DeMint seduced by the dark siren call of demagoguery

Has Jim DeMint utterly and completely lost it? Saying the president of the United States is trying “to sell socialism,” and that this country — “this country,” as Jack Nicholson kept saying in “The Departed,” not freaking Red China — is “teetering toward tyranny?”

Can it be that an actual sitting United States senator from our very own state has actually embraced, actually believes, Ruby-Ridge-style paranoid nonsense? Does he actually hear the black helicopters overhead? Are the jackboots kicking down the door of his mind as he speaks?

I mention Ruby Ridge deliberately, because it led to the Oklahoma City bombing. And on the same day a man got so fed up with the IRS that he flew a plane into a building, I believe it is the height of irreponsibility for another man who is in a position of great responsibility to be whipping up the already inflamed passions of the Tea Partiers.

It’s one thing to hear this sort of pooge from some poor lonely loser whose only social interaction is calling into late-night talk radio, but to hear it from a well-off, well-paid, secure man who’s got a pretty darned good life right here in the Land of the Free? That is profoundly disturbing.

Jim DeMint has for some time been noteworthy for saying outrageous things in that mild, butter-wouldn’t-melt-in-his-mouth way of his. If you hear him say it, it generally doesn’t sound as extreme as seeing it in black and white.

But now, he’s using these phrases in front of rallies, making the crowd roar. Now, he’s really gone too far.

Yet mark my words — to him right now, nothing has ever felt more right. I’ve seen this before. I’ve seen some really mild-mannered people find out that if they say certain things in front of an angry, beyond-reason crowd, he will be awarded by adulation. And he finds that he likes this. (Crowds are, almost by definition, beyond reason. They CAN be reasoned with, but it’s much easier, and in the short term more rewarding, to play to the crowd’s darker undercurrents, to stroke the lowest common denominator, to make the crowd say “Yeah!”)

I’ve even experienced it myself. Everyone who’s done a certain amount of public speaking can sense when the audience is with him. You have an immediate-feedback reinforcement loop going. I’ve noticed my tongue getting gradually a little sharper, in speaking of some recent political foolishness, because I sensed how much the audience was digging it.

How much more rewarding must the frisson, the rush, be when you just cast all common sense to the winds and go for the gut with abandon?

Jim DeMint is finding out. And apparently, he’s digging it.

25 thoughts on “DeMint seduced by the dark siren call of demagoguery

  1. Doug Ross

    It ain’t demagoguery if you believe it’s true.

    And if he is reelected, that means the majority of South Carolinians believe it too.

    DeMint sees what many of us see – a government that is expanding to point where there will be no return. The path we’re on as a country is scary and DeMint is correct in trying to do everything he can to reverse the trend. That’s common sense in my book.

  2. Elliott

    This is scary to me. How do you think this affects his re-election? It makes me far less likely to vote for him, but I would never have voted for him anyway. How do you think this demagoguery will affect the votes of other Republicans and Independents? I’ve always attributed his success to out-of-state money contributed to his campaign.

  3. bud

    Doug, DeMint said the country is “teetering toward tyranny”. (How do you teeter toward something. You English majors out there chime in. If you’re “teetering, doesn’t that mean you’ve arrived a place where you might fall in? “Teetering on the brink of tyranny” or “moving in the direction of tyranny” would be better IMHO) Agree or disagree with Obama’s stimulus plan or his healthcare proposals but that’s not the same as tyranny. He was elected as the agent of change and that pretty much included those proposals.

    Real tyranny was the way Bush attempted to circumvent the constitution with his efforts to wire-tap folks. But even that was not full blown tyranny. DeMint has gone off the deap end. I wouldn’t call that common sense. That’s just despicable.

  4. j

    He’s “Demented” to sum it up. I heard the guy at a chamber meeting last Summer and I wondered where he was in the last few years. He voted for the big Bush Tax Cut and for Medicare Part D with no funding. He’s a “fiscal conservative” – give us a break!

  5. Doug Ross


    At least DeMint sticks to his principles. President Obama is a whole different character than candidate Obama.

    I agree that America’s neverending war on terror (an unwinnable “war” much like the war on drugs) has been wrong from day one. Unfortunately, Bush – and now Obama – have refused to ask the American people to make hard choices when it comes to paying for that war. Our economy would be in much better shape had Bush and Obama not decided to put the war on the Ultra-Platinum American Express card.

    I’m still waiting for a President who does the right thing and not the political thing. Obama has dropped the ball completely… just like GW.

  6. Brad Warthen

    “I agree that America’s neverending war on terror (an unwinnable “war” much like the war on drugs) has been wrong from day one…”

    Yeah, you’re right. We should never have knocked down the twin towers of the World Trade Center, or flown that plane into the Pentagon. I also deeply regret the bombings in the London Underground. And the attack on the USS Cole. And the FIRST attack on the WTC, years earlier….

    What were we thinking? We should never have started something that we couldn’t finish…

    Doug, do you have any idea how absurd what you just said sounds?

    Yeah, I get it that you don’t like to see government do anything — even in reaction to actual attacks upon our people — but that sentence was really OUT THERE.

    You know, there are some things that government has to undertake lest our existence descend into chaos. One of them is to react strongly to terrorism. Another is to educate children to drive the economy. Neither of these things is easy, and it costs lots of money, and it goes on and on and on. Absolutely. And yes, if you want to live in that society, you WILL be expected to pay taxes to underwrite these endeavors.

    And in THIS country, you also get to gripe about it. But come on…

  7. Doug Ross


    Remind me again about how many Iraqis were on the planes that crashed into the Twin Towers and Pentagon.

    We should fight terrorism, not try and build democracies in foreign countries. That is not the mission of the United States.

    Have we won the War on Terror? are we winning? Are we any safer today than we were in 2001? I fly pretty much every week and all I see is that we’re still at Threat Level Orange and that a guy with a match and a loaded pair of underwear can send our country into a frenzy. We are trying to fight a mosquito with a cannon. And a cannon that we financed with future tax dollars because nobody in Washington has the guts to cut other government spending to pay for the “war”. That would mean making other lobbyists unhappy.

    I have no problem with fighting terrorism. We don’t need 100,000 troops on the ground to do that.
    As soon as we leave Iraq, we will see old habits and old regimes come back. They’ve been around centuries longer than the U.S. has.

    Not sure why you sidetracked into educating childred. I’ve paid tens of thousands of dollars in property taxes and sales taxes over the years to do just that. I’ve probably paid more than you have (we can compare property tax bills if you’d like). What you don’t like to hear is that some percentage of those tax dollars are wasted on things that have nothing to do with education and everything to do with kicking back money to politically connected people. I’d put the waste and abuse percentage at about 30% and would rather see that money go to teachers instead. You never seem to care about wasted tax dollars. You’re more interested in the concept of public education versus the reality of how the money is spent (a view you have of pretty much anything related to the government – it’s the thought that counts).

  8. Kathryn Fenner

    @bud Merriam Webster’s definition of teeter

    1 a : to move unsteadily : wobble b : waver, vacillate
    2 : seesaw

    I think you are right that a far better word than “teeter” would fit there, or that one should “teeter on the brink”–“heading” is probably what he meant, but that isn’t so frothing-at-the-mouth.

  9. Brad Warthen

    You didn’t say a word about Iraq or Iraqis. You said OUR “war on terror… has been wrong from day one.” As though it were our idea. As though we had a choice. As though the war would not continue to be waged — on us — if we didn’t lift a finger.

    Now I’ll admit that what you said bears a certain resemblance to what some of the antiwar folks — including, alas, the president — say with regard to Iraq. The same error of logic is involved. The president says “end this war” when all he means is “bring our troops home,” two things that have nothing to do with each other. If there is a war there still (highly debatable), it not only continues after we leave, it intensifies, and our ability to affect whether it continues necessarily drops to zero.

    But again, you just now injected Iraq into it. Your comment, to which I responded, was about the War on Terror — a multi-front effort that is not only going on in Afghanistan (and to a far lesser extent now, in Iraq), but in Pakistan and Iran and the Philippines and Somalia and Yemen and many other areas, a war engaged in many ways, from direct offensive military action to supporting surrogate fighters to diplomacy to economic policy to intelligence gathering to, yes, those domestic security measures that you find so irritating.

    What exactly is your solution to this “pointless” war continuing? Quit? We weren’t fighting, or taking extraordinary security measures, all those years while Khobar Towers and the embassy bombings and the USS Cole and all those other attacks were occurring, but the WAR was going on, with or without our positive participation.

    What, precisely, is your solution? Wish it away?

    And I didn’t “sidetrack” into public education. To me, the two things are very, very similar. I’ve made the comparison before, in a column headlined “We can’t cut and run from our public schools (or Iraq, either).” And what I said about Iraq specifically is far, far more true of the overall fight against terror.

    In advocating for aggressively engaging these problems, I frequently find myself up against nihilistic arguments that we should just quit, that the things we’re trying to affect are immutable, and all is pointless. And in both cases, I see it as imperative to keep trying, keep learning, keep looking for the opportunity to change the equation. In both situations, we must never, ever quit.

    Yes, these problems are extremely difficult — rooting terrorists out of Afghanistan and bringing good, universal education to poor rural areas of our state pit us against enormous systemic odds — cultural, economic, historical barriers of immense mass.

    But they are not impossible. And we have to keep trying.

  10. Doug Ross

    My solution would be using intelligence and special forces to target specific terrorist cells. It would never involve large numbers of troops. It would also NEVER result in shooting a missile into an Afghan village and killing a dozen civilians by mistake like we did just last week.

    There is no such thing as a war on terror. Terror never declared war on us. And our presence in foreign countries (including killing civilians) does just as much damage by fostering anti-American sentiments.

    Let’s make it clear again – who says we should stop fighting terrorists and stop funding education? Who are all these nihilists? You mean someone who wants a voucher to pay to public OR private school? Is that quitting? If the money flows from the taxpayer to educational institutions, how is that “quitting”? It isn’t. It’s just not your grand plan where the government runs everything to the maximum degree possible. That’s the way I see it, comrade.

  11. Brad Warthen

    OK, tovarich.

    Talking about education reminds me… I haven’t written yet about my interview with Brent Nelson. Mostly, he made a good impression. But one thing bothered me… he said he was encouraged to run by Jim DeMint…

  12. Burl Burlingame

    The “war” in Iraq cannot be “won.” It was lost the day the Abu Gharaib photos surfaced.

    The military adventurism in Iraq has always bothered me because it was so poorly executed. It was all tactics, no strategy. Unless, of course, the aim of the administration was deliberate chaos as a way of cashing in their corporate friends.

    On the other hand, any nation that harbored terrorists or was sympathetic to their cause — if they believed after 9/11 that the U.S. would not lash out in a proactive way, they were fooling themselves. Iraq is an object lesson in blood and treasure that the U.S. is not easily bullied.

    There are no easy answers or explanations for any of this.

  13. Doug Ross

    And look at how easy it was for one crackpot in a little plane to fly into a federal building.

    If you think a massive army can stop those types of events from happening, you’re fooling yourself.

    If you think the TSA is effective, you are fooling yourself. Think about this for a second – all I need to get access to the airport gates is a piece of paper with my boarding information. Any half-witted terrorist could create any number of fake boarding passes for as many people as he wanted to get into the gate area. In a busy airport, what would happen if 100 terrorists were standing in the gate area of a 757 as it was boarding for takeoff? And what if each one of those 100 phony passengers brought a quart of some liquid into the area? The only thing the TSA does is cause travelers pain…. at the cost of BILLIONS of tax dollars.

    The only thing that has stopped terrorism so far has been two botched attempts by the terrorists, not the system. Meanwhile, the TSA forced a four year old boy wearing leg braces to remove them and walk unaided through the scanner. That really gives ME a sense of security.

  14. Herb B

    Had an interesting conversation with someone about the free market economy, and the fact that free markets are never possible without government intervention. Our whole economic system was put into place by government. It was government that took the American real estate, confiscated it from the first nation folks, parceled it out and distributed it to anyone who would settle on it. So how does it make sense to think that, by reducing government down to the size that it can be “drowned in a bathtub,” we would make any forward steps economically, or for that matter, in most other areas?

    At this point I am thinking that Demint is probably just developing his political base by throwing out slogans and sound bites of stuff that people want to hear. This is pretty far from reality–most issues have multiple causes and sources, and a very complex history. It seems to be ironic that, although we are getting more access to more and more information, we seem to be less and less ready to listen to different sides on an issue, much less to discuss them in a helpful manner.

  15. bud

    The so-called “war on terror” is the most overblown, exaggerated issue going right now. If you add up all the Americans killed by foreign terrorists over the last 20 years, including those killed overseas, that figure would fall far short of the number killed by hospital errors and a lack of medical insurance in a single month. Yet we dither and piddle on healthcare reform while we spend trillions on an unwinnable “war” that does absolutely nothing but justify more terrorist acts by the crazies who otherwise would be an isolated few.

    Here’s my solution. And no it won’t eliminate all acts of terrorism. Withdraw all troops from the Middle east. That would reduce the number of targets and, more importantly, a significant justification for terrorism in the first place. Reduce the military budget. Much of it is a waste of money and serves only to draw attention to the decadence and bullying nature of America. These initial steps will greatly reduce the threat from terrorists by sending a clear message that we don’t have imperialist intentions.

    That important change of course will largely eliminate the incentive for terrorists. The remaining threat can be addressed by investing heavily, but quietly, in counterterroism operations to root out the few remaining terrorists.

    This is not a “war”, rather it’s a manageable criminal problem. We don’t declare war on every criminal problem. How silly would it sound to declare war on shoplifting.

  16. Bart Rogers

    Yep, let’s remove all of the screening and other security measures we have in place and go back to pre-9/11. Let’s find the isolated incidents where TSA employees prove once again, stupidity has no boundaries and use them as examples of failure of a system.

    If not mistaken, Reid and the underwear bomber boarded planes in other countries. I don’t think TSA had anything to do with their getting on a flight.

    And, I don’t know which airports you fly out of Doug, but the ones I flew out of for years never allowed anyone without a ticket or going through security into the gate area or even the main concourse.

    Security was an inconvenience and a pain but I would rather have an imperfect system than none at all.

  17. Doug Ross


    A “ticket” these days (and for the past several years) is a boarding pass that you can print from home. I do it nearly every week. Anyone with a scanner and Photoshop could buy a single ticket, print the boarding pass, and then create 100 different boarding passes and walk through the gates.

    You obviously having flown lately. The TSA is nothing but a waste of time and money that could be spent on fighting terrorism instead.

    I was at a small airport in Michigan a month ago where there were eight people working the screening area and six passengers in the gates. In the middle of the day… The screeners spent the majority of the time standing and staring off into space. It’s a farce.

  18. Kathryn Fenner

    The TSA screening measures are widely derided as “security theatre.” There are vastly more effective methods for uncovering terror attempts than simply adding another layer after every new attempt. Do we really think someone is going to be able to take over a plane with a box cutter, or blow up a plane with his shoe? The Mossad, for example, actually puts highly trained screeners, not just folks who can see if your shoes are in the bin.Tracey Ullman has a hilarious character based all too accurately on a TSA screener….

  19. Steve Gordy

    Our junior senator is playing to a wider audience. Face it, South Carolina is a small stage. The Senate is much larger, but his re-election is a cinch. Something gets into your head when you enter the Senate; it’s full of Presidential wannabes. Besides, he’s an advertising man and he’s working on perfecting his pitch.

  20. Brad Warthen

    In some countries, countries less worried about hurting the feelings of members of certain demographic groups, the security folks actually look for characteristics — gender, age, ethnicity — and behavior that might, just might, indicate that you’re a terrorist.

    We’re so much about equal treatment for all that we prefer to inconvenience everyone.

    A good case can be made for both approaches.


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