Television news shows emphasize the rhetoric of Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.): Regarding the health insurance debate, "If we're able to stop Obama on this, it will become his Waterloo." DeMint in our interview spoke more of his religious beliefs and how he applies them politically.
Q: You graduated from the University of Tennessee in 1973. Were you involved in any Christian pursuits in college? Unfortunately not. For the record, I was a little angel.
Q: Duly noted. But later on . . . I was 30 and had never been happier, but there was just something terribly empty about my life. I knew there was a God, but I saw God as the one who took the fun out of life. My plan was to do business with Him when I got older and was tired of having fun. But a business friend of mine said, "You ought to come by this Christian businessmen's committee breakfast." My wife thought I'd gone crazy when I left at 6:30 a.m. to go. They were arguing about things that were in the Bible, and I loved it. That was a period in my life where I was on a mountaintop because I was discovering that God loved me and had a plan for my life-things that were completely new to me.
Q: It seems that you also developed a sense of God's providence: In your new book, Saving Freedom, you write, "For me, the journey to the Senate still seems so unreal and so miraculous that I am heavily burdened with the belief that God has put me here for an important reason." What is the reason? I think it has a lot to do with freedom: Galatians 5:1, "It's for freedom that Christ has set us free." After the Protestant Reformation people came here with a new-found spiritual freedom that blossomed into the demand for economic and political freedom. That's what God wants us to talk about as Christians and politicians: What does it mean to be free? What are our responsibilities? How do we live free as people, as a nation? How do we share that with others?
Q: The subtitle of your book is We Can Stop America's Slide into Socialism. The socialist or collectivist view is about central management and planning: You need experts to effectively manage and choreograph what's going on. When you believe in the individual, our whole focus as a society should be to develop the character and capabilities of individuals so they can succeed in a free society. When individuals are making choices, they're not only practicing freedom, they're developing their capabilities to be free.
Q: The Christian understanding is that we change society one by one, from the inside out. One person disciples another, who disciples another, and that expands exponentially. You can actually change things quicker that way than through some external structure.
Q: It's a year since the stock market crashed: Were federal bailouts part of "saving freedom"? They took us in a wrong direction. Flooding the banks with money may have stopped a run on the banks, but we could have done that by raising deposit insurance levels, which we eventually did. The problem was caused to a large degree by the government-sponsored enterprises Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. This administration is blaming the problem on free-market capitalism and using this as an excuse to take control over more of the financial sector.
Q: You must see a lot of avarice for power in Washington. What do you do about that? I don't think too many people would admit that they're trying to gain power for themselves, except to do good for others. Good intentions do pave the road to hell. Many believe that in order to do what's best for you we need to make more of your decisions. They don't understand, appreciate, and respect the principles that make this nation unique and prosperous.
Q: Last year John McCain rushed to Washington and supported the bailouts. If he hadn't done that and instead stood on a firm free-market position, do you think he would have been elected president? That decision killed any chance he had of being president. If he had come back and taken a principled stand, that would have been a contrast to the massive confusion and massive control by the government. Now banks aren't lending for commercial projects because they're afraid of federal regulators. We're hurting the economy now more because of federal oversight than anything else. We've put all this money in the banks and no one's doing anything that has any risk involved.
Q: Why did the "Republican Revolution" of the 1990s fizzle? Humans are always going to be susceptible to power, and this system in Washington is bigger than any individual. Republicans took over with reform ideas. They made some welfare reforms and did some things to create a balanced budget. Republicans just could not resist giving favors, taking money back home . . . it's like saying, "just a couple of drinks won't hurt. Well, maybe three or four drinks won't hurt." It got out of control. By the time I got there in '98 a core was still trying to do the reforms, but they were outmaneuvered by more senior members who thought they were there to get money for their districts and their states.
Q: Is the solution to throw the bums out and hope the next group won't be new bums, or should structural changes be made? I have always been a proponent of term limits-the longer you stay the more you reflect the system and the less you reflect the people you represent. The system just beats you down. We need a balanced budget requirement, because if we had to balance our budget we would have to set priorities. Right now we don't. We can't eliminate anything, but we can keep adding. We're punished for cutting because every program has a constituent, and there's always some reward for adding a new program.
Q: A lot of Republicans run on family values, but just this year we've seen publicized adultery involving Mark Sanford, John Ensign, and-allegedly-Chip Pickering. The American public sees us as hypocrites when we do that. Some of these people are some of my best friends, but they allowed themselves to get isolated.
Q: You've been highly involved in the healthcare debate. What's your prognosis? This is a classic war of worldviews: central planning vs. the people who want choices. Barack Obama voted against giving people a tax deduction when they buy their own health insurance. He voted against interstate competition. He voted against things that most people know would help this system work better.
Q: As far as controlling education, do you think No Child Left Behind was a mistake? It's a good idea to try to measure what you do, but it's more of the centralized planning idea from Washington. School choice is the most important issue we face today, because if freedom is based on the character, skills, and capability of the individual, then education becomes first and foremost. If that education does not include any spiritual component, then that key ingredient of character and integrity is missing. Our political and economic system does not work unless you have people who do the right thing when no one is looking, and you can't get that from a government system. If we're intent on having our government handle education, we will not be a free country in the future.
Q: In your book you write, "Government redistribution of wealth actually destroys the positive impulses and outcomes of voluntary charity." Can you explain a little more about that? It's ironic, but once you try to protect people from their own actions, to eliminate consequences and risk in their lives, you give them a security that ends up not being security at all. You take away the motivation to work and sacrifice and fail and get up, all those things that develop the muscle for success.
Q: Presidential sweepstakes in 2012: Do you see a clear candidate? What we need now more than anything are candidates willing to tell Americans the truth.