Sen. Jim DeMint, the Religious Right zealot who helped build the Tea Party into a political movement, is resigning from the Senate to become president of the Heritage Foundation.
DeMint told the Wall Street Journal that he will "protect the integrity of Heritage's research and not politicize the policy component." The WSJ did not report whether DeMint was able to keep a straight face while delivering that truly hilarious line.
Heritage, of course, is nothing but political. It is a mega-marketing firm for the far right. After the Supreme Court's ruling in Citizens United, Heritage created Heritage Action, which has produced attack ads against Democrats. Heritage Action has been part of the right-wing push-back against any move by Republican congressional leaders to compromise on taxes and the debt ceiling.
DeMint and Heritage are perfect for each other. DeMint came out of the Religious Right and became the movement's go-to guy in the Senate even before he became the face of the Tea Party movement. Earlier this year, DeMint spoke at a conference sponsored by the dominionist Oak Initiative, where he asserted that God had put Christians "in charge of this vineyard we call America."
As noted in Steep: The Precipitous Rise of the Tea Party, published this year by the University of California Press, DeMint embodies the overlap between the extreme social conservatives of the Religious Right and the extreme anti-government elements of the Tea Party. Here's DeMint's response to a question from to the Christian Broadcasting Network's David Brody asking in 2010 if he was worried about social issues taking a back seat to fiscal concerns:
No actually just the opposite because I really think a lot of the motivation behind these Tea Party crowds is a spiritual component... I think people are seeing this massive government growing and they're realizing that it's the government that's hurting us and I think they're turning back to God in effect is our salvation and government is not our salvation and in fact more and more people see government as the problem and so I think some have been drawn in over the years to a dependency relationship with government and as the Bible says you can't have two masters and I think as people pull back from that they look more to God. It's no coincidence that socialist Europe is post-Christian because the bigger the government gets the smaller God gets and vice-versa. The bigger God gets the smaller people want their government because they're yearning for freedom.
The Heritage Foundation also lives where right-wing movements overlap. While many people think of Heritage as a business-Republican think tank made famous when the Reagan administration basically adopted Heritage's "Mandate for Leadership" as its policy agenda, Heritage is also a key deep-pocketed player on the Religious Right. Heritage was among the groups that boycotted the 2011 Conservative Political Action Conference over the participation of GOProud, a group of gay right-wing activists.
In fact, Heritage has been a leader of a concerted effort by social conservatives to delegitimize libertarians within the conservative movement. Speaker after speaker at Religious Right political gatherings -- from the annual Values Voter Summit that Heritage cosponsors with the Family Research Council and other Religious Right groups to the Awakening conference convened by the Freedom Federation in the wake of the Obama election -- have argued that it is impossible to be a fiscal conservative if you do not also embrace the Religious Right's "family values" agenda.
The textbook for those claims was published by Heritage. For the past several years, Heritage has been pushing and holding workshops on a publication called Indivisible, which has social conservative writing about economic issues and economic conservatives writing about social policy. Thus, readers are treated to such gems as anti-gay activist Bishop Harry Jackson writing about the immorality of minimum wage laws, which he compares to slavery.
One more example: The Heritage Foundation's Matthew Spalding appeared along with a range of Religious Right leaders in a video produced by the American Family Association last year -- the message of the video is that America's increasing secularism spells doom for the country.
DeMint told the Wall Street Journal that he sees Heritage as "a vehicle to popularize conservative ideas in a way that connects with a broader public," something especially urgent because "we saw in the last election we were not able to communicate conservative ideas that win elections."
While DeMint may be a perfect ideological fit for Heritage, he may not be the best person to help Heritage and the conservative movement reach the broader public. In fact, it was his backing for far-right candidates in Senate primaries that helped keep the Senate under Democratic control.
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