The Washington establishment got all riled up last week at the news that South Carolina Republican Jim DeMint was leaving the US Senate to take charge of the Heritage Foundation, a once-respected conservative think tank that today is largely — but not yet exclusively — a shill for right-wing revolutionaries and a toady for the greediest and most socially insensitive corporations in America.
It is a perfect fit for DeMint, the most conservative member of the Senate.
The DeMint/Heritage union is a marriage conceived in Dante's fourth circle of Hell. If you need to brush up on your Italian literature, that is where the insatiably greedy torture one another without mercy for all eternity.
A talent scout for the Tea Party, DeMint is a recognized Washington power broker. A quintet of conservative Republicans owe their Senate seats to DeMint: Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, Rand Paul of Kentucky, Mike Lee of Utah, Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, and Marco Rubio of Florida. Excepting maverick libertarian Paul, these are new-style GOP clones, slick on the outside, deeply reactionary at heart.
At the moment, Republicans are very much like a skunk paralyzed in the middle of a back road by oncoming headlights. The shock of losing the election is still incomprehensible to them. Party leaders were so out of touch before the election that now, almost a month after their defeat, they still have not regained their bearings.
Within this context, DeMint's departure seems not so much another blow, but certainly a demoralizing slight.
How, the DC ruling class wonders, can anyone abandon the Senate for a mere think tank, even one — like Heritage — that offers an annual salary of more than $1 million?
The answer is simple: independent thought has no place in today's national Republican Party (although there are some signs of it back in the state governments).
Discipline is all. Republicans receive their marching orders from their leadership, who are heavily influenced by think tanks and lobbyists. With rare exceptions, they are expected to follow them. That is, after all, why Republican Senator Olympia Snowe of Maine is retiring at the end of this year. A woman of conscience and competence, Snowe couldn't tolerate the charade of free thought any longer.
Pay no attention to what DeMint says he is going to do at Heritage, that he'll keep politics and policy separate. Our prediction is that DeMint will continue to steer Heritage along the road to right-wing purity, just as Stalin snuffed out all traces of independent thought from the Kremlin.
In terms of Washington influence, Heritage arguably is a rung above the Senate. Unless they miraculously acquire a spine in the coming weeks, DC Republicans will continue to dance to the ideological tenor and tone established by the likes of Heritage.
Meet Jim DeMint: yesterday's political foot soldier, tomorrow's kultural kommissar.
OBAMA'S SECOND INAUGURAL
Although the crowds are expected to be smaller than the first time around, and the parties fewer and less lavish, Team Obama has said that it will accept unlimited corporate contributions to stage a gala kickoff for the next four years.
One reason for this is that so many Democratic fat cats are tapped out after the last mind-bogglingly expensive election.
We think Obama is missing a chance to stage a teachable moment. To underline the seriousness of the nation's economic plight, Obama's second swearing-in should be a model of Jeffersonian frugality, a speech — we recommend a corker heavy with political specifics — and a motorcade.
In other words, set the agenda and then begin fighting for it the next day. The rest of January 21 can then be dedicated to celebrating Martin Luther King, whose remembrance also falls on that day.