Review of Jim DeMint, Now or Never: Saving America from Economic Collapse (Center Street, 2012), xxix + 271 pgs., hardcover, $24.99.
Drug warrior, warmonger, and police statist Senator Jim DeMint (R-SC) recently did an interview about his new book Now or Never in which he said: “A lot of the libertarian ideas that Ron Paul is talking about…should not be alien to any Republican.” Okay, Jim, so why are they alien to you? They are obviously so alien to DeMint that he couldn’t endorse Ron Paul in the South Carolina Republican presidential primary. He didn’t endorse Ron Paul in 2008 either – he endorsed Mitt Romney.
Although DeMint’s newest book (he has written two others) extols the glories of – believe it or not – individual liberty, decentralization, and limited government, in the end his prescription is the same as that of John Boehner, Eric Cantor, Mitch McConnell, Fox News, and the head of the RNC: vote Republican.
Now or Never contains ten chapters, the first nine with introductions by notable conservatives: Senator Pat Toomey, Senator Marco Rubio, Senator Mike Lee, Representative Steve King, Senator Tom Coburn, political pundit Jack Hunter, political consultant Frank Luntz, former House Majority Leader Dick Armey, and grass-roots activist Dave Zupan. Each chapter except the last is divided into sections and concludes with a “share the truth” section that summarizes the chapter in bullet points. The book contains a foreword by Senator Rand Paul as well as acknowledgments, an introduction, endnotes, and closing sections on “for additional study” and “about the contributors.” There is a blurb on the front cover by conservative talk show host Sean Hannity. There is no index.
After receiving his MBA from Clemson and working in business for a number of years, DeMint was first elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1998 (not 1994 as his book’s dust jacket states). After three terms in the House, he was elected to the U.S. Senate in 2004 and reelected in 2010. He is known as one of the most conservative members of the Senate. But this was not always the case. And this is not necessarily a good thing anyway. And, of course, how hard is it to be to the right of most of the socialists, statists, and charlatans – of both parties – in the Senate?
DeMint vs. the Constitution
One quick way to judge a congressman’s constitutionalism, which does not necessarily mean his conservatism, is the “The Freedom Index,” published about every six months by The New American magazine. This index, which was once called “The Conservative Index,” rates Congressman “based on their adherence to constitutional principles of limited government, fiscal responsibility, national sovereignty, and a traditional foreign policy of avoiding foreign entanglements.” The higher the number, the stronger is a congressman’s commitment to these constitutional principles. Since DeMint speaks highly of the Constitution in his new book, I think a look at his scores on “The Freedom Index” is in order before going on to his book.
DeMint has been a member of three Congresses as a House member and four Congresses as a Senate member.
In the House, DeMint’s first Congress was the 106th Congress of 1999-2001, where he scored a 65. His second was the 107th Congress of 2001-2003, where he scored a 61. His third was the 108th Congress of 2003-2005, where he scored a 46. Contrast DeMint’s scores with congressman Ron Paul, who scored a 95, 91, and 100.
In the Senate, DeMint’s first Congress was the 109th Congress of 2005-2007, where he scored a 50. His second was the 110th Congress of 2007-2009, where he scored a 79. His third was the 111th Congress of 2009-2011, where he scored a 98. His fourth and current Congress is the 112th Congress, where his score is currently an 80. DeMint’s fellow senator, Lindsey Graham, scored a 48, 53, 87, and 70. Contrast DeMint’s scores with congressman Ron Paul’s perfect 100 scores in each of these four Congresses.
So, it is only recently that DeMint has acted like a real conservative. His scores went down when Bush was elected president and the Republicans controlled the Congress. His scores started to go up when the Democrats took over the Congress. And his scores went up even more when Obama was elected president.
Obviously, DeMint is no Ron Paul, although he is a wannabe. Claims DeMint on page 213 of Now or Never: “I have been called “Senator No” because there are very few bills that come through Congress that actually deserve a yes vote.”
Although DeMint is to be commended for voting against the Republican health care plan back in 2003, there are some rotten bills that have come through Congress that he thought deserved a yes vote. DeMint has voted for the Peace Corps, food stamps, agricultural subsidies, WIC, rental assistance, gun control, the National School Lunch and Breakfast Programs, the Child and Adult Care Food Program, the After-School Snack Program, and the National Science Foundation. He also voted regularly to fund the Departments of Labor, Education, and Health and Human Services, and to create the Department of Homeland Security. And Senator DeMint claims to believe in the Constitution and limited government?
First, the Positive
In Now or Never, DeMint recognizes America’s impending economic collapse. The national debt “now exceeds the size of our total economy.” The federal government has “approximately $100 trillion in unfunded liabilities.” The government is borrowing 43 cents for every dollar spent, “with no way to pay it back.”
DeMint also recognizes that congressional spending is out of control:
Federal politicians and bureaucrats continue to spend more than we bring in every year.
Gross fiscal irresponsibility has become the new norm.
Washington politicians continue to invent new ways to spend money.
He blames both Democrats and Republicans for their fiscal irresponsibility. Not only do “President Obama and congressional Democrats seem to wake up every morning with new ideas for more government programs and new regulations to restrict freedom,” but there are also “many reckless spenders in the Republican Party.”
In addition, DeMint recognizes the damage done by the federal regulatory state:
America’s economy is burdened with federal policies that include the highest corporate tax rate in the world, unbridled litigation, and costly regulations.
The expansion of federal control over states and the private sector has contributed to major financial problems for the states and continues to hobble the American economy.
Federal agencies have expanded their control over businesses to the point where America now has one of the most unfriendly business environments in the free world.
Federal policies now have the government owning or controlling a large and unprecedented part of America’s economic activity.
DeMint assails welfare and dependency:
Too many Americans are dependent on the federal government for their jobs, income, health care, housing, food, and education.
Welfare programs have only served to subsidize the poverty problem, not cure it.
He criticizes Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal and Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society.
Throughout the book, DeMint praises what is good:
freedom, decentralization of power, individualism, limited government, balanced budgets, decentralization, independence, personal responsibility, individual responsibility, decentralized political power, capitalism, free enterprise, entrepreneurship, low taxes, the centrality of the individual in a free society, federalism, and states’ rights;
and condemns what is bad:
socialist Europe, Wall Street bailouts, central planning, collectivist agenda, dependency, redistribution of wealth, centralization, welfare, federal entitlements, big-government ideas, socialism, a centralized political structure, progressivism, unlimited government, big government, central economic planning, collectivist social policies, centralized political power, collectivist solutions, overbearing central government, collectivist government action, and unions.
He even quotes Thomas Woods, Andrew Napolitano, Milton Friedman, Friedrich Hayek, Ron Paul, and Andrew Bacevich.
DeMint is not afraid to take on his own party:
There are few Republicans who have been more critical of my own party than me.
Many Republicans in Washington have not been true to the core principles of our party. After gaining the majority in Congress and electing a Republican president in 2000, we violated practically every principle of our party platform.
He terms the Bush years “big-government” years. He acknowledges that Bush “doubled the size of government and the debt.”
And Now, the Negative
I wish I could say that DeMint is a closet libertarian who actually believes in and votes for “the libertarian ideas that Ron Paul is talking about,” but such is not the case. Demint knows how to say the right things and quote the right people and criticize the right things, but it is his voting record, his proposals, and what he doesn’t say that reveal the true Jim DeMint.
Exhibit A: Education
DeMint criticizes the public school system. He is critical of President Carter creating “the Department of Education to centralize control of public education in Washington.” Yet, he believes that “public funding of education can be justified because individuals with character and skills benefit society as a whole.” According to DeMint’s congressional website:
In the dynamic, uncharted territory of the global economy of the 21st century, we must realize that federally funding public education does not have to mean federal government-controlled education. America’s hallmark commitment to education is key to both our individual and national success. We can never guarantee our students a lifetime of employment but we must invest in innovative ideas that will ensure them a lifetime of employability. Only then will success in school truly equate to success in life.
He wants federal education money to be block-granted to the states. DeMint talks about school choice, but doesn’t say that allowing parents to choose where to send their children to school with other people’s money is made possible by the redistribution of wealth.
DeMint complains that Bush “doubled the Department of Education with No Child Left Behind.” He complains that Bush compromised with Senator Ted Kennedy. He complains that Bush’s proposal included “more centralized federal control of public education.” He mockingly calls Bush’s program “More Children Left Behind.” But when it came time in 2001 for the final vote on H.R.1, the No Child Left Behind Act, DeMint voted for it. As did Pat Toomey, who wrote the introduction to the first chapter of DeMint’s book.
Exhibit B: The Debt Limit
In Now or Never, Jim DeMint rails against raising the debt limit. He faults Obama for “the fourth time in his presidency,” asking Congress “to increase America’s debt limit by another two trillion dollars.” He himself hasn’t voted to raise the debt limit since the Democrats took control of the Congress in 2006, but this doesn’t mean that he didn’t vote to raise it before then or would vote to raise it now. When DeMint was elected to Congress in 1998, the debt limit was “only” $5.95 trillion. Bush and the Republicans then raised the debt limit four times from 2002 to 2006 and then Bush and the Democrats raised it again three more times before Obama was sworn in.
On June 28, 2002, the debt ceiling was raised from $5.95 trillion to $6.4 trillion. DeMint voted in favor of what became Public Law 107-199.
On April 27, 2003, the debt ceiling was raised from $6.4 trillion to $7.384 trillion. DeMint voted in favor of what became Public Law 108-24.
On November 18, 2004, the debt ceiling was raised from $7.384 trillion to $8.184 trillion. DeMint voted in favor of what became Public Law 108-415.
On March 20, 2006, the debt ceiling was raised from $8.184 trillion to $8.965 trillion. DeMint voted in favor of what became Public Law 109-182.
DeMint had no trouble raising the debt limit when the Republicans were in charge, but was even willing to raise it under Obama. Notice carefully what he says on page 90 of Now or Never: “Our plan was to get enough Republicans to oppose any increase in the debt limit until the Democrats agreed to three things.” Notice the word “until.” Here is DeMint again on the same page: “I was not aware of any Republican who did not agree with our three demands [cut, cap, balance]. The only question was: were they willing to stand firm against any increase in the debt limit until President Obama and the Democrats agreed to join us?” Notice the word “until” again.
Exhibit C: The Welfare State
Although DeMint is critical of the New Deal, the Great Society, and entitlements, calls Social Security a “fundamentally flawed program,” rails against ObamaCare, says that “Social Security and Medicare force Americans of all income brackets into some level of government dependency,” and maintains that “health-care spending and Social Security will soon consume the entire federal budget,” he wants to save Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. Here are his own words:
Democrats plan on having a field day in 2012 by telling voters Republicans want to cut Medicare. Not only is this not true, it is ObamaCare that actually cuts Medicare.
Republicans are insisting that entitlements can be saved only by making tough and practical cost-cutting decisions. The Democrats seem to think that Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security can be saved through magic. Democrats continue to portray Republican attempts to reform entitlements as cutting or harming these programs – when in fact the persistent refusal to reform entitlements is the surest way to end them.
DeMint favors block grants and subsidies. He defends House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan’s plan to give retiring seniors “an annual subsidy from $8,000 to $12,000 to help pay for a personal health plan.” He suggests “a block grant program for Medicaid would give states the opportunity to opt out of federal mandates and administer the program as they see fit.” DeMint mentions a proposal of his in a previous book to “phase out federal welfare programs, and give block grants to states to partner with churches and charitable groups to assist the poor. Use federal block grants to assist states in setting up safety net programs to provide support for poor and disabled citizens.” But why should taxpayer money be funneled through federal bureaucrats in Washington D.C.? What DeMint considers to be federalism is still wealth transfers and income redistribution.
Exhibit D: The Warfare State
One of the biggest reasons why America needs to be saved from economic collapse is all the money wasted on the empire of troops and bases that encircles the globe and foreign wars and military interventions. DeMint is silent about these budget-busters in his book. This is because he fully supports the warfare state in all its glory. According to his congressional website:
Sen. Jim DeMint believes terrorism is the greatest threat posed to America and that the United States must remain committed to the long war on global terror. We can not afford to stand by while networks of terror assemble, plan and act against free and open societies. America must pursue terrorists and any one who supports their murderous plans. In Washington, Sen. DeMint has been a strong supporter of the men and women fighting this war. He has consistently voted to ensure our troops had all the funding and equipment they need to succeed. He has also fought members of Congress who try to divert war funding to their states and districts, and those who preach intolerance against our men and women in uniform.
In addition to voting in favor of invading Iraq in 2003, DeMint voted for every major war spending appropriation bill until the election of Obama. After that he has a mixed record. Here are the major war bills he voted for under Bush along with the amounts appropriated:
- FY2001 Emergency Supplemental Appropriations Act for Recovery from and Response to Terrorist Attacks on the United States, P.L. 107-38, 9/18/01, $13.9 billion
- FY2002 Department of Defense and Emergency Terrorism Response Act, P.L. 107-117, 1/10/02, $3.4 billion
- FY2002 Emergency Supplemental, P.L. 107-206, 8/2/02, $14.1 billion
- FY2003 Consolidated Appropriations, P.L. 108-7, 2/20/03, $10.4 billion
- FY2003 Emergency Supplemental, P.L. 108-11, 4/16/03, $66.0 billion
- FY2003 DOD Appropriations, P.L. 107-248, 10/23/02, $7.1 billion
- FY2004 Emergency Supplemental, P.L. 108-106, 11/6/03, $86.1 billion
- FY2005 DOD Appropriations Act, P.L. 108-287, 8/5/04, $27.8 billion
- FY2005 Supplemental Appropriations, P.L. 109-13, 5/11/05, $79.0 billion
- FY2006 DOD Appropriations Act, P.L. 109-148 12/30/05, $50.8 billion
- FY2006 Emergency Supplemental, P.L. 109-234 6/15/06, $69.2
- FY2007 DOD Appropriations Act, P.L. 109-289 9/29/06, $70.5 billion
- FY2007 Supplemental, P.L. 110-28, 5/25/07, $98.7 billion
- FY2008 Continuing Resolution, P.L. 110-92 9/29/07, $5.2 billion
- FY2008 Consolidated Appropriations Act, P.L. 110-161, 12/26/07, $73.2 billion
The FY2007 Supplemental bill also contained an increase in the federal minimum wage by $2.10 an hour.
DeMint voted in favor of the Patriot Act (H.R.3162, P.L. 107-56) and for its most recent renewal (S.990, P.L. 112-14). He voted for the Protect America Act (S.1927, P.L. 110-55) to allow warrantless electronic eavesdropping. He also recently voted for the original Senate version of the National Defense Authorization Act (S.1867) that contained the same indefinite detention provisions that appeared in the final bill. He also voted against an amendment to this bill (S.Amdt1126) to limit the authority of the Armed Forces to detain U.S. citizens (Senators Mike Lee and Rand Paul voted for the amendment; Senators Pat Toomey and Marco Rubio voted for the original Senate bill, against the amendment, and for the final bill).
Exhibit E: The Unsaid
There are many areas where the federal government shouldn’t be spending any money at all that DeMint never mentions. Like foreign aid, the war on drugs, and the many welfare programs that he has voted to support over the years. But since this review is already too long, I move on to the conclusion.
DeMint’s solution to America’s economic woes is a simple one: vote Republican. The country “may not survive another four years of President Obama and a Democrat-controlled Senate.” Americans need to vote Republican because “conservatives do not yet have the votes necessary to repeal the devastating policies enacted in the two years of total Democrat control.” This sounds strangely like the Republicans under President Clinton whining about needing a veto-proof majority in the Congress or a Republican in the White House to get enough votes to overturn Clinton’s devastating policies. Nevertheless, DeMint considers his book to “be a handbook for the 2012 elections and beyond.” He believes that “the 2012 elections for the White House and Congress may be the last chance for Americans to turn things around.” Of course, no one should vote for Democrats since they “always expand government and spending.” Most Democrats “simply do not share the American vision of limited government, decentralized political power, and the centrality of individualism.” Oh, Republicans “have had their lapses,” and “the Republican Party is not perfect.” But to conservatives like DeMint, everything bad that Republicans have done is always the fault of the Democrats:
Too often, when Republicans compromise with Democrats, America loses.
Virtually every time Republicans compromise with Democrats, we end up with more spending and federal control.
Reagan might have been criticized often for doubling the national debt (due in large part to a Democrat-controlled congress) from less than a trillion dollars to two trillion.
Even with a Republican president and a Republican majority in Congress, Democrats were able to force compromises that led to more federal spending and control of education, health care, banking, transportation, and energy.
It’s like the eight years of George W. Bush never happened.
Because DeMint believes that “unless freedom-loving Americans can unite within the Republican Party, the Democrats will win every election and continue to shamelessly lead our nation toward an economic collapse,” he calls on “every citizen who believes in freedom and opportunity” to “abandon the Democratic Party and help us restore a Republican Party that is principled, passionate, and worthy of the trust of freedom-loving Americans.”
DeMint mentions in his last chapter of Now or Never that “the definition of insanity is to keep doing the same thing expecting different results.” This he applies to the Democratic Party’s economic agenda. But this is exactly what conservatives keep doing: Voting Republican and then wishing, hoping, and praying that something better will come of it than the last time they did so. Meanwhile, the government grows larger, spending continues to rise, the welfare state remains intact, the Constitution is still violated, regulations increase, the police state gets more tyrannical, and more of our liberties are taken away.
DeMint believes there to be “irreconcilable differences” between Democrats and Republicans. But as anyone knows who observed the Republican Party when it had total control of the federal government for over four years under Bush – like the control DeMint wants Americans to give Republicans in the 2012 election – the only “irreconcilable differences” between the two parties is how to run the welfare/warfare/regulatory/police state.