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Inside the True Conservative Mind

With a certain governor of South Carolina off the boards as a national spokesman for hard-core fiscal conservatism, not to mention a potential presidential candidate, you can expect more attention to be paid to another of the Palmetto State's right-wing firebrands, U.S. Sen. Jim DeMint. You may recognize his name from his frequent votes (sometimes with his fellow "true conservative" Tom Coburn of OK) against consensus positions in both parties, particularly on confirmations (e.g., he was one of two senators to vote against confirmation of their colleague Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State).

Though known for his partisanship and anti-government zealotry, DeMint hasn't shirked the Cultural Right, either, winning perfect vote ratings from the National Right to Life Committee and zero vote ratings from the Human Rights Campaign. Indeed, Demint gained a lot of notoriety during his 2004 Senate race for arguing that gays and lesbians, and for that matter, unwed pregnant women, shouldn't be allowed to teach in public schools (a position he retracted because it had become a "distraction," not because he admitted it was wrong).

So it's with more than passing interest that I read a recent interview of DeMint in that ancient corner of the conservative fever swamps, Human Events, in connection with his new book, modestly titled Saving Freedom: We Can Stop America's Slide Into Socialism. Two remarks by DeMint were particularly striking. First up was this:

Define socialism as a government controlling aspects of the economy. Most members of Congress think that just about every aspect of American society and economy should be regulated, controlled, taxed in some way by the federal government and increasingly so. I think it’s very fair to say that most members of Congress lean socialist on policies.

Notice that DeMint doesn't say "most Democrats in Congress," but "most members of Congress."

Further into the interview, DeMint shares his thoughts about the fundamental "threat to freedom":

I regret to say that there are two Americas but not the kind John Edwards was talking about. It’s not so much the haves and the have-nots. It’s those who are paying for government and those who are getting government. At this point, the data I’ve seen is 52% of Americans get their income directly or indirectly from a government source. And if you think about how that works in a democracy, why would the voters be concerned about the growth of government if they weren’t paying and they were getting something from it.

Democracy cannot work when you have a majority of people dependent on the government. And this is not just the poor. The way we’ve set up Social Security and Medicare, everyone who retires are dependent, parents are dependent on the government for education of their children and now, if you look at the folks who come through my office -- business people, farmers, bankers -- everybody is coming to Washington to get their piece of the government because we’re running all this money through here now.

This is interesting for several reasons. It's not often that you hear a politician come right out and say that making parents "dependent on the government for education of their children"--i.e. public schools--is a form of socialistic welfare-statism. As for Social Security and Medicare, most conservatives have learned to frame their privatization proposals in terms of "solvency" or "entitlement reform" or "letting people control their benefits." Not since Barry Goldwater's disastrous 1964 campaign have I heard a major Republican politician attack the wildly popular retirement programs as fundamentally illegitimate, or their beneficiaries as parasitical wards of the state.

DeMint's "two Americas" rap is also interesting since it exhibits the underpinnings of the kind of rhetoric that even the McCain campaign deployed last year in attacking progressive taxation. Poor people or old people who don't pay their "fair share" of taxes aren't just getting off lightly; they are a threat to democracy.

In other words, Jim DeMint seems to be the real deal when it comes to serious "true conservatism," or at least he is when he's in the friendly confines of an interview with Human Events. Tuck this away in the memory banks in case the man does decide to run for national office. He's seriously scary.

UPDATE: When I decided to write about DeMint, I didn't realize that on this very day, he would help prove my point by coming out in favor of the military coup in Honduras. Looks like he may be determined to become the next Jesse Helms.