14 June 2014

Good Enough for Government Work

Conservatism in the tank

Jim Newell

When Sen. Jim DeMint, the upper chamber’s godfather of Tea Party nihilism, abruptly announced his retirement from his lawmaking career and his plans to take over as president of the conservative Heritage Foundation think tank, the consensus in Washington was that this was a step down for a guy who had never done all that much in the first place. For goodness’ sake, the pundits wailed, what legacy does this man think he’s leaving behind? What authorship can he claim for any significant—or, for that matter, trivial or failed—piece of legislation? He must be going from do-nothing legislator, the thinking went, to a sinecure outside the official branches of power purely for the money. The money! What a useless person that Jim DeMint is, and ever shall be.

So far as it goes, this appraisal of DeMint’s legacy is accurate enough—he’s the sort of lawmaking mediocrity who makes, say, Montana’s onetime senator-cum-Abramoff-bagman Conrad Burns look like Daniel Webster. But measuring DeMint’s career move on the usual Washington grid of legislative achievement also completely misses the point.


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