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Jim DeMint served in the U.S. Senate from 2005-2013. The South Carolina Republican resigned to become head of the Heritage Foundation. During his years in Congress – which included three terms in the U.S. House of Representatives – DeMint was known as a staunch social and fiscal conservative. A Tea Party favorite, he also became known for his battles with more establishment Republicans. In a new book, DeMint argues that free enterprise, limited government and traditional values are not just conservative ideas. They reflect what America is all about. Guest host Susan Page sits down for a conversation with Jim DeMint.
- Jim DeMint former U.S. senator from South Carolina (2005-2013) and current president and CEO of the Heritage Foundation.
Read An Excerpt
Excerpted from “Falling in Love with America Again” by Jim DeMint. Copyright © 2014 by Jim DeMint. Excerpted by permission of Center Street. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
MS. SUSAN PAGEThanks for joining us. I'm Susan Page of USA Today sitting in for Diane Rehm. She's on vacation. Former South Carolina Senator Jim DeMint spent years trying to change Washington from within. Alongside the Tea Party caucus, he fought to shrink government and promote conservative values. But critics say those efforts caused rifts in the GOP and made many Republicans more vulnerable at the polls.
MS. SUSAN PAGESenator DeMint resigned from the Senate last year to lead the Heritage Foundation. He has written a new book. It's titled "Falling in Love with America Again." Jim DeMint joins me in the studio. Welcome to "The Diane Rehm Show."
MR. JIM DEMINTWell, Susan, thanks for having me.
PAGEWe invite our listeners to join our conversation. You can call our toll-free number, 1-800-433-8850. Send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Or find us on Facebook or Twitter. Now you dedicate your book in part to the little platoons everywhere that make this country great. What's a little platoon?
DEMINTThat's a phrase Edmond Burke used 200 years ago. He was a friend of the American Revolution, a British statesman and philosopher, but he said that public affection begins with those little platoons in our life. And I thought about it myself. The whole introduction of the book is just building off of what created my love for country which really came from family, church groups, small businesses, shops, the people around us in our life, and that not only makes America work.
DEMINTIt made us unique in the sense that America was built from the ground up, unlike any other country that is top-down, controlled from the top, generally a larger government, and I'm reminding people in the book that if we really want to solve our problems, we really can't do that from Washington. And I give a lot of examples that I've been through -- and I've seen them firsthand -- the big government does not help the little guy.
PAGEYou talk about the value of these little platoons. We should note the Edmund Burke School is just down the street from us here.
PAGEOne of my kids is a proud graduate of the Edmund Burke School. So you talk about the little platoons contrasting with the bigs, like big government, other bigs, big private organization, big institution. Similar situation, DeMint?
DEMINTOh, exactly. And it's actually big government that fosters these big corporations, big unions, big banks, big lobby firm, and, Susan, a lot of people in Washington are saying, hey, we need to help the middle class where the 1 percent is getting more of the income. But that's happening because of big government. It protects the big guy. It protects the rich guy. And -- many examples in the book, but one of them is just, when we had this big recession and a big housing bubble that burst, the people that primarily caused it were on Wall Street.
DEMINTBut they're the ones that got bailed out, and they're the ones that actually wrote the Dodd-Frank legislation. And all the thousands of businesses and people that lost on that, now this new legislation written by the big banks is making it hard for community banks to even stay in business.
PAGEWhat about big think tanks? I mean, would some people say the Heritage Foundation is a big?
DEMINTWell, I think with less than 300 people, I'm not sure we'd be considered big. As a matter of fact, I think that's still in the small business category. But we are in competition with the bigs in a lot of cases. One of the things that makes Heritage unique is we're not supported by primarily big contributors. We have, like, 600,000 folks. And a lot of people send 25 and $50, so no one can walk in our front door and tell us what we have to do. It's really based on research.
PAGEAre there any big institutions that you think are appropriate and valuable that work best because they're big -- where little platoons maybe just aren't appropriate or sufficient?
DEMINTThe military's one, certainly. And one of the primary reasons that our states came together in the first place was to create a national defense that protected all of the states. But they always wanted a federal government to be limited in other ways, so it -- even the military, which, again, is an example in the book of one of the most trusted institutions, we know it with little platoons.
DEMINTWe know individual soldiers or sailors. And it operates in small units. And it's just a good example for us is the federal government is big, and it is top-down. And there's a lot of good motivation. They want to do a lot of things -- solve poverty, fix our schools, fix healthcare -- but you won't find a lot of examples of that working. And so if you really want to solve problems -- and the examples are in the book -- like, schools, for instance, the best schools now, the most innovative, are those where they're charter schools.
DEMINTThey're different kinds of schools that are being developed by citizens and volunteer groups, by states. And it's not saying education's not important. What it's saying is the federal government one-size-fits-all solution doesn't work when you've got people who are very different.
PAGEEducation, of course, traditionally a matter for local school districts, cities, for states. But is there a value in the federal government setting some standards that all schools need to meet and that districts can figure out their own ways, perhaps, to meet them, but setting a kind of national standard for education?
DEMINTWell, it depends on what those standards are. Certainly, equality, justice, opportunity, we need to make sure that everyone gets a fair chance. And that's one of the roles of the federal government is justice. But what I found in the industry -- and I was a consultant to a lot of companies on quality improvement -- is it was a standards often kept quality down. That sounds counterintuitive, but what you want is a continuous improvement process where you're constantly competing with others.
DEMINTIf you have 50 states competing for the best education system, they'll tend to pull each other up. If you create one-size-fits-all at the federal level, then people start teaching to the test. They try to game the system. We've seen that with almost every federal program, Republican or Democrat. And the quality of our schools has not gone up. But the cost has. And what we see when you break out from under that one-size-fits-all mold -- even in New York right now, with their charter schools, these were poor disadvantaged children that are scoring a lot better than those in the traditional schools.
DEMINTI mean, these are public charter schools. But the teachers' union is one of those bigs that I talk about. They're pushing the new mayor to close these charter schools, even though they're working for students.
PAGESo the education initiative by George W. Bush, the No Child Left Behind Initiative, is that one that you think made sense, improves education? Or do you think it's one of those that, as you say, had unintended consequences for...
DEMINTI think the unintended consequences by both parties are talked about now. And there were good intentions there. I opposed it at the time because it didn't give states enough flexibility to take some of these ideas and actually move them further forward. So the -- I've got countless examples of schools in Florida, Louisiana that are helping children.
DEMINTWe know from the D.C. scholarships that this helped poor minority children get out of failing schools. That's why you've got people like Juan Williams who wouldn't be called a conservative, but he's working on school choice. It's one of those unifying issues that we need to focus on.
PAGEYou spoke Saturday at the Conservative Political Action Conference. I watched you on C-SPAN as you did that. What's the direction now of the conservative movement and the Republican Party? And do you think it's fair to refer to those as a kind of single entity?
DEMINTNo, it's not. And Heritage is not a Republican organization. In fact, I think it's good for all Americans to take the political labels off right now, whether it's conservative, liberal, Republican, Democrat, and look at those things that really work. That's my appeal in the book. I'm not promoting Republicans. As a matter of fact, I'm known to be more critical of Republicans than Democrats because the Republicans are saying one thing and doing another.
DEMINTThe one thing about Democrats, they generally are doing what they say they're going to do, which tends to be more of a centralized approach to things. But my point at CPAC was, folks, this country was built from the ground up. And let's look at all the things that are working. Instead of talking about a mandated minimum wage from Washington, look at wages in North Dakota where they're developing their own energy, and their economy is booming.
DEMINTAnd what you have is people starting at McDonald's at $15 an hour with a hiring bonus. And if you have a vibrant economy, then you have five businesses competing for one worker instead of what we've got in the country now, is one worker competing for five jobs.
PAGEThat's such an interesting point you just made and one that I think would surprise people. You said Democrats are more likely to do what they say they were going to do if they get elected than Republicans are.
DEMINTThey are. There's a tendency in Washington -- there is a Washington establishment, and it includes the media. It's everyone focused on what are we going to do here? And if we're going to fix jobs, we're going to help the middle class. We're going to help credit. But my experience has been is when the doors close and they're writing the legislation -- with Obamacare, it was not for the little guy.
DEMINTIt was the big insurance companies. It was the big hospitals. You know, with No Child Left Behind, you saw it started out one way. But the teachers' unions drive education policy when you're in Washington. When you get down to the state level, the balance of power changes a little bit.
PAGEAnd talking about the George W. Bush Administration, when you were serving in Congress during that, talked about fiscal conservatism but passed a new entitlement to -- with Medicare pushed to a tax cut which drove up the deficit.
DEMINTI think that's why you see conservatives disenchanted with not just Republicans but the whole Washington establishment. And one of the points I make in the book is it doesn't matter if it's Republican or Democrat. The government has gotten so big, it's impossible to manage. There's going to be waste. I mean, the largest corporation in America, Wal-Mart, is just a mom and pop store compared to the federal government. And so it doesn't matter if you get the best CEO in the world.
DEMINTThis government is impossible to manage. And so it was never intended to run our schools, our healthcare, our energy systems. There's still a role for the federal government to make sure we have reasonable environmental laws. We have a good military and defense system. That interstate commerce works. But it's really crazy to keep saying that the federal government is going to solve problems when all the evidence is to the contrary.
PAGEWe're talking to Jim DeMint, the former senator from South Carolina. He's now head of the Heritage Foundation. He's written a new book. It's called "Falling in Love with America Again." We're going to take a short break. When we come back, we'll continue our conversation. We'll go to your calls. Our phone lines are open, 1-800-433-8850. You can send us an email at email@example.com. Or find us on Facebook or Twitter. Stay with us.
PAGEWe're talking with Senator Jim DeMint about his new book. It's titled, "Falling in Love with America Again." You were the subject of a recent article in Politico Magazine. And they headline said, "Is Jim DeMint the most hated man in Washington?" And the striking thing about the story is it wasn't talking about Democrats and Liberals…
PAGE…hating you. It was talking about Republicans…
PAGE…hating you. Are you the most hated man in Washington?
DEMINTWell, it was interesting. First of all, to be liked in Washington means you're probably part of the problem. And so I'm not real concerned about being disliked by the most unpopular folks in the country. But that's a good example of the 'bigs.' About half the lobbyists in Washington were here to get earmarks. I led the effort to ban earmarks and that put a lot of these folks out of business because it was special favors for the big guys. And if they can't control you here, they don't like you.
DEMINTThey don't like that about Cruz. He's been vilified. No one really knows Ted from the media, but he's a great guy. But he's going to do what he said he was going to do. So they're not going to like Ted and some others either. So that's a badge of honor for me to be disliked by a bunch of lobbyists here in Washington.
PAGEOne of the points that was made in that article was that some Republicans blame you and the Tea Party movement for losses, especially in the last two elections for U.S. Senate seats. They point to maybe a total of five Senate seats that were lost by Republicans, they say, because more conservative Tea Party-aligned candidates ran there. Do you think that's a fair comment?
DEMINTIt's kind of silly. The only election Republicans have won in over a decade has been as a result of the Tea Party movement. Republicans has nothing to do with winning the majority in 2010. And anyone who had ever gone to Tea Party meetings, these were average citizens. They included Democrats, Republicans. They were just people who were concerned about the growth and spending of government. They weren't talking social issues, moral issues. They just said stop the spending, the borrowing, the bailouts.
DEMINTIt really united the country. And since then, of course, everything that has gone wrong in Washington has been blamed on the Tea Party. And there really is no one Tea Party. It's just thousands of small groups across the country.
PAGEIt's a movement.
PAGENot a party. I think that's very fair. And there's a lot of analysis around town on is the Tea Party waning, is it having less influence now. Where do you think this movement stands today?
DEMINTWell, they're still there, but they don't like politics. It's negative. And they feel like, I think, they've been dragged in and vilified for everything. And they weren't that organized so it's hard to sustain it when it's being attacked and misrepresented. But the movement is there, of people who are concerned about the spending, the debt and the growth of government overall. So I think there's a chance to unify the country around this idea of little platoons and moving things out of Washington.
DEMINTBecause you can't just come in and keep things the same way and cut federal education spending. If you don't let it go, then you're going to hurt education. But the federal government only provides 10 percent of education funding. If we give states more flexibility, they're likely to have more dollars in the classroom than they do now. And I think that's what'll unite the country, is moving things out of Washington.
PAGEJust before we leave the question, though, of whether the Tea Party movement has hurt Republicans efforts to regain control of the Senate, which continues to be a hope for this next midterm election. You were famously quoted after the 2010 elections, when there were I guess two or three seats that were in dispute -- as saying you would rather have a Senate with 30 Marco Rubios than 60 Arlen Specters. Marco Rubio being the conservative senator from Florida. And Arlen Specter being the late more liberal Republican senator from Pennsylvania. Do you still think that?
DEMINTYes, I do. I came into the Senate with 55 Republicans. We had a large majority in the House. We had George Bush in the White House. But we didn't do what we said we were going to do. We didn't cut spending. The place was being run by Democrat and Republican appropriators who were there just to get earmarks and pass it out to their friends. So I'm just saying that it doesn't matter which Party's in charge, if you're trying to solve the problem at the federal level. It doesn't matter to me whether George Bush is trying to expand federal control of education or Barack Obama. The solutions don't work.
DEMINTIt's not that I'm anti-government. It's just that if you look -- and that's the whole business of heritage, is to find out what the truth is. Take the political labels off and just recognize that the federal government is hurting education, particularly for poor and minority children. But we've got countless examples of where allowing more choice is giving people more opportunity.
PAGELet's go to the phones and let some of our listeners join our conversation. Let's go first to Rick, who is calling us from Indianapolis. Rick, welcome to "The Diane Rehm Show."
RICKThank you so much. And I'm sorry, Susan, you have to deal with Mr. DeMint. Mr. DeMint, were you also against public radio?
DEMINTI'm not against public radio at all. But I am against federal funding of public radio.
RICKOkay. Well, that's it. So why are we, Susan, and the powers that be, why are we putting this troglodyte on a radio that I'm paying for to talk about -- he's pimping his book.
PAGEAll right. Rick, thanks for your call. You know, first of all, I'm not sure I'm a powers-that-be here or at anyplace else. But I would say that "The Diane Rehm Show" is a forum for people with of all kinds of points of view about important issues, including federal funding for public radio. I don't think it would be fair for a regular listener to say there's a litmus test on that kind of issue for being on the show.
DEMINTYeah, well, it's a fair question. And so I don't mind it at all. And I think federal funding for public broadcasting is a small percent of what you do. And you're at the point now -- and I think some of the leaders in public broadcasting have said it's not necessary. So I think the freedom not to have to deal with any maybe government pressure, or going to the government with a particular perspective, you're at the point now where I think you can certainly do without it. I don't mind the debate on it, but I frankly think as long as you're under the umbrella of the federal government you're probably not going to be the best you can be.
PAGEI think if Diane were here she would also want me to object to the language that you used against our guest on the show, as not being in the kind of tradition of civil discourse that Diane Rehm is famous for fostering on this show. Now, we've gotten several emails from listeners who want to know your stance on legal protections for homosexuals and same-sex couples. Tell us where you stand on that issue.
DEMINTWell, they deserve all the legal protections that anyone does. I think the question we're having today is not what people are allowed to do or who they love and who they live with. The question is, do we want someone in Washington redefining civil institutions right now? Or do we want someone in Washington or a court telling someone who has a strong religious objection that they have to participate in something that they don't agree with?
DEMINTWhat we have to work out in America -- and again, it's a main point of the book -- if you allow people who are living together and disagree on a lot of things, to do their own thing, in effect, and live the way they want and believe the way they want, then they can live together in harmony. And we see it all over the country. But when you come in and say, okay, Mr. Businessman, you now have to do things you disagree with because the federal government says that, that divides the country and that's the title of the book.
DEMINTIt causes us to fall out of love, not only with our government, but with the people whose ideas are being forced down our throat. So I think what we need to do as conservatives is convince everyone, we're advocating for your rights to live the way you want. But in the case of marriage, it is not a federal institution. It was formed by basically the civil society, churches, it's always been regulated by the states. And we need to allow the people in the states to make up their mind how to deal with that.
PAGEDoes that mean that if a state chooses to allow same-sex marriage, that's okay with you if it's done at the state level?
DEMINTIt doesn't make sense in the sense of the way I understand family and how that's so important to opportunity in America, but it's certainly they're right. And I think if we're looking at the Constitution and what we should do from the federal level, we should allow states to make that decision. And states that allow people to vote and they decided they want gay marriage, then that's what they need to do. The challenge then is do they want to force other states to do that. Are we going to allow this difference of opinion to exist or are we going to say whoever gets 51 percent gets to force their opinion down someone else's throat?
PAGENow, this issue is headed toward the Supreme Court, almost certainly.
PAGEAnd some court analysts say the Court seems destined to recognize a constitutional right to same-sex marriage. Perhaps not. You know, who knows how the Court will rule. But that's how a series of federal district courts have ruled.
PAGEIf it happened that way, not as a result of Congress imposing this on states, but as the Supreme Court ruling that that is a constitutional protection, would that be acceptable to you? Do you think that would be all right?
DEMINTI think that would be just a grave overreach for the Courts to say this is a government function to define an institution like that. To force that on the whole country would divide people. This is something that divides our country. And we need to allow people the freedom to make up their own minds and states to do it. And that's, again, a point of the book. If you take an issue that's so divisive and create a once-size-fits-all solution, they're going to be a lot of unhappy people.
DEMINTAnd, actually, we'll dislike each other, when we otherwise could get along. And so the federal government has no right to redefine marriage. People have a right to have contracts with themselves any way they want to do it, live together, love together. And we need to make sure we protect that freedom.
PAGEThis has been an issue in Arizona and some other states. And it's been debated in, I think, Mississippi and elsewhere, whether if a state recognizes same-sex marriage, allows gay men and lesbians to marry, should businesses be required to sell them wedding cakes or should small businesses have the right to say, no, I don't want to be a photographer for a gay wedding? What's your position on that?
DEMINTWell, there's some important distinctions here. The couple that sued, I guess, it was the florist in Arizona, they hadn't been doing business with that florist for a long time. But when it came to saying that you're going to come out and participate with a ceremony I disagree with, they asked for a pass on that, basically. And I think a business has to have that right. I mean, you don't have a right not to serve someone in a restaurant, not to let someone come in your store. That's not what this law was about.
DEMINTI was surprised when I actually read that law, that it said nothing about gays or gay marriage. It was all about religious protection, that someone should not be forced to participate in something that they disagree with from a religious perspective.
PAGEI'm Susan Page. And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." We're taking your calls, 1-800-433-8850. You know we've gotten a series of emails. Let me just read one of them -- they go to a similar point. One of them writes, "Please ask former Senator DeMint to justify his stance on wanting to keep the government out of people's lives, yet he wants government to forbid same-sex marriage and tell women that they shouldn't be allowed to have abortions."
DEMINTWell, the states are the ones that are making progress on the issue of life. And I think we have to look at the federal government as primarily responsible for making sure there's justice in this country. It's another issue that divides our nation. Every day you've got over 3,000 little girls and boys who lose their lives before they're born. I certainly -- my personal opinion is that's a tragedy we need to address. But since there's such a division across the country right now, I'm glad to see some of the states taking initiative, finding a balance there that seems to be working, recognizing life.
DEMINTAnd, Susan, frankly, the more people see the sonograms and hear the scientific data, more and more people are recognizing that an unborn child is a human being. And we need to respect that life, as well as all life. So I think it's an issue that's going to be difficult for the federal government to deal with. At some point I hope we can come to the acceptance that unborn children are human beings that deserve human rights. We're not there yet. So I think I'm glad to see the states making the progress.
DEMINTAnd what was the other issue that they…
PAGEThe other issue was same-sex marriage.
DEMINTWell, again, as we've talked about, states have always regulated marriage. It's not an institution that was formed by the federal government or has ever been regulated by the federal government. So if there are going to be changes, it needs to be at the state level. And that's what we're seeing happening. Some states are confirming traditional marriage. Some states are going the other way. And that's the way I think our Constitution was set up.
PAGEA lot of people have had their opinions on gay marriage and gay rights. It's changed in the last few years.
PAGEIt's been an area of great transition in this country. Have your own views on that changed in the past few years?
DEMINTWell, I think they have in a sense of not that what is important to the country, important to family, from my personal perspective and my faith perspective of what's right and wrong, that hasn't changed at all. But the role of the federal government, it's become clearer and clearer to me that we cannot -- whether it's for my opinion or someone else's -- we cannot be making that decision from Washington.
DEMINTIt will divide the country and it's an unprecedented overreach of power for the government to, in effect, take a civil institution and redefine it, when it's always been dealt with at the state level. So that's really where I think my thinking has been clarified more than changed.
PAGEAnd when we talk about the issue of abortion, certainly a lot of Americans feel strongly on both sides of this issue.
PAGEBut I wonder, since you're someone who is against kind of government overreach, is this not an issue some would argue that -- who makes the decision?
PAGEAnd would not the conservative approach be to try to affect the attitudes of women toward the issue of abortion, not to enact laws at the state or federal level?
DEMINTWell, it is a divisive issue, but I think the question is if we have human beings and we know we have human beings and we can see them in pictures, it is a role of the government to protect life. And so that is, I think, what we're dealing with as a nation right now, is the coming acceptance that we do have human beings here. We do more to protect an eagle's egg than we do an unborn child. And I think we just need to challenge our own principles here.
DEMINTThe states are making progress with bringing people along and uniting people around, let's give people more informed choices, let's let them see a sonogram. It's a difficult issue, but I think if you look at the research, more and more Americans are coming to the realization, this is a human being and deserves human rights.
PAGEYou surprised a lot of people when you resigned from the Senate to take over the Heritage Foundation. Do you feel like you have more influence there then you did in the U.S. Senate?
DEMINTYeah, the problems are not going to be solved by Washington. And the real battle in America is for the culture and convincing people what the right ideas are. At Heritage I can take off the political label. I can talk to people from all walks of life around the country about what ideas will make their life better. And if we can convince Americans -- and that's part of what I'm trying to do with this book -- that the best solutions are going to come from the ground up, that it's not about political parties, it's just -- it doesn't matter who you elect, if you want Washington to solve the problem, we're actually going to have more problems.
DEMINTIf we can win the debate with the country, the politics will follow. That's something that became very clear to me as a senator. Politics is a lagging indicator. And we're going to follow where America goes. At Heritage I have more a chance to, I think, help to persuade Americans about here's the best way to create a better country and a better life.
PAGEWe're going to take a short break. When we come back we'll talk a little presidential politics with former Senator Jim DeMint. Stay with us.
PAGEWelcome back. I'm Susan Page of USA Today sitting in for Diane Rehm. And with me in the studio former South Carolina Senator Jim DeMint. He's now head of the Heritage Foundation and he's talking about his new book. The book is titled "Falling in Love With American Again." Well, let's talk a little about -- I know you say you'd like to move beyond political labels but let's talk just for a moment about the Republican presidential contest in 2016 at the CPAC Convention which you addressed this weekend.
PAGEWe saw Rand Paul win the straw poll. There we saw a lot of enthusiasm for more libertarian kind of Republicans. What -- is there a civil war in the Republican Party that we'll see played out in the 2016 election?
DEMINTI think there's a very positive debate. Actually, some of the libertarian thoughts have attracted a lot of liberals into the moveable meddle as we call them. Because the sense of, hey let's just get the government to leave us alone, is something that is growing. I think there are a lot of folks who feel as Rand does that we need to stop meddling all over the world. And so there are some new ideas that we need to debate. And essentially they're a very good fit to conservative ideas of how we think.
DEMINTAnd that welding, I think, is the potential new majority in the country, conservative, libertarian, really liberal thinking in the true sense of the liberal war. So again, I'm optimistic. The people we talk to around the country will unite around a lot of these ideas of decentralizing power, live and let live in effect to where, okay, you can believe and live the way you want. I can do the same. And we can be friends even if we disagree.
DEMINTBut the real divisive power now in the country is the big government, big corporations, big Wall Street banks. And they're all fostering each other's success at the expense of the rest of the country.
PAGEWe also heard New Jersey Governor Chris Christy speak at CPAC. He made this when he said, we don't get to govern if we don't win. And I think his attitude -- he's a Republican less in line with you on politics I would guess. Is that right?
DEMINTWell, no. I like Chris Christy in the sense he's tough. He believes in tough love and he says what he thinks. And I think that's important as what attracted a lot of people. But the -- this idea of let's set our principles aside and win and then we're going to use our principles in office has never come true.
DEMINTI think what we need to find is if we really believe in these principles of less government and more freedom is how can we convey that to people in a way that helps them know that we do believe in safety nets? But we don't believe in welfare traps to make the distinctions that haven't been made in the past of why our ideas will make life better.
PAGERand Paul finished first, the Kentucky Senator. The Texas Senator Ted Cruz finished second in the straw poll. But the third place finishers is a name that I think maybe a lot of Americans haven't heard before, Ben Carson. He also wrote the forward in your new book. Tell us who he is and why does he seem to have appeal, at least for this particular group?
DEMINTWell, he would definitely raise the IQ of government. I mean, he's a brain surgeon. But one of the interesting things about the forward, he liked the point of the book because he grew up in poverty with a single mom, with a lot of racism. But what he said is that he had little platoons around him in the community that were supporting his mom and helped to create that opportunity out of where he was. And so even in the worst of circumstances, if you have some little platoons of church members, family and friends around you, grandparents, then it could work.
DEMINTBut people like Ben Carson because he tells it like it is. He's not trying to be politically correct. And he's just out there telling the truth. And people are hungry for someone who's not using talking points and not afraid of what the truth is. And he has gotten a lot of people excited. I think, again, not necessarily just Republicans.
PAGECould he be a credible contender for the presidential nomination?
DEMINTI think he definitely could. He certainly has got more experience, in my opinion, than the president we have now. But he's a smart guy. He understands medicine. But the more you hear him talk the more you realize he's got a broad knowledge of our country and a big appreciation for who we are. So I don't think you should count anyone out. Ben Carson's definitely smart enough to run the country in a positive way.
PAGELet's go to a caller. We'll go to Jack who's calling us from Salisbury, N.C. Jack, hi. Thanks for holding on.
JACKThank you for taking my call, Susan. Mr. DeMint, I want to tell you, I'm a person that actually served in and commanded a small platoon in the United States Army. And your idea that the federal government can't do things right is ridiculous. First of all, the public schools and universities that you graduated from received a lot of their funding especially in the '60s to build new classrooms and things of that nature. That's where they helped educate you.
JACKAnd as for the federal government can't do anything, you work for a place called Heritage. You need to actually learn about the history of the United States. Why don't you start from 1920 on and look and see that the U.S. government kept us from going socialist in the depression. One, World War II, built an atomic bomb in less than three years, went to the moon in the '60s. And right now NASA, a government entity, as a lender rover that was only supposed to last 90 days that is now still running around Mars ten years later.
JACKSo the idea that the federal government can't -- is wrong -- and also the states -- like, if you leave the states to do everything then you'll get the same thing you got after the Civil War. The South led by South Carolina re-segregated and trampled on the rights of a large portion of the American people for over 100 years. It took the federal government and the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act to stop that.
PAGEAll right. Jack, thank you so much for your call. Senator DeMint.
DEMINTWell, Jack, a lot of good points and thank you for your service. And one of the examples we use in the book of the most trusted institution in the country is the military. Certainly connected with the government but it's an institution we know in little pieces and individuals like yourself. I'm not suggesting the federal government doesn't have an important role, particularly in the military or that the states would be perfect in their execution.
DEMINTBut the time period we're talking about over the last few decades when the federal government has gotten much more involved in education, we've seen our schools go downhill compared to the rest of the world. We've seen the problems develop in health care to a large degree because about half of the payers, as we call them, or those who provide a reimbursement are now federal government related, Medicare, Medicaid, Tricare. They don't pay doctors enough to make a living so they transfer costs to private insurers.
DEMINTWhat I'm saying is I'm not giving political theory here. What we're using is real life examples of how the bigs help the bigs. And this, I think, has certainly become more of the truth over the last several decades. I think probably a few decades ago we would've said big business. We're not for big government but they are now, very much so. But the examples in the book are about schools that are better and helping people because we've got more choices.
DEMINTThat doesn't mean the federal government doesn't have some role in making sure there's justice in those schools but we have good examples of health care issues being handled better at the state level. What we need to allow is more flexibility. I'm not talking about the federal government closing down but I can show you where the federal government is failing in a lot of key areas. And if we ever can get 50 states competing for the best economic situation, the best society, the best schools, the best health care, America will be better off than it is today.
PAGEHere's an emailer who makes a point similar to one of the points that Jack made. This emailer writes, "The problem with the smaller state governments in the south is they have a tendency to not protect minority rights. That's why I trust the federal government more."
DEMINTI think they're talking of several decades ago. The schools that are helping minority children in the south right now are those that are through school choice. And I've helped to start some of them, whether they be chartered schools or otherwise. And all over the country we're seeing that poor minority children are being helped by school choice. Again, as I said before, that's why otherwise maybe more liberal people like Juan Williams are seeing this issue as one that divides us.
DEMINTAnd we have, from South Carolina, proud to say, the only black United States Senator. We've got a young woman Indian who -- of Indian descent who is our governor. I think the discrimination that is being talked about no longer exists, and certainly not in South Carolina.
PAGESo you think this is no longer a problem in South Carolina, the issue of protecting minority rights.
DEMINTWell, the best way to protect their rights is to create opportunities. And that's the difference here that we need to talk about. Some kind of a mandate is not going to do the same thing as better schools, more opportunity, a vibrant economy where people can get their hands on the ladder of opportunity. And I know there are a lot of good intentions in Washington but the bigger the government gets, the less opportunity there is. And it hurts minorities and the poor more than anyone else.
PAGEInteresting that South Carolina now has an Indian American governor and an African American Senator.
DEMINTYes. And we're real proud of that. And it's -- of course we won't get into the history of things but the segregated south was not run by Republicans.
PAGEAnd I wasn't going to follow up on that but I -- you mean, the Democrats were controlling the south -- but the Democrats during the time that the worst segregation. But I think it is true that those southern Democrats are now largely Republicans.
DEMINTWell, I think we had trouble with some of them coming over but Republicans since Abraham Lincoln have always been for equal rights. And I'm very proud that those civil rights -- the whole civil rights legislation was passed by 80 percent of Republicans in the House and the Senate overcoming the southern Democrat blockade.
PAGECertainly a topic perhaps for another show.
DEMINT...for another show, yeah.
PAGEWe're coming up on the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
DEMINTA lot of history there.
PAGEThere's a lot of history. I want to talk just for a moment about some of the defenders of big government we're hearing from. Here's an emailer who writes, "With a problem as big and global as climate change and environmental degradation, how can small government tackle such a vast global problem? Isn't an institution such as the EPA at an appropriate national scale to combat environmental problems?"
DEMINTThe EPA definitely has a role. And clean water, clean air is a national issue. But as it becomes bigger and more bureaucratic, I mean, the challenge we see is sometimes the regulations are more political than science-based. And we're seeing that a lot now with issues like fracking when we know natural gas is a third less polluting than coal or oil. And we should be developing it as fast as we can and hopefully exporting it to the world to take some of the leverage of power away from Russia and the Middle East.
DEMINTBut it's -- the balance between what we do at the national level and the state level is something we need to talk about. And I think the Environmental Protection Agency did a lot of good. But now it has become very political and bureaucratic. I think we can do more by pulling some of that responsibility back on the states.
PAGEI'm Susan Page of USA Today and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." We're taking your calls, 1-800-433-8850. Let's go to another caller. We'll go to Tim who's calling us -- I'm not sure where you're calling us from. Tim, where are you? Tim, are you there?
MELANIEI'm sorry, this isn't Tim.
PAGEOkay. Well, who is this?
MELANIEThis is Melanie.
PAGEPlease go ahead with your question or comment.
MELANIEWell -- calling as someone who comes...
PAGEI'm so sorry. I think this call is jinxed because we're not able to hear you. I suspect that you're on a cell phone and I'm so sorry. If you try to call back we'll try to talk to you again. Here's one of the things that the Heritage Action for America, the lobbying arm of the Heritage Foundation does that has annoyed a lot of Republicans, and that is the kind of scoring on votes that members of Congress say...
DEMINTNobody likes report cards, do they?
PAGENobody likes report cards.
PAGEWhy do you do that? Do you think it's a smart thing to do? Because critics say that it encourages members -- legislatures not to think for themselves, that it sets up everything as a black and white issue. Why do you think it's a good thing to do?
DEMINTWell, I need to stress that Heritage Action is separate from Heritage Foundation. And their mission is to actually take our ideas, our research to Americans and to the Hill. But the scorecards are important because there's so much pretense in this direction in congress. There's so many times where you are actually helping to pass something when then you get to vote against it so you can make the people back home think one way
DEMINTWe -- Heritage Action is holding congress more accountable, not only with the scorecard but helping to train thousands of people around the country that they call sentinels that can be more informed about the issues, that they know how to call and email congressmen and senators or write op-eds. And the most important thing we need to do to save our country is an informed citizenry. And HeritageAction.com is a very powerful new way to do that.
PAGEYou helped found a pack, the Senate Conservative's Fund and a former aide to you now heads that. It's coming for some real criticism, right. Reading an interview in the New York Times from the other day I guess it ran on yesterday, in which Mitch McConnell, the Senate Republican Leader, said that groups like that I think we're going to crush them everywhere, referring to efforts by this group and others to target some Republican senators including Mitch McConnell in primaries.
PAGEHe says, I don't think they are going to have a single nominee anywhere in the country this year. Is he right?
DEMINTWell, I haven't been involved with Senate Conservatives Fund in a couple of years. I'm very proud of what it did while I was involved. You wouldn't have people like Marco Rubio, Rand Paul or Pat Toomey or Ted Cruz, Mike Lee. A lot of these folks were opposed by the Republican establishment, but they're bright young people with, I think, a more -- a broader look at our country, a more persuasive people. And so I don't know what these groups are doing now. But frankly I think the debate within both parties about what we're going to stand for is pretty important.
DEMINTSo the primaries are good. Sometimes they look like they're divisive but we need to have a debate as Americans, do we want to continue with the status quo or do we want some changes?
PAGESo put on your -- look into your crystal ball. Senator Mitch McConnell faces primary challenges. He's got a serious Democratic challenger assuming he survives the primary in Kentucky. Will he be the Senate Republican leader next year?
DEMINTIt's hard for me to say and I try not to even think about that, as one of the reasons I left is the only way for Washington to change is for us to win the debate outside. And the first thing we have to do is convince Americans that the status quo is hurting them. That big government, no matter what they promise, is not going to help the little guy in the middle class. But that Americans do have the power to change things.
DEMINTAnd what I want them to vote for in November this time in 2016 is to vote for themselves, to figure out what ideas are going to make their life better. And look at places like North Dakota and say, do you want economy like that in your state? There are things you can vote for that'll help that happen. Or you want schools like you're seeing in Florida that help poor children? So America, if they start paying attention they'll figure out who to vote for. That'll change Washington.
PAGEJim DeMint, author of "Falling in Love With America." Again, thanks so much for being with us this hour.
DEMINTThank you, Susan. It's been a real pleasure.
PAGEI'm Susan Page of USA Today sitting in for Diane Rehm. Thanks for listening.
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