Jim DeMint, backstage maestro of mayhem

     On Thursday, Dec. 6, 2012, former Sen. Jim DeMint announced  that he was resigning to take over at Heritage Foundation. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky, file)

    On Thursday, Dec. 6, 2012, former Sen. Jim DeMint announced that he was resigning to take over at Heritage Foundation. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky, file)

    When Jim DeMint, poster child for U.S. Senate dysfunction and one-man wrecking crew, unexpectedly quit his seat last December, even many of his Republican colleagues clicked their heels. But I questioned whether it was a cause for celebration: “Perhaps, in his new role as a conservative think-tanker, he will wind up polluting the political climate far more than he already has.”

    Little did I know.

    I cautioned that “once DeMint is ensconced at the Heritage Foundation, he’ll have a big megaphone for his absolutism. In other words, his decision to quit the Senate is not a harbinger of a new era of comity and GOP moderation. Quite the opposite.”

    Little did I know.

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    Many factors have fueled the Republican shutdown of government – the outsize clout of House extremists from gerrymandered red districts, the conservative media that eggs them on, the Citizens United high court ruling that unleashed fat cat money, the ideological groups that function as purity police – but if you’re looking for a destructive force in human form, DeMint is your man. Arguably more than anyone else, he’s the backstage maestro of mayhem, the saboteur of majority rule. He personifies our current democratic crisis.

    Through his harnessing of the think tank’s political lobbying and TV advertising arm, Heritage Action, he cracks the ideological whip, and ensures that congressional conservatives move ever rightward and spurn the concept of compromise. And any Republican who dares to reach across the aisle is swiftly threatened with a right-wing primary challenger back home – courtesy of DeMint’s political action committee, the Senate Conservatives Fund, which he created during his Capitol Hill tenure. Indeed, DeMint was a pivotal player in Ted Cruz’s 2010 Senate primary win. As Cruz says, “I wouldn’t be in the Senate without Jim DeMint.”

    Yep, that says it all. And Cruz is just the tip of the DeMint’s ideological spear.

    In fact, the whole current farce – crashing the government in order to crash Obamacare – is right from the DeMint playbook. His obsession has persisted since the beginning, in 2009. As you may recall, he’s the guy who declared (or hoped) that health care reform would be President Obama’s “Waterloo.” As things turned out, however, “Waterloo” never happened. The bill passed, the president signed it into law, the law was vetted by the U.S. Supreme Court, the president who championed health care reform was handily re-elected (winning a bigger share of the popular vote than in Reagan in 1980, Clinton in his two races, and George W. Bush in his two races), and the president’s party picked up seats in the Senate and House, winning the national popular vote in both chambers.

    But to a radical ideologue like DeMint, elections don’t count. As a new Business Week article deadpans, “DeMint thinks the (2012) election results don’t accurately reflect national sentiment.” Gee, that’s an interesting attitude. I was always schooled to believe that elections are the way we measure national sentiment, and that the decision of the voters is final. But, alas, the saboteur of majority rule says otherwise. Which is why DeMint took his act on the road this past summer, ginning up the idea that health reform should be defunded, urging the conservative grassroots to pressure their congressmen, decreeing that House Republicans shall target Obamacare even at the risk of precipitating a government shutdown. In DeMint’s words, “you’ve got to win the debate on the outside to shape the culture.”

    In truth, “the culture” is overwhelmingly opposed to the government shutdown; according to one national poll I cited here yesterday, the no share tops the yes share by a margin of 50 percentage points. Another new poll says the margin is 41 points. But DeMint’s agitation operation doesn’t care a whit about the national majority. Its sole focus is the conservative subculture, where Republicans might be tempted to cave on the shutdown, to compromise in the spirit of sanity. To ensure that they don’t, Heritage Action is keeping score during this crisis; anyone in the House who casts an impure vote risks DeMint’s wrath. Anyone who is remotely wavering risks getting hammered by Heritage on social media.

    Welcome to the new normal in Washington. And here is DeMint’s impact on the real world, courtesy of The Wall Street Journal:

    “At the National Institutes of Health, nearly three-quarters of the staff was furloughed. One result: director Francis Collins said about 200 patients who otherwise would be admitted to the NIH Clinical Center into clinical trials each week will be turned away. This includes about 30 children, most of them cancer patients, he said.”

    So there you have it. The last-ditch anti-democratic bid to deny health coverage to tens of millions of uninsured Americans has already halted clinical health trials that might well benefit children with cancer. What a perverse two-fer. As DeMint told NPR the other day, “There’s no question in my mind that I have more influence now on public policy than I did as an individual senator.”

    Hey, lucky us.


    Follow me on Twitter, @dickpolman1


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