In 2009, Sen. Jim DeMint released his book Saving Freedom: We Can Stop America’s Slide Into Socialism. It was the most fatuous piece of political propaganda I have ever seen, and I devoted a week’s worth of my precious words exposing DeMint’s silly claptrap for what it was.
In Saving Freedom, DeMint poured in roughly equal parts religion, history, economics, and old-fashioned, flag-waving jingoism, then hit the purée button. What he poured out was a preposterous sludge of superstition and bigotry, which held that American exceptionalism and unbridled capitalism were ordained by God and anyone who thought otherwise was a threat to the divine plan.
As I wrote that week: “What DeMint does here is romanticize America’s past, turning it into a bucolic Christian utopia, in which friends and neighbors took care of each other. There were no industries to regulate, and no ethnic conflicts to sort out. That’s the way we should see the country today, he says … Don’t listen to those darn socialists, with all their complicated theories and prescriptions.”
Alas, I had only 800 words to fling at DeMint two years ago, when there was so much more to be said. I am pleased to report that another patron of rational thought and fact-based reality has taken up the cause. South Carolina native Barrett Maners has devoted a whole book to calling out Jim DeMint and his harebrained followers in Stopping Radicalism: We Can Stop Jim DeMint’s Crusade for Stupidity.
Maners does not mince words in assessing DeMint’s opus: “In addition to containing a fabricated account of the history of the world and of America, it also identifies the ‘secular socialist’ forces that are plotting to destroy everything ‘real Americans’ hold dear … Newt Gingrich has proclaimed that it’s nothing short of a ‘new Declaration of Independence’ … To me, it was just a declaration confirming that the far right’s ideology is independent of reality.”
Maners shares my conviction that DeMint could flourish only in a culture of rank ignorance and superstition. South Carolina provides a perfect medium for his message, as it has for generations of demagogues, charlatans, and frauds. Maners quotes an 1846 citizens’ group who complained: “There is scarcely a state in the Union in which so great apathy exists on the subject of the education of the people.” It’s as true in the age of Nikki Haley as it was nearly two centuries ago.
But something curious has happened since the 2008 election. There has emerged an angry and deluded subculture of Carolina clones called the Tea Party. And DeMint has the DNA to be their leader.
“The rhetoric that [DeMint] uses to promote himself and his views is largely attributable to, and necessary for, holding office in South Carolina,” Maners writes. “It is no surprise that a product of that political climate has earned the nickname of ‘Sen. Tea Party’ from National Review.”
Maners is perhaps at his best when he takes on DeMint for his superstitious fear of science. “Jim thinks he can use labels that provoke fear and hatred in the ignorant masses, thereby stifling any attempts by rationalists to promote long-term environmental protection over short-term private profiteering,” Maners writes. “Just call someone a godless communist and you win by default. You don’t even have to have reason or evidence on your side.”
Maners does not look the part he is playing in the current political and cultural war. The buttoned-down owner of a small real estate services business in Rock Hill, he is in his mid-20s, with degrees in political science and real estate management from Coastal Carolina University and Clemson University, respectively. He played tight end on the Northwestern High School football team in Rock Hill and received an appointment to West Point, but left after a semester when he realized he did not fit the mold of the Long Gray Line. At CCU he returned to the gridiron as a walk-on, lettering three years. Along the way he abandoned his Southern Baptist background, along with a lot of other South Carolina ideas and attitudes.
Maners knows DeMint better than almost anyone, but he still puzzles over what makes the man tick. “He comes from a good background. He has a good education,” Maners told me recently. “But he decided it’s easier to pander to the lowest common denominator of South Carolina society and American society. That’s what makes him so frightening.”
Stopping Radicalism is the first book about Jim DeMint not written by DeMint. It will not be the last, but it is a good starting place to understand the man and the unhinged movement he seeks to lead. It’s not in bookstores yet, but you can find it at Amazon.com. It will help you understand a frightening world and a frightening man.