In the run-up to the South Carolina primary, Palmetto State Republican senator Jim DeMint may be the most-wanted endorsement that no one will get: He’s not endorsing. But he’s certainly talking about the upcoming elections and providing the tools for a deeper — and more informed — engagement. In an interview with National Review Online’s Kathryn Jean Lopez, he talks about his new book, Now or Never: Saving America from Economic Collapse, and how he hopes to do just that.
KATHRYN JEAN LOPEZ: Is pending “economic collapse” the message a Republican candidate has to convey this year? How can he do it without sounding alarmist? Can it even plausibly be heard above the Obama campaign’s message that Republicans are the problem in Washington?
SEN. JIM DEMINT: Our candidates must be able to speak the truth to Americans. And the truth is, we are in trouble. That doesn’t mean we’re doomed; it means we must act now to save our country. I can’t think of a more inspiring cause. While the $15 trillion debt is not a happy topic, it’s an unavoidable one. Ignoring our debt and deficits only makes them more dangerous.
As Ronald Reagan once said, we should not raise a banner of pale pastels, “but bold colors which make it unmistakably clear where we stand on all of the issues troubling the people.” I want a Republican party full of happy warriors with bold battle plans. We can turn the tide, but we must have the courage to do so. If we become too scared to confront the chief problems of our time, there is no hope of ever solving them.
As for Obama, I believe his deeply divisive and negative campaign will backfire. America has always prided itself on being a classless society, and the kind of class warfare he is engaging in to secure his far-left base is not appealing to most Americans. He is no longer the candidate of “hope” and “change.” He is a president who has wasted $4 trillion, lost our nation’s cherished AAA rating, blatantly ignored the Constitution on a whole range of issues, and lost all credibility when it comes to job creation, cutting spending, and the economy.
LOPEZ: “Despite calls to ‘tax the rich,’” you write, “we cannot solve our debt problem by raising taxes.” Isn’t that the wrong message for an Occupy Wall Street time? A time when even Republicans are demonizing businessmen?
DEMINT: First of all, no candidate is going to win by catering to the alleged Occupy Wall Street vote. Not even Barack Obama. Otherwise he would take a walk across the street from the White House and start camping out with them. More importantly, Congress could not raise taxes high enough to keep up with their spending habit. Earlier this year, the Wall Street Journal considered what would happen if we taxed the top 1 percent of income earners at a 100 percent rate. Doing so would completely destroy the key wealth-creating sector of our economy and only net the government about $938 billion — which the WSJ accurately described as “sand on the beach amid the $4 trillion White House budget, a $1.65 trillion deficit, and spending at 25 percent as a share of the economy, a post–World War II record.” As my colleague Marco Rubio has said, “We don’t need new taxes, we need new taxpayers,” meaning the only way to truly restore the economy is by increasing jobs and growing the economy — not by shrinking the nation’s wealth to further grow government.
LOPEZ: “We must convince dependent Americans who have been misled by the false promises of government security that there is a better way. The facts are on the side of those who love freedom: We are most secure when we are most free.” Do people want to hear this message? Or have we become a society where people are willing to surrender freedom for the security of a government check?
DEMINT: I fear we are at a tipping point. At this moment, I do not think we are a society willing to surrender our freedom for supposedly “free” health care, housing, and other benefits. The uprising against President Obama’s health-care takeover tells me that Americans know better. That said, there has been a long and sustained campaign on behalf of liberals in this country to buy votes by providing increased government benefits to the public. Right now, 49 percent of U.S. households don’t pay any federal income taxes and 49 percent live in a household where someone receives at least one type of government benefit. And yet, the campaign to give more and more benefits continues.
Liberals know a dependent voter is a dependable vote, and there are more people dependent on the government for their basic needs than ever. As more people rely on government programs, the harder it becomes to conduct the necessary reforms to preserve them to help our society’s most vulnerable. Just look at how the Democrats have demonized Rep. Paul Ryan’s plan, the Roadmap for America’s Future. They’ve accused the very man who wants to save Medicare of wanting to destroy it. The window for being able to make those kinds of changes is closing. Once our country has more people taking from the government than contributing to it, it will be extremely difficult to rescue ourselves from economic disaster. That’s why I feel such an urgency to act now before we pass that point.
LOPEZ: You and others want to cut Planned Parenthood funding. But have you presented a vision that makes clear that you don’t want to leave poor pregnant women out in the cold, almost literally? Some women do need help. How do you obliterate the “war on women” nonsense on the other side?
DEMINT: I want to cut funding to Planned Parenthood because they are the nation’s No. 1 provider of abortion — a procedure that is viewed as morally wrong by a great many Americans. Further, Planned Parenthood has more than $1 billion in assets. It should be a very easy decision for the government to cut funding to a $1 billion group that makes most of its money profiting from offensive procedures. If Planned Parenthood wishes to maintain funding, it should stop providing abortion. I understand there are gender politics at play here, but those who characterize this discussion as a “war on women” have never been able to answer why a $1 billion organization deserves government funding, let alone why taxpayer dollars should be used to pay for abortion.
LOPEZ: “I believe in compromise and cooperation,” you write. And yet you also write: “Republicans simply cannot cooperate and compromise with Democrats — we must beat them. Failure to do so will only allow the Democrats to continue destroying this country.” Senator, Democrats don’t wake up in the morning wanting to destroy America, do they? And isn’t this non-compromise talk the problem with Washington?
DEMINT: I believe in compromise when both parties have similar goals in mind, but today, the goals of the Democratic and Republican parties are at polar opposites. On one hand, you have a party pushing for more dependence and collectivist, big-government policies, and on the other hand, you have a party that wants more freedom and smaller government. Now, I’ve seen lots of compromises in Washington, and they always result in more government — not less. I’m not interested in those kinds of compromises. The old saying goes, “If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.” Well, we’ve had too many Republicans joining the Democrats, and now we have a $15 trillion debt. I think we ought to stop joining them and start beating them.
LOPEZ: Has the existence of senators such as Rubio, Paul, Lee, and Toomey changed the Senate at all? Are there success stories to tell?
DEMINT: Absolutely. Right after they were elected, they helped end the era of Republican earmarks. They campaigned hard against earmarks in their elections and played a huge role in finally convincing the last Republican holdouts in the Senate that we needed to give up the pork-barrel politics. With their support, we were also able to get all Republicans to vote for a full repeal of Obamacare. The entire Republican conference came together again to cosponsor a strong balanced-budget amendment. We are beginning to unite as a party on the right issues now. Since they have come to Washington, the conversation has changed from how much pork can each senator secure for his or her state to how can we work together to reduce the size and scope of government. These freshmen are also doing a great job showing the public what the Senate could look like with a strong, conservative majority, which I’m working very hard through my Senate Conservatives Fund to secure in the 2012 elections.
— Kathryn Jean Lopez is editor-at-large of National Review Online.