havoc," Aug. 1, 2009

DeMint gained national attention in 2007 when he went against fellow Republicans, including President George W. Bush, by threatening to filibuster the immigration bill. His repeated objections to amendment votes throughout the debate defeated efforts to grant citizenship to illegal immigrants. His intransigence "angered leaders from both parties," The Washington Post reported at the time. Closer to home it defined DeMint as "a gadfly," according to Furman University political scientist James Guth.

But DeMint offers no apologies or regrets for defeating what he calls a bad bill. The immigration debate gave DeMint a firsthand education on the power of public pressure, as voters flooded the offices of lawmakers with calls, emails, and letters. "It gave me hope that no matter what people inside Congress think they can get away with, if the American people know the truth and they get angry, then they get engaged."

Republicans, in DeMint's view, have gone in a different direction, trading in conservative values and principles for an addiction to spending and borrowing that he says even two successive election defeats haven't cured. "We betrayed the American people," DeMint said. "We didn't do what we said we were going to do, and Americans made us pay a price."

The senator, ranked by National Journal as the body's most conservative member in 2007 and 2008, continues to offer conservative alternatives even as his outsider status in the minority party means that his proposals likely won't see the Senate floor. He recently introduced health-care legislation that reduces government control of the health-care market and would be paid for by forcing companies to repay their federal bailout funds.

He was successful in July to add funding to a Senate spending bill ($150,000) calling for additional patriotic religious references at national landmarks, such as the Pledge of Allegiance phrase "one nation under God."

Speaking truth to power may not play well in Washington, but South Carolina Republicans love DeMint, according to Furman's Guth: "He's willing to fight for things because he is in no danger of losing his seat."

But the fight in Washington remains more challenging in the Obama era, according to DeMint. Immigration amnesty and earmark abuses are being overshadowed by government bailouts and takeovers. And Republicans haven't always offered clear alternatives. "I'm going to follow our leadership if they move in the right direction, and if not, I am going to go in the right direction and hope that others will follow," he said.

DeMint sees a return to the nation's Christian roots as the key to solving America's problems: "The decline of America's power and prestige has been directly related to the secularization of our country."

The Capitol Visitor's Center controversy is emblematic of the whittling away of religion in the nation's laws, economy, and culture. God-not government-is the giver of our rights, prosperity and freedom: "Things that work in a free society are based on principles that are derived from religious convictions," said DeMint. "Free enterprise doesn't work unless there is a whole lot of honesty and integrity."

DeMint says it's important for lawmakers to know that God is in control: "People who don't believe that try to got more and more control here, and do more and more things from here. They may believe there is a God but don't see Him playing an active role in our community."

DeMint wants everyone who shows up at the U.S. Capitol to remember that.

Edward Lee Pitts
Edward Lee Pitts

Lee teaches journalism at Dordt College in Sioux Center, Iowa, and is the associate dean of the World Journalism Institute.


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