Interview: Sen. Jim DeMint on Tea Party, U.S. Debt, and God's Calling

U.S. Senator Jim DeMint has a new book out just in time for the Fourth of July: The Great American Awakening: Two Years that Changed America, Washington, and Me. The book takes readers inside the marble halls of Congress and behind closed-door meetings where DeMint recalls nerve-wrecking power struggles over party reform and finances.

DeMint, arguably the most conservative senator in Washington and a Tea Party leader, paints himself as David battling Goliath (powerful senior Republican senators) over out-of-control government spending and the national debt. The South Carolina senator took time Wednesday out of his busy schedule to talk to The Christian Post about the Tea Party, the national debt, and his Christian faith.

Below are excerpts from the interview.

CP: I was a bit surprised by the regular references to God and prayer in your new book. Talk about why you decided to tie your Christian faith to your aggressive drive to cut the national debt and stop the U.S. from borrowing money.

DeMint: Well, one of the most important things for Americans to be reminded of is that a lot of the exceptional nature of our country is founded in Judeo-Christian values that promotes individualism, personal responsibility, a strong work ethics, and a commitment to family, charity. All the things that make people governable, they come from those values and principles derived from biblical faith.

So, it is not a matter of me trying to get government to do anything religious. It is a matter of recognizing that America is based on these concepts of a decentralized, individualistic society. In order for that to work, those individuals have to have the values and principles that are derived from biblical faith. A lot of that is what I think we saw across the country in the Tea Party movement.

CP: Would you say the link between the Christian faith and the fight to rein in government spending is pervasive among Tea Partiers?

DeMint: A lot of people of faith are involved and there were a lot of people whose faith I think has been dormant who had been aroused in effect by what they saw happening to our country. And in some ways, being politically active renewed their faith commitment.

As I said in the book several times, and it still happens today and it’s pretty consistent, if I go to any kind of meeting – a Tea Party or town hall – people are generally telling me, “Thanks for fighting. We are praying for you, and what can I do?” That just tells me, there is a spiritual undercurrent here. But it is different than the Moral Majority idea that we want the government to push our particular morality. The unity now is based on this fiscal problem, the debt, and seeing that that is just a symptom of a huge growth in government that has replaced a lot of those characteristics of individualism.

From a policy standpoint, the Judeo-Christian principles are important. But also on a personal side, what I went through for those two years, I had to know when I didn’t feel that I had any support up here, God had a purpose for me and that this was my time to make some changes. He kept reinforcing that for me through people all over the country who just came up to me and said, “Thanks for fighting. We are praying for you.”

The real purpose of the book is to help Americans understand that their actions, their political activism can change Washington. As you trek through the book, what I tried to do was show people what was going on on the outside and how that changed what we were doing on the inside. And eventually it changed some of the people that were here, which sets the stage for 2012. That is why the book is so important to me. If people understand how just the little things that they do – whether it is an email, a phone call or going to a rally – what a big difference that can make, then I think we would get more and more people out in 2012 to help us save our country.

CP: What is the most misunderstood fact about the Tea Party, in your opinion?

DeMint: That it is a right wing, manufactured by the Republican Party. The Tea Party doesn’t like politicians. They don’t like Republicans or Democrats. These are people who are independent. They are Democrats, Republicans and they are people who have never been involved in politics. They are frustrated with the whole system. The idea that they are some kind of manufactured movement is completely false.

One lady came up to me on 9/12 (massive Tea Party march in Washington, D.C.) and said, “I never done anything like this before but I felt like I had to do something.” She sat on a bus and rode all night to come to our rally and never been involved in politics before.

The idea that she is some kind of radical, right-winger is not true. They are people of all walks of life and they are the best behaved group I’ve ever been in.

CP: You make the case that earmarks are “the root causes of our dysfunctional Congress and our crushing national debt.” Many Americans probably don’t even know what earmarks are. How would you explain this problem to them in simple terms?

DeMint: What it is is when we want to take home money to our state or congressional district. It is this idea of bringing home the bacon to make ourselves look good. The real problem there is it focuses Congress and the whole federal government on a particular parochial interest rather than national interest. It is evidenced by the condition of our country today. We have 535, or close to it, Congressmen or senators who have been up here trying to divide the money to take back home and to heck what happens to America.

It has perverted the purpose of Congress from one of upholding a constitutionally limited government, to one where people are up here robbing the federal treasury to take home the bacon.

CP: Are you still feeling as much heat and loneliness in the Senate for taking your stand as you described in the book?

DeMint: It is much better now. America has sent me some reinforcement. And some of the people that I was criticized for supporting – Rand Paul, Marco Rubio, Pat Toomey, Mike Lee, and Ron Johnson – are here with me now. And so the risk I took paid off because Americans got engaged in the process.

And I resist the idea that it was me who got these people elected. I mean, I got out and endorsed them and we raised a lot of money. This Senate Conservative Fund that I started was basically a website that raised $9 million. But it was from little contributors; the average gift was $45. And so this answered that question that people kept asking me, what can I do? They may live in California, but they can give $20 to Marco Rubio in Florida and feel like they are part of something.

So I feel like that I got more friends and some of them have joined me in a prayer group, by the way, which really, really helps keep us all focused. They have also, I think, help some other senators, conservatives, who have been in the closet for a while. I think some of them are now getting more courage to come out and stand with us. It has changed the tone. We haven’t finished the job, we still have to get more people up here who believe in a constitutionally limited government, but it is much better for me this time personally because I have some people who are fighting the fight. So I don’t feel I have to do it alone.

CP: Where is the support for your stance in the Senate mostly coming from – new senators or converted senior senators?

DeMint: We have a few of the senior guys who are up for re-election in 2012 and they saw what happened to some of our senior guys last time when Republicans replaced them in the primaries. So I think we’ve seen people now much more accountable to their voters. And things like we are doing now with this pledge to cut debt, balance the budget and some people who you wouldn’t think would be on it are on it because they are up for re-election.

CP: President Obama gave a press conference about the budget this morning. A former Republican state senator commented that it sounded like Obama was running in a Republican primary. What is your assessment of that observation?

DeMint: The president has shown absolutely no leadership on this issue. His budget proposal is increasing the debt $10 trillion over the next ten years. He is not serious at all. For him to tell us that we need to stay in town to fix it when he has not suggested one thing that we can cut. All he has basically said is we got to raise taxes on gasoline or if we don’t do that we aren’t going to cut anything. I never seen such a complete lack of leadership from the president of the United States.

CP: Does the Tea Party see any Republican presidential candidates as promising that is in the field right now?

DeMint: I think that most of the people I know in the Tea Party movement and grassroots Republicans want to know where each candidates come down on dealing with this debt ceiling and the House budget amendment and next year’s spending. So I’m encouraging people everywhere to wait and see what these candidates’ platform is. I think we are going to find out a lot more about them over the next few months as we do things here in Washington and these folks weigh in. There’s this “Cut, Cap, Balance Pledge,” just about all of them have signed it. That tells me that the ones that haven’t signed it are off my list. It makes it a little bit easier as I see what they do.

CP: How does the Tea Party explain that they have come from a narrowly defined political space into a broader cultural space?

DeMint: Again, the Tea Party is a very diverse group and I think fairly representative of a large part of America; Americans who believe that it is just insane to keep spending more than we are bringing in. So it is really the fiscal issue that is uniting these folks. But within them, there are a lot of social conservatives who want to get rid of abortion or Obamacare.

The thing that is uniting the country right now is this debt. So it is a very interesting coalition of libertarians, conservatives, and liberals. And that is good for our country because we have found this issue. There are Christians, people of faith who see this debt as a moral issue of diminishing the future of our children, charging things to them. It certainly relates to their faith. But it is nice when people of faith can work with those who don’t have faith at all or who don’t see it as part of the equation. So the real divide now is inside Washington, not outside of Washington.

CP: Your book comes out this July 4 weekend. Is there any July 4th message you want to give to the public?

DeMint: July 4th is our Independence Day. We are not going to keep our independence if people don’t stay awake. But the book tells them and shows them clearly that if they get active they can change Washington and take back their country. So if we want to remain independent and be true to what our founders gave us, we need to do even more and recruit other people and get out and get active, because the power in this country is in the hands of the people. It is just a matter of if they are ready to use it to save our country.

CP: When you say that we will lose our independence, do you mean we will lose it to our debt to China? How would we lose it?

DeMint: Well, we lost a lot of our independence already. We are dependent on China for credit. We are dependent on Middle Eastern countries for energy supplies. And many Americans are dependent on the government for their income, health care, education of their children, food stamps. So the dependency created a huge problem and it fights against that whole independent spirit that makes America work. We got to turn this around. We got to show people that they are most secure when they are most free; they don’t need to go to the federal government. And there is every evidence that the federal government has made things worse.

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