Meet Jim DeMint.
Mr. DeMint is the junior senator from South Carolina, elected for the first time back in 2004 in one of the less-noticed rightward shifts in the country in the wake of George W. Bush’s reelection. Though South Carolina is considered the reddest of red states, DeMint’s predecessor in the seat was Ernest “Fritz” Hollings, a Democrat who had held the seat until 1966. Hollings was no liberal, but DeMint makes him look like a regular civil rights activist.
The National Journal ranked DeMint as the most conservative senator two years in a row, 2007 and 2008, but many of his positions would better be characterized as radical right-wing. DeMint opposes abortion even in case of rape or incest, and also stated that he thinks openly gay people and single mothers should not be allowed to teach in public schools (if you extrapolate from that, you could be raped, forced to bear the child, and then lose your job?). DeMint did later apologize for the statement about single mothers, though notably not about gay teachers.
Steve Benen of the Washington Monthly noted that DeMint also subscribes to a right-wing interpretation of the 10th Amendment that pretty much discounts any federal government ability to do much of anything. Known as “Tenthers,” people like DeMint believe that federal programs such as Medicare might actually be unconstitutional. Even DeMint realizes, though, that to get reelected he’d better not try to defund Medicare the same way he’d like to defund public schools.
But why are we talking about the most conservative member of a largely discredited Republican party right now?
But it certainly seems to me that DeMint and other Republican members of Congress who are really going crazy over this issue want to recreate the US Cold War relationship with Latin America. It would be interesting to see if DeMint has ties with businesses in Latin America. Certainly the US has intervened in Honduras many times before. The fruit industry’s domination of the country from the late 19th through mid 20th century is well-documented. In the 80s, it was the ultimate Reagan-era Latin American client state. Honduras has always been among the most pliable of Central American nations to US will and I think there’s a sense that this could be slipping away, although there’s no real evidence.
While Joy-Ann Reid has dug a bit into possible business reasons for DeMint’s trip to Honduras, but it is important not to forget his ideological reasons for reaching out to a government called illegitimate by President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton. Bloggers and others have noted that DeMint’s actions could violate the Logan Act. The act makes it a crime for an individual to confer with a foreign government counter to the official position of the United States. (In 1984, Ronald Reagan said that Rev. Jesse Jackson might have violated the law in going to Cuba and bringing back political prisoners seeking asylum.)
Mainstream papers have chosen to paint the dispute about DeMint’s trip as one over policy—as if the de facto government is simply an opposing political party rather than a military-backed group that forced Manuel Zelaya, the democratically-elected president, from the country. Senator John Kerry, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, refused to give DeMint permission for his trip, but minority leader Mitch McConnell arranged a plane for DeMint and his cohorts, Representatives Aaron Schock, Peter Roskam and Doug Lamborn. Separately, Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen plans to head to Honduras to meet with the de facto regime, which employs her former press secretary and his PR firm.
David Rothkopf at Foreign Policy notes:
We know he thinks that the little telenovela that is playing out in Honduras is the most important thing happening in the hemisphere because — apparently over this issue — he has personally blocked the confirmation of the administration’s two excellent, highly qualified nominees to be Assistant Secretary of State and Ambassador to Brazil. This issue has driven him nuts and he is going to drive the rest of the government nuts too, by golly! That’s patriotism. Them’s priorities. That’s a South Carolina man in (ideological) heat.
DeMint, who has compared the US government under Obama to Nazi Germany, believes so strongly in the right of the Honduran business class to overthrow a democratically-elected left-leaning leader that he’s willing to pick fights both in the Senate and with his own president to go visit them. So what does that say about relations here in this country? When right-wing rhetoric has escalated from vague references to watering the tree of liberty to actual columns asking for a “bloodless coup” in America to prevent some nebulous idea of socialism, should we be worried that members of Congress find coup governments perfectly acceptable?
The radical right in this country is trying its hardest to delegitimize the Obama government with cries for Obama’s birth certificate and hyperbole about fascism and communism (often in the same sentence). Irresponsible words from senators like DeMint can inflame already-heated sentiments and provoke violence. The junior senator may be more interested in raising his own public profile at the moment—he recently authored a book, another step along the self-aggrandizing path towards presidential ambitions—and I doubt he seriously advocates a coup in this country. He is busy appeasing the business interests of his supporters, like top donor Club for Growth, a radical anti-tax organization.
In DeMint, the worst of social conservatism and fiscal conservatism come together, but it seems to be the business interests who win out over and over again. The right wing might be willing to use the anger of social conservatives and “values voters” to stoke resentment and protest against Obama, but it is and will remain the corporate interests who really maintain control, and even a moderate liberal like Obama is entirely too threatening to the privatization agenda, let alone a populist like Zelaya.
So the question, as it is with all of these politicians playing obstruction and flirting with the radical right, is: is it really about ideology, or are they just bought and paid for? DeMint has the courage of his convictions when it comes to meeting with a rogue foreign regime, but not when it comes to social programs popular even with his southern Republican constituents. Yet his willingness to support a coup in Honduras should raise chilling questions about his tolerance for extremist elements within his own party who are advocating violence against the president.