Before Ronald Reagan’s handlers decided to embrace Jerry Falwell’s doubly-oxymoronic “Moral Majority“, the most conservative American Protestant groups were so aloof from the traditional structures of national politics that some Baptist preachers apparently encouraged their congregants not to vote. Paul Weyrich, a paleo-Catholic, was the co-founder of that ‘Moral Majority’ — and also the founder (with Coors brewery money) of the Heritage Foundation.
The political activism of the Falwell/Weyrich/Terry Dolan/Richard Viguerie/Howard Phillips Moral Majority was based on the concept, or fantasy, that the bulk of real Americans were white Judeo-Christian paternalist-authoritarian Republicans who needed only proper direction to take over (“reclaim”) their rightful control of every important political office. A generation later, President Obama’s re-election has made it obvious even to the most ideologically-fixated (if not to the stubbornest and/or stupidest) that white suburban conservative Republican voters are a decreasing minority — and that their definitions of “morality” are losing political ground even faster. (Even the Mormons, those gutless traitors, quietly shifted post-election from ‘homosexuals are damned’ to ‘same-sex attraction is not a sin, but acting on it is‘.)
Media opinion on Senator Jim DeMint’s announcement he’s decamping for the Heritage Foundation seems to be that DeMint has decided it’s (financially, at least) better for him to be outside the Capitol preaching in, than inside preaching out. Hendrick Hertzberg at the New Yorker diagnoses “Severe DeMintia“:
… DeMint inhabits the outer reaches of movement conservatism pretty much across the board, but his greatest passion seems to be reserved for what are delicately termed “social issues.” On questions of sexual identity and behavior, he is a forthright bigot and a prude… Last year, he indicated that his belief in small government is rooted in the theory that there is a fixed and limited amount of space that can be occupied by the government and the deity combined. The size of the public sector and the size of the Almighty are inversely proportional to each other. It’s an iron law, a zero-sum game:
I’ve said it often and I believe it—the bigger government gets, the smaller God gets.
The big Washington story of the moment is the battle between conservative Republicans and very conservative Republicans over whether or not to hold the economy hostage in order to prevent marginal income-tax rates on the top two per cent from reverting to the slight higher Clinton-era levels. A parallel story over the next few years may be the quiet struggle between A.E.I. and Heritage for Republican hearts and minds. A.E.I. may have the advantage when it comes to minds, but Heritage is where the hearts are. Heritage was founded in the first place because the older organization was considered too squishy. Even so, badthink has sometimes crept in. It was Heritage, you may recall, that invented the “individual mandate” that became the basis of Obamacare and, earlier, Romneycare. DeMint is unlikely to tolerate any such outbreaks of left deviationism at Heritage. Under him, its grip on the organ of G.O.P. emotion can only strengthen. Its grip on the organ of reason, such as it is, is apt to fare less well.
Further damning details on DeMint’s career from Timothy Noah at TNR, on the “Filibusteringest Senator“:
… “Being a senator was never going to be my career,” DeMint explained. Indeed, being a senator never interested him much even during the seven years he served in the Senate.
By this I don’t mean that DeMint was a latter-day Cincinnatus who served his country reluctantly out of sacred duty. I mean that DeMint didn’t like participating in Senate business…
… Legislating from the Senate floor means either writing amendments or filibustering, and when your party is in the minority, as DeMint’s has been since 2006, their practical aim is usually identical—to prevent a particular bill from being passed. According to the anti-filibuster Web site Filibusted, DeMint had the highest “obstruction rate” in the previous Congress, voting against cloture motions 93.8 percent of the time. On one occasion in 2010 DeMint threatened to put a hold on every single piece of legislation before the Senate that he did not favor. DeMint recently wrote that “opposing cloture is not a filibuster,” but merely “an attempt to leverage some participation in the legislative process.” …
DeMint’s departure would appear to be yet another manifestation of the post-election GOPocalypse. DeMint, who’d already said he wouldn’t seek another term in 2016, told the Wall Street Journal that he was leaving four years before his term ended “because we saw in the last election we were not able to communicate conservative ideas that win elections.” […] In the Senate he leaves behind, DeMint will not be missed, even (perhaps especially) by his GOP compatriots.
Kelefa Sanneh, who usually covers culture for the New Yorker has a post on “the evolution of Jim DeMint“:
Five years ago, toward the tail end of the Bush era, Jim DeMint, a first-term South Carolina senator, teamed up with J. David Woodard, a political scientist at Clemson, to write a book about the limits of politics. The book was called, “Why We Whisper: Restoring Our Right to Say It’s Wrong,” and its ominous front cover depicts Uncle Sam with his index finger to his lips…
In the preface, the authors warn that America is embroiled in “a serious culture war,” and the book is full of stories about liberal secularists eager to drive religious faith out of public institutions—and, by extension, out of public discourse. The book is, in part, an assault on the notion that “public” and “private” spheres can be neatly delineated. The authors write, with approval, about the decades-long effort to stigmatize and marginalize cigarette smokers. “The detrimental effects of smoking on individuals and society make it ‘right’ for the government to discourage smoking,” they argue. In their view, a similar case can be made against “the homosexual lifestyle,” which is, they say, “notoriously unhealthy and destructive, with huge financial costs to society.” Using the language of public health policy, they also deliver indictments of gambling, unmarried cohabitation, and Internet pornography, which they call “the new crack cocaine.”…
Woodard, DeMint’s former co-author, said he wasn’t surprised that DeMint was leaving the Senate. “He never made the Senate’s inner club, anyway,” Woodard said, by telephone. “He was not accepted by the Lamar Alexanders, the John Cornyns. He was not one of the fellows—even though he, personally, was not acrimonious, or bitter. But nonetheless, his positions were uncomfortable.” DeMint has been widely credited with helping to nurture a new generation of upstart Republican legislators, including Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, and Rand Paul; all of them had to defeat establishment-backed opponents in Republican primaries before winning their general elections….
As I understand it, the Southern Baptist “retreat from the Godless government”, post-WWII, was largely a reaction to the “encroachment” of the Civil Rights movement — defined as Negroes, Jews, blue-collar Catholic immigrants, and city-bred social scientists (Socialists) invading their “timeless, traditional” post-Reconstruction political fiefdoms. Falwell, Weyrich, and their fellow Severely Conservative activists “arose” because, by the 1980s, the right wing of the Republican party decided there were enough second-generation White Flight suburbanites attending ‘non-denominational’ mega-churches to constitute a voting bloc worth pursuing (manipulating).
Jim DeMint’s retreat from the government arena might be an indication that the pendulum is ready to swing back, with the Regressive Party once again retreating to its gated communities. But while they may not have raw numbers or demography on their side, let’s keep in mind that the South’s feudal barons didn’t give up after losing the first American Civil War, and I doubt they’ll give up on their dreams of s Second Reconstruction, either. If (as I currently expect) Rick Santorum is the GOP presidential nominee in 2016, look for Jim DeMint to have a prominent role in the campaign. And maybe the promise of the next Supreme Court seat, as well.