The political news that’s got various pundits buzzing is that Jim DeMint is resigning from the Senate to take over the Heritage Foundation. While he’s been in the media a lot, often portrayed as a powerful voice for the conservative movement, there’s one thing that should be highlighted: He wasn’t a very good Senator.
South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint accomplished very little in the Senate in the traditional sense: He wasn’t a legislator, has no signature laws to his name and has never been part of any major bipartisan negotiations.
“The problem is not Harry Reid,” DeMint told Limbaugh, referring to the Senate majority leader. “The problem is, as conservatives, we have not taken enough control of our message and our ideas and communicated them directly to the American people.”
Over the past two election cycles, DeMint, first elected to the Senate in 2004, worked hard to help get hard-line conservatives elected to Congress. Through his Senate Conservatives Fund, DeMint financially and logistically supported conservatives running for office and made enemies of some of his more moderate GOP colleagues by backing their primary challengers.
Funny, I can’t recall any lack of control or communication of their “message and ideas.” It’s just that the American public sent a strong message this past election cycle that they don’t like them. It’s noteworthy that the Tea Party conservatives he helped get elected turned this recent Congress into the most unproductive and unpopular Congress in recent memory.
It’s not just DeMint, or even just the Republican Party. While the Republican Party has been in large measure turned over to its purists, the Democratic Party has examples of that as well. Earlier this year, I talked about Dennis Kucinich, and had this quote:
For all of his advocacy for liberal issues, Kucinich got almost nothing accomplished. He’s one of those legislators who becomes a favorite of the base—this happens on both sides; look at Michele Bachmann—by talking a lot while doing very little. Effective legislators build coalitions, they work to persuade their colleagues, they even compromise, if that’s what’s necessary to get legislation passed (or blocked, if that’s the goal). Not Kucinich.
Michele Bachmann is a good example on the Republican side of “popular with the base, but doesn’t do anything.” I can point at Alan Grayson, Allen West, and others. All ideologically pure, but in terms of accomplishing anything relating to governing, they’re not on the list. That’s the problem.
In the form of government we have, there are certain rules that have to be followed, and things that must be done. Even the most hide-bound conservative expects certain things from the government. We have a military, we have a host of obligations, and it’s expected that our elected representatives will keep the lights on and the wheels turning. When we have different parties in control of one part, those obligations don’t go away. It means compromise. Even when we have just one party in the majority, there are rules which mean they must deal with the minority party.
Purists don’t want that. They have their cause, and will not accept anything less than “perfect.” If it means that it renders government non-functional, so be it. The purity of their beliefs, and getting their own way, trumps any foolish concerns about government not being able to do what their constituents expect it to do. It doesn’t matter to them that the economy might tank, people will be seriously hurt, or projects in their own backyard won’t happen. If it’s not pure enough according to them, they’ll stop it.
Which is why I greet Senator DeMint’s departure with a “good riddance.” It’s better for the Senate, and hopefully, better for the people of South Carolina. Maybe they’ll have a Senator who actually … works for them. But he’s helped teach a valuable lesson to the public. Purists are lousy at governing. The more people wake up to that, the more trouble the purists are going to be in. Ideals are wonderful things, but unless they work in the real world and accomplish something, the purists are going to be ideally unemployed. The American public has this streak of pragmatism, and politicians who have put purity first have found that out the hard way. It may take a while, but the Republicans are about to learn it.