Jim Demint: Visionary for a Conservative Overhaul

By Grace Einkauf

John Ruskin once wrote, “The strength and power of a country depends absolutely on the quantity of good men and women in it.” In America today, as ever, we owe a great deal to the leaders who are willing to fight for causes more important than themselves. We stand together to honor and rally behind those who diligently support freedom rather than license.

Jim DeMint is just such a man. A passionate voice for conservatism, he recently resigned from the United States Senate to become president of the Heritage Foundation, an organization devoted to furthering conservative policies in our country. Heritage is a research and educational institution with a mission to promote freedom by marketing the results of careful policy research to members of the U.S. government, the media, and academic communities. As president, DeMint has said that one of his first goals for Heritage is to help the conservative movement understand how Americans from diverse walks of life perceive public policy issues—and to more effectively communicate conservative ideas and solutions. THSC was privileged to interview Mr. DeMint regarding his vision for America, which we report:

THSC: Tell us a little about your upbringing and the life lessons that had the most impact on you.

DeMint: I was raised with my two brothers and a sister by a single mother in Greenville, South Carolina, a small textile town. My mom was the toughest person I ever knew. If we were in trouble, she would protect us, but at home she was like a drill sergeant.

To support us financially, Mom started a ballroom dancing business in our home. We got up every morning at 6. She gave us a typed list of duties every day. I grew up with this idea that you worked all the time. We struggled, but I learned not only about just how hard life can be but also what a blessing work is.

You learn as you work that you can do more. You become more confident in yourself. You realize, “I think I can do anything that I want to do if I just work at it.”

That circumstance shaped me into what I am today. I went on to get my bachelor’s degree in communications from the University of Tennessee and later my MBA from Clemson University.

Greenville was a good place to grow up. I went to school there and met and married my high school sweetheart there. Greenville was small enough that as I started my family and started my research and marketing business, I could make a difference.

THSC: How has your faith impacted your politics?

DeMint: As a Christian, I believe that God creates each human being as unique and of immeasurable worth. Though human beings are fallible and sinful, they have a great capacity for good when disciplined and restrained by religious and societal conventions.

The guiding text of the Judeo-Christian worldview, of course, is the Bible. That’s where we got such precepts as the Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” (Matthew 7:12) The Bible also is behind great American cultural expressions such as the “Declaration of Independence,” Washington’s “Farewell Address,” Lincoln’s “Gettysburg Address,” and King’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail.”

Our political system is distinctive because it is based on the belief that our rights come from God, not from government. So our rights cannot be taken away by government.

Traditionalists, and I am one, are committed to separation of church and state in the sense that the government should not promote the specific doctrine of any particular religious denomination or philosophy. We also do not agree that policies made to promote the common good should be eliminated from public debate simply because they are connected to traditional religious precepts.

Values that encourage abstinence until marriage, strong traditional marriages and families, respect for God and country, a strong work ethic and personal responsibility, integrity, and character are not merely religious tradition. They work for everyone and result in better citizens, a stronger economy, and a higher quality of life.

THSC: What was your biggest challenge in the U.S. Senate?

DeMint: There is a tremendous bias in Washington toward growing government by creating a new program to solve every problem. The trouble is, Washington does not do many things well, and that is why our Founders defined a very limited role for the federal government and left the rest to the states, local governments, and civil society. When Washington tries to do too much, it erodes our freedoms and crowds out private citizens, who are often better equipped to solve problems through charitable organizations and faith groups. It is our responsibility as citizens and people of faith to love our fellow man, feed the hungry, and help the downtrodden move ahead in life.

My biggest challenge in the Senate, though, turned into my biggest accomplishment: the people I helped elect. I think we changed the culture of the Senate. When I first got there in 2004, I was really frustrated with the “go-along, get-along” culture of many Republicans. It seemed that all we were doing was spending money and handing out earmarks, instead of fighting to save our country. When these new people came in—people like Marco Rubio, Rand Paul, Pat Toomey, Mike Lee, Ron Johnson—they helped us get rid of those parochial earmarks, which were a real distraction.

We have to focus on the national good and certainly the national budget. Ted Cruz—quite possibly my favorite Texan—is already helping Congress regain a proper focus.

THSC: What is your vision for conservatism?

DeMint: Becoming president of The Heritage Foundation is like coming home for me. Heritage policy research inspired my first run for office in 1998, and Heritage’s conservative policy solutions guided my priorities in the House and the Senate. For forty years Heritage has believed that those values that made America great—honesty, industriousness, courage, determination—should inform our policies and our public institutions.

Heritage, which is the nation’s most broadly supported public policy research institute, will continue to develop and promote policy solutions that advance free enterprise, limited government, individual freedom, traditional values, and a strong national defense.

America remains a conservative nation, but people crave leadership—champions who will stand up to the progressives, take on the liberal media, and push back against party leaders when they go wobbly.

Our sister organization, Heritage Action for America, is leading the effort to organize grassroots activists to educate, support, and pressure Congress on conservative policy solutions. As Ronald Reagan said, “If you can’t make them see the light, make them feel the heat.” That is what Heritage Action has been doing in holding members of Congress accountable for their voting records.

THSC: What specific ideas are you focused on revamping?

DeMint: At Heritage we intend to convince Americans that conservative ideas are the ideas that will make America better. Conservatives do not need new principles; our values have stood the test of time. It is important that we draw a distinction between timeless values and innovative policy ideas that we will need in the twenty-first century. Heritage’s researchers and other experts are busy working out solutions to today’s challenges.

We do not need bells and whistles, because conservative ideas work. They have been proved in states such as Tennessee, where the income tax was eliminated and the economy boomed. We have seen states such as North Dakota open their energy resources to development and create tens of thousands of good-paying jobs. We have seen states such as Texas pass tort reforms that encouraged medical doctors to move in, improving health care and lowering costs for everyone.

We also know that liberal policies fail. You do not have to look as far as Greece and Cyprus. Just look at California and Illinois. Look at Detroit. Controlled by liberals for more than fifty years, Detroit is bankrupt. Its population has shrunk by more than half. Only seven percent of eighth graders there read at grade level. Unemployment for Hispanics and blacks is near forty percent.

Conservatives cannot rest until every American can reach the ladder of opportunity and climb as high as they can dream. We must connect with every neighborhood. We must make our ideas so winsome to the public that they become irresistible to politicians, no matter what their party.

That is why Heritage this year will begin anew to help the conservative movement understand how Americans from all walks of life perceive public policy issues—and how to communicate conservative ideas and solutions.

THSC: How does home education fit into these ideas?

DeMint: Here is how home education is part of this picture: Parents are their children’s first educators, and public policies should respect this principle. Government policies should empower parents to choose the schooling options they decide are best for their children, whether it be public, private, charter, online, or home schooling—or a combination of these. At Heritage we are focused on rolling back federal involvement and restoring educational authority to states, to local communities, and, most importantly, to parents.

School choice is a key aspect of education reform. For the most part, parents know best what their children need. A growing number of parents, from across the political spectrum, choose to home school their children. They do so for a variety of reasons, including a desire to instill traditional values in their kids. This is the best option for many families, and policies should continue to allow them to make this choice.

I salute organizations such as the Texas Home School Coalition for encouraging understanding of, and excellence in, home education.

THSC is proud to support Jim DeMint in his fight for conservative policy. Freedom to live, work, and raise a family without the encroaching regulations of liberalism is the foundation of the American dream. Choice is essential to progress. We do not believe in freedom simply because we like it. We believe in freedom because it works.

Grace Einkauf, a twenty-year-old home school graduate, is currently pursuing an education in liberal arts while living and working on her family’s 100+ acre farm in Texas. She enjoys volunteering and singing in the community, coaching speech and debate, and writing at www.scatteredglimpses.wordpress.com.