Jim DeMint, former U.S. Senator and president of The Heritage Foundation, talks with Opportunist’s Managing Editor Leslie Stone about what the GOP’s big midterm win means for the country, his organization’s agenda to unite Americans and his new book.
Jim DeMint, a Republican and South Carolina native, was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1999 and served his state’s 4th Congressional District—a Republican stronghold bordering North Carolina and including Greenville and Spartanburg counties—until he was elected to the U.S. Senate in 2005. During his eight years in the Senate, DeMint worked to revive and lead a conservative caucus. On Jan. 1, 2013, he resigned to become president of The Heritage Foundation, a Washington, D.C.-based conservative think tank whose mission is to “formulate and promote conservative public policies based on the principles of free enterprise, limited government, individual freedom, traditional American values and a strong national defense.”
Over the years, DeMint collaborated with Heritage on reforms to entitlements, health care, education and immigration, and on efforts, such as Heritage’s Index of Dependence on Government, to reverse Americans’ growing reliance on taxpayer-funded programs. He drew national attention for working to end Congressional earmarks, stopping the 2007 amnesty bill, arguing for comprehensive missile defense and opposing treaties, such as the United Nations’ Law of the Sea Treaty, which he felt would harm American sovereignty.
Known for his patriotism, DeMint has written severalbooks about American ideals, including: Now or Never: Saving America from Economic Collapse; The Great American Awakening: Two Years that Changed America, Washington and Me; and Saving Freedom: We Can Stop America’s Slide into Socialism. His first book, Why We Whisper: Restoring Our Right to Say It’s Wrong, was co-written with Clemson University political science professorJ. David Woodard. His latest book, Falling in Love with America Again, debuted at No. 1 on the Washington Post bestseller list.
Opportunist: Were you surprised by the outcome of this year’s elections?
Sen. DeMint: No. So many Americans are tired of failed liberal policies and have called for an alternative agenda to maximize personal freedom and get the government out of our homes and businesses. Many of the new arrivals in Washington ran on these issues. Conservatives will be pushing solutions to provide opportunity for all Americans.
Opportunist: How do you foresee midterm results affecting policies and governance for the next two years?
Sen. DeMint: We’re going to see a lot more conservative solutions—like more choice in education, expansion of energy production, and ending Obamacare—land on the president’s desk. The president needs to decide whether to really help the country, or continue with his harmful ‘achievements.’
Sen. DeMint:The president will certainly have to work with folks outside his party to govern the country, and he should be ready to go along with popular, commonsense bills on job creation and tax reform. He won’t be able to push through any big projects like Obamacare, but he might try to force an executive amnesty for millions of illegal immigrants on the nation without going through the people’s elected representatives in Congress. Americans must remain vigilant.
Opportunist: What do you consider the most critical issues facing the nation at this time?
Sen. DeMint:There are so many, it’s hard to pick just a few. The most important issue for the unemployed worker is more jobs. For students and their parents, it’s the freedom to find teachers and schools who work for them. For our brave men and women in uniform, it’s keeping them safe, well supplied, and effective. I do get worried, however, that our president is increasingly comfortable to use executive orders to go over the heads of his real employers: the American people. Amnesty is a good example of that.
Opportunist: As a staunch supporter of tax reform, do you still advocate replacing the federal income tax with a national sales tax as well as abolishing the Internal Revenue Service?
Sen. DeMint:We need tax reform that is fair to all with special favors to none. It must improve opportunity and real incomes for all Americans by growing the economy, creating prosperity and improving the international competitiveness of our businesses. There are several equally good ways to do that. A national sales tax is a good idea, as is a flat tax like Heritage’s New Flat Tax. Another good option is the Business Transfer Tax. These would all simplify life for Americans, create more opportunity, and stop using the tax code as a favor factory to the well-connected.
Opportunist: Please tell us about your work as president of The Heritage Foundation.
Sen. DeMint: I have the honor of leading the nation’s team of researchers, analysts, and communicators who work every day to spread ideas that will strengthen our economy, civil society, and national defense. I love being able to travel around the country and visit so many local patriots who want to preserve freedom for future generations.
Opportunist: We understand that communicating conservative ideas and solutions is a primary objective for Heritage. How do you go about accomplishing this?
Sen. DeMint: We talk to two main groups here at Heritage: Congress and the American people. We want Congress to make laws using the best available research, and our experts are constantly holding meetings, briefings, and discussions with Senators and Representatives. But our fellow citizens should also stay informed about the latest events in culture and government, so we publish our work online and supply fresh content on our news site, www.DailySignal.com
Opportunist: How do you feel about the state of the economy and the future of the country?
Sen. DeMint: The economy could be a lot better, no question. 92 million people over the age of 16 are out of the workforce. Small businesses are struggling under the weight of unnecessary taxes and regulations. Entire industries like the energy sector are being hampered by a radically liberal administration, which throws money at politically favored technologies while trying to destroy others. Politicians picking winners and losers doesn’t work in a free market economy, it rewards cronyism instead of innovation. Even so, there’s still time to roll back all these disastrous policies. The election showed that Americans are fed up with this centralized management of our economy, and we’ll need a new administration and an energetic Congress to get us back on track.
Opportunist: In your book Why We Whisper: Restoring Our Right to Say It’s Wrong you talk about Americans losing their right to speak freely. In your opinion, has America gone too far with so-called political correctness? How does freedom of speech as it was intended by our country’s founders differ from the way it is interpreted today?
Sen. DeMint: There are a lot of people out there who would rather shut up their opponents than debate with them. Religious leaders, business owners, even CEOs are being harassed by government and hounded out of public life by shrill lobbies for holding traditional views on marriage and human life. I find that misguided people resort to this tactic when they don’t really have a reasonable argument to make.
Sen. DeMint: I noticed that the bitterness and conflict of centralized Washington politics can sour folks on the political process as a whole. This is understandable! But if we’re not careful, we can confuse the politicians and government we have now with the promise of America itself, and start to feel down about our country. We can avoid this by helping each other on a local level, and letting communities do what works for them. When we give people the freedom and trust to cooperate, and we don’t try to control their lives through Washington, we’ll truly start to fall in love with America again. I think this message resonates with a lot of people who are tired of division in our society, and want to find ways to bring us together as neighbors and citizens.
Opportunist: What do you consider the greatest accomplishment of your career?
Sen. DeMint: Reagan once said that there’s no limit to what you can accomplish if you are willing to share the credit. And I’ve been blessed to have worked with so many great conservatives in Washington who came together on different issues to fight for freedom. This includes my House and Senate staff, leaders in Congress and most importantly, the support of the American people. With all of them working together, we were able to end wasteful earmarks that were corrupting our budget process. When I was in the House we were able to draft and pass legislation to create Health Savings Accounts that have proven very successful in showing how patient-centered health care solutions can lower costs and improve care. But I’m most proud of things to come. Now at Heritage we are leading the way with an agenda to unite Americans on issues like choice for parents and students in education, opening up America’s energy resources to lower costs for families and empowering states to better repair and build necessary infrastructure.
Opportunist: Do you have plans to seek public office again one day?
Sen. DeMint: I’m happy where I am, working with an incredibly talented and motivated staff to keep Washington honest.
Leslie Stone is an award-winning writer, editor with more than two decades of experience covering business, finance, real estate and lifestyle issues for newspapers, magazines and online publications. Originally from Virginia, she currently resides between Florida and Michigan. Follow Leslie on Twitter: @lescstone.
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