Latest Republican Radical: “The Poor Don’t Pay Enough Taxes”

Jim DeMint, a rising star in the radical Republican firmament, is campaigning for the Senate in South Carolina on a platform that is as extreme as it is hidden.

By Jonathan Weisman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, June 20, 2004; Page A05

In a state that has lost more than 57,000 manufacturing jobs since 2001, many to foreign competition, a resolute message on free trade might be considered problematic for a political candidate.

In the ninth-poorest state in the nation, a candidate who openly worries that the poor are not paying enough taxes could be expected to face a stiff political head wind.

In a state where an already substantial retiree population will surge 19 percent this decade, a politician championing one of the most dramatic Social Security privatization proposals in Washington could expect some problems.

But that politician, Rep. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.), has not only gained stature in his quest for the Republican nomination to represent South Carolina in the Senate. He is also now seen by many Republicans as the party’s best shot at snatching that seat from the Democrats in November, when its occupant, Sen. Ernest F. Hollings, retires.

When DeMint faces former governor David Beasley on Tuesday in a runoff for the GOP nomination, he carries with him the hopes of ardent economic conservatives in Washington, who see the three-term congressman as a potential champion. If DeMint triumphs in November, his supporters say, he would embolden all conservatives to push for dramatic changes in Social Security and tax laws, while holding firm on free trade.

“There’s a lot of excitement for DeMint,” said economist Dan Mitchell of the conservative Heritage Foundation, “because he’s not only someone who believes in individual freedoms and the free market, but he would actually fight for them. That’s what’s missing on Capitol Hill.”

The conservative Club for Growth has pumped $500,000 into DeMint’s quest for the nomination, and has pledged to make him a national figure if he prevails.

“This election is about more than Jim DeMint,” said Stephen Moore, the political action committee’s president. “It’s about these core issues of the Republican Party.”

But South Carolinians may see the race differently, largely because hardly any of them know of DeMint’s unorthodox views, said Neal D. Thigpen, a political scientist at Francis Marion University, in Florence, S.C. “He comes across as competent and steady, but he’s no maverick,” said Thigpen, a longtime watcher of South Carolina politics, who had no idea of DeMint’s views on taxes and Social Security. “That’s not what he’s selling, and it’s certainly not the way he’s perceived.”

And DeMint appears to be doing his best to keep it that way.

“That’s not an argument I’m going to win on the campaign trail,” he said of his ideas on taxes.

So we just won’t mention it? We’ll campaign for the US Senate without telling people what we intend to do because if they knew what it was we might not get elected?

So we’ve now reached the point where they’re bragging about keeping their true agenda hidden from the people they’re asking to vote for them. Sweet. Want a little taste of that agenda?

But DeMint’s position on taxes may be his most unorthodox, and the most invisible to his would-be voters, suggested Robert Botsch, a political scientist at the University of South Carolina at Aiken. In speeches and interviews in Washington, DeMint has lamented what he calls “an eleventh-hour crisis in our democracy” — that many of the beneficiaries of federal social welfare largesse pay little or no federal income taxes.

“How can a free nation survive when a majority of its citizens, now dependent on government services, no longer have the incentive to restrain the growth of government?” he asked during a Heritage Foundation lecture in 2001. His prescription? “We must have a new tax code that allows all voters to see and feel the cost of government,” he counseled. “Using the tax code to help low-income workers only disconnects them from the responsibilities of freedom.”

While letting corporations use the tax code to help themselves doesn’t “disconnect them from the responsibilities of freedom”?

What’s remarkable here is the “disconnect” of DeMint from any sort of sane or logical thinking. It’s pure, unadulterated fantasy, and in a state that’s as poor as South Carolina, it’s not a fantasy that’s likely to play very well outside the extremist radcon core.

But under such a plan, those just above the poverty line likely would see a substantial tax increase. That might not go over well in South Carolina, where nearly a third of the population lives on incomes twice the poverty level or less.

So far, DeMint has not pushed the issue. “It’s an intellectual argument, and political reporters don’t want to talk about substance,” he said. “They’d just say DeMint wants to make the poor pay more taxes.”

And, he said, if he wins the nomination, he is not likely to bring it up against his Democratic challenger, state Superintendent of Education Inez Tenenbaum.

No, I just bet he won’t. But she will.

This is what we’re up against–a mindset that thinks we aren’t paying enough and the rich are paying too much. This shows that the so-called “anti-tax” stance of the extreme right is really a “Don’t tax the rich, tax the poor” program: they think taxes are fine as long as they’re not the ones paying them.

I have to keep asking myself, is America really this mean? this selfish? this cruel? this stoopid?

If the DeMints win in November, the answer may be “Yes.”

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