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South Carolina Senator Jim DeMint on current health care politics and his book, Saving Freedom

Thursday, August 20, 2009

HH: Special hour of the Hugh Hewitt Show now. I’m joined by United States Senator Jim DeMint of the great state of South Carolina. Senator DeMint has a brand new book out called Saving Freedom: We Can Stop America’s Slide Into Socialism. Saving Freedom is linked at I’m going to urge it upon you. It’s just a ten strike for the times in which we live. It is so on point it is scary he had to write it over the last year, maybe in anticipation of the battles we would be in as we enter the fall. Senator DeMint, welcome, it’s great to have you on the Hugh Hewitt Show.

JD: Hugh, thank you, and I want to thank you up front for your help. As you know, we asked for some input on an early draft of the book, and I think you really helped us improve it, so thanks a lot.

HH: It was my pleasure. I knew it was going to be an important book when I got a chance to read that chapter, but I didn’t realize how much would go into it. And I want to start by saying much of this book is a debate about, is an argument that socialism is simply not compatible with American liberty. What a timely topic since socialized medicine is on the front burner in all of the debates in America today.

JD: It really is, and I mention in the book that I hesitate to even use the word socialism, because it sounds like I’m exaggerating. But when the government owns or controls a large part of your economic output, that’s socialism. And so we try to help people see that the direction we’re going has been tried by a lot of countries in history, and it never works. But what works in America are those principles of freedom, and they’re really not compatible with government control.

HH: We’ll go through the book in a sort of a very methodical way, but I want to start with the headline. Right now, the Democrats are pushing what is in essence the sub-prime health care reform, leading to the sub-prime government option. And I think we ought to call them that for that reason. But after it falls apart, they won’t own it. Are we going to beat this, Senator?

JD: I think we have a chance of beating it. I just came from a town hall meeting where a thousand people came out to tell me to keep fighting. And I didn’t know how all this would play back home when I picked a fight with the President, but I really felt like he was on a rampage of government spending and debt and taxes, beginning with the stimulus and now with health care. Of course, we already own General Motors and AIG, and people are just alarmed. I think we can stop this. I don’t know if the Democrats will try to use some kind of unprecedented maneuvers to change the rules so that they can pass it with 51 votes. I think if they do, the American people are going to rise up even more than they already are. But the key now is it’s not the numbers in the House or the Senate that are going to change this. It’s the American people, and I think Congressmen and Senators all over the country are getting an earful right now.

HH: The petition, the online petition that the Salem hosts, Bennett, Medved, Prager, Gallagher and myself have worked with the National Center For Policy Analysis on is getting close to a million, two hundred thousand signatures. We’re just blown away by this.

JD: I know. I really have not seen people so engaged, informed and outraged in a lot of cases. The people at these town halls are not necessarily political people. I had several people today say I’ve never been involved in politics before, I’m not a Republican or Democrat. I just don’t like what I see happening in Washington. That gets me excited when people are coming out just because they’re Americans.

HH: Senator DeMint, your book made the New York Times bestseller list this week. That’s always a home run. I mean, you can’t compete with Levin, no one can right now, and the Great One…

JD: Well no, we’re not close to his…

HH: But yours is much more detailed in some respects. I think Mark’s is much more of the clarion call, and yours makes an argument from history and from specifics. But are you surprised at…it’s still a policy book. It’s not a novel.

JD: No, it’s not a romance novel, and I tried to make some of the complex ideas simple by starting every chapter with a children’s story, because I’ve found in my own understanding in communicating, if you can take some of these concepts down and make them simple, then you can build better policy from it, and you don’t end up with thousands of pages to try to do something simple. And I’ve just heard from people who’ve read the book that it’s easier to understand, it’s kind of a primer on what freedom is and how it works. It’s a reminder of what made our country great. And it has a couple of chapters at the end on what we can do about it. And those action plans are starting to happen right in front of my eyes across the country, and that’s when people stand up and speak out.

HH: Should people continue to do things like sign the National Center for Policy Analysis petition, and go to town hall meetings? Or has enough been done thus far to alert the Congress?

JD: Oh, I think we’re just starting, and I think these petitions, and frankly, Hugh, what you’re doing, and Prager and others who have talk radio shows around the country, and Fox News, on blogs, what that has enabled us to do on the conservative side of the equation is to get our message out, and not to be filtered by the mainstream media. When I first came to Congress ten years ago, I couldn’t get anything out about what I was doing for health care reform or anything else. But now we have a chance to compete with the liberals, and the real power in our country today is outside of Washington. It’s with people who are in the media, who are conservative, who are communicating with the American people. And I have found if all I have is five Senators who are trying to stop something like an amnesty bill, and I have millions of Americans, we can change a lot of minds in Congress.

HH: And I want to point to people, the Appendix to the chapter 14, Citizenship 101, in Jim DeMint’s new book, Saving Freedom, not only lists the television and the regional and national radio shows, magazine and newspapers, but a comprehensive list of blogs that you should be reading, as well as think tanks and grassroots organizations, business groups, school choice issues, immigration reform issues. Every resource you want, it’s very, very valuable, is in Saving Freedom at the back. If you get a hold of it, you’re going to be able to hang onto it. And now Senator, let me ask you before we get to the first break, about a headline that is out there today having to do with our friend from the White House, David Axelrod. David Axelrod has continued his relationship with his old firm, in that his old firm owes him $2 million bucks. It starts to show up in December. And yet David Axelrod is negotiating with Big PhRMA, with AARP, with the SEIU, who are in turn sending millions of dollars in fees to his old firm.

JD: Yeah.

HH: Does that look odd to you?

JD: Well, it looks like a conflict of interest, and those are the kinds of things that supposedly the new administration was going to clear out of government. But I’ve seen more conflict of interest now than I’ve seen over the last several years, and the nominees who are coming in have a lot of contacts, let’s say, that don’t look good on the surface. And I don’t want to rush to judgment on anyone, but I think that’s something he needs to clear up, because you can’t have such an obvious conflict of interest and be trusted.

HH: Are you surprised that big pharmacy companies have thrown in with the President’s rationing plan?

JD: Well, there have been a lot of closed door deals made to get the pharmaceutical companies, the American Medical Association and others, to support. They’ve had some promises made. Just like when we were trying to expand Medicare with prescription drugs, something that’s going to bankrupt Medicare, the pharmaceutical companies came to the table and made some deals, the government was going to be helping them pay for it, and they became a major political force to get it passed, which is disappointing to me. I mean, there are a lot of good people, obviously, in the pharmaceutical business. Miracle drugs are a key to better health. But the deal making now at the national level is getting a little unseemly.

HH: Senator DeMint, on Page 112 of Saving Freedom, you write, “My office in Washington stays full with a parade of groups and lobbyists who want something from the federal government. It looks to me like they have won their appeals with the Obama administration. AARP gets what they want, Big PhRMA gets what they want, the unions, the trial lawyers, they get what they want. This is nothing but a collection of special interests run rampant.

JD: It really is. You can look at the legislation, and just you mentioned trial lawyers, I mean one of the real needs in the health care area is the reform of these lawsuit abuse, an the plaintiffs attorneys, and how they’re involved with it. But there’s not one word about any reform in that area, and so you can see that this is not to make the system work better. This is to get the government in control, and the government is making some of these interest groups a lot of promises in order to get their support. So it’s going to take rank and file Americans, the voters…what I’ve told people at these town halls is if Congressmen and Senators return to Congress more afraid of their voters than they are of the special interests in Washington, we can stop this bill.

HH: Barney Frank had a collision with a bunch of tough questions at his town hall, including one from just the fringe. I think it’s a LaRoucheite, and I don’t blame him for getting angry with her. But a lot of these town halls, if you’re going to serve in government, you’ve got to go talk to them. And I’m glad you’re out there doing that, but a lot of Democrats are ducking this.

JD: Well, I mean, when you have a thousand people show up like I did today, you don’t know what’s going to happen. And when you start passing around the microphones, I mean, it’s fair game of what people want to say. It’s just, for me, everyone who is irate about this is against a government takeover of our health care system. So we’re there preaching to the choir in a lot of ways, but these people encourage and energize me, because sometimes in Washington, even with my own party, I feel like I’m out of sync. But when I come home here in South Carolina, or anywhere in the country where I go to speak, I feel like I’m on the same side of the American people, regardless of what party they’re in.

HH: Now are lots of people coming with copies of Saving Freedom? One of the downsides to writing a book is people want you to sign it.

JD: Well, I signed a bunch of them today. I wasn’t trying to hawk my book today, but a lot of people have read it, and the encouraging thing for me is the things I’ve asked people to do, standing up, speaking out, writing and e-mailing, listening to radio talk shows, people are doing that more and more, and they feel like they have a role in this. And I remind people that this country doesn’t belong to their government. It belongs to them. And if we can just get people to believe that, I think we can change things.

– – – –

HH: Senator DeMint, very interesting, when I was reading the last chapter about citizen activism in Saving Freedom, I thought of Dr. Hal Schurz in Atlanta. He came to one forum that Bennett, Medved and I did, and I challenged him, where are the doctors. And he went out and started something called Docs 4 Patient That’s He got a thousand doctors. He’s trying to organize doctors to go to D.C. on September 10th to stand up for their right to practice medicine. I don’t think that was possible a year ago. I think people had forgotten that all this freedom, and all of our basic assumptions are not guaranteed. And that’s a theme of your book.

JD: It is, and we’re not going to be free just because we were born here. And we’ve seen a lot of countries over the years collapse when they’ve gone down the road that we’re going down. Probably the most heart-wrenching experiences I’ve had over the last several days is when naturalized American citizens who have immigrated here from Germany, Iran and other countries, they come up to me and they say why are we doing what so many have fled from? Why don’t Americans see what we’re doing? And I’ve realized that these people who’ve lived under socialist type economies, and totalitarianism, they know where we’re headed if we don’t turn things around. But a lot of Americans have just never tasted of what it means not to have freedom. Our choices are being restricted now, we can’t choose our schools. It’s getting to the point we might not choose our doctors. The government wants to control energy, not to mention General Motors. I mean, we’re just moving in the wrong direction. But the whole point of Saving Freedom is it’s not too late.

HH: I had E.J. Dionne earlier on the show today, and E.J. doesn’t believe that the public option is yet dead, and that in fact it’ll come out of the House. If that passes, given what you said about socialism crowding out everything once it comes in, how long until the private sector insurance companies are crippled beyond repair?

JD: Well, if we don’t do anything now, I think you’ll find the private sector insurance drying up, because we already shift so much cost to them. About a third of the cost of private insurance now is related to the fact that Medicare and Medicaid, and other government programs, don’t pay the cost of seeing a patient, so the hospitals and doctors shift that to the private insurers. It’s just going to get worse and worse. We need to keep the promise of Medicare. People have paid for that, and we don’t need to cut that. But we need to make sure that people have private insurance, personal insurance, and we can do it. The shame of all this, Hugh, is there are a few things that we can do, such as interstate commerce competition, fair treatment as far as taxes go when you don’t get your insurance at work, some liability reform, there’s some things we could do to make the system work a whole lot better. And I’ve introduced plans like it, and Barack Obama voted against them all. I mean, they don’t want the insurance market to work. They want the government to replace it.

HH: One of the reasons I think Saving Freedom, the new book that Senator DeMint has written, is so timely is that you get a lot of Democrats out there saying well, what are the Republicans’ ideas? Last chapter in Saving Freedom is a roadmap to individual health plans, and a roadmap to Medicaid reform. I don’t know that you anticipated their charge that the party of no is out there without plans, but you’ve got a book here with plans for the two of the major issues in front of us.

JD: Right, including tax reform. And I’ve picked up on some things Paul Ryan, Congressman Ryan did from Wisconsin. I worked with him a lot when I was in the House. And Republicans have been putting forward solutions to save Social Security, to save Medicare, to fix our tax code, to fix the health care system for the whole ten years I’ve been in Congress. And you can look back, and you won’t see any proposals from Democrats except more government control. They can’t say the Republicans aren’t for reform, but we can say honestly that the Democrats do not want reform. They want a government takeover.

HH: Senator DeMint, let’s go back now to the specifics of the book. I always like to let authors tell their story. Your story is in the book, but you start with a charming anecdote from the Andy Griffith Show, which we’re partial to here, because Clint Howard is the official movie star of the Hugh Hewitt Show, Ron Howard’s been on a number of times. And of course, it’s an Opie and Andy story about how one goes into a battle. The bottom line is, well, you tell people.

JD: Well, I grew up watching Andy Griffith, and this is a story that involved Opie, and he was essentially being blackmailed. And of course Deputy Fife got involved. But it turned out that Opie decided to take the matter into his own hands, and fight for his own freedom. And after Andy shared a story from his childhood with him about a fishing hole that a bully was running him off from, but the end of it all is that Opie took charge, he got a black eye, but he was proud of himself, and he was responsible for his own actions, and he made a difference in his own life. And it’s not always easy to be responsible. And the temptation is to give up your freedom for some kind of supposed security. But that little story just reminded me that I need to keep swinging. I get frustrated in Washington, and I’ve been knocked down a bunch of times. The President was after me a couple of weeks ago. But if we keep swinging, I believe we’re going to come out on top here.

HH: Yeah, Andy was swinging, and then Opie, like a “windmill in a tornado.”

JD: Right.

HH: And I got the sense that that’s actually what’s going out there in the country right now.

JD: It is. I think that people ask me, Hugh, more than anything else today, is what can I do? And I feel so helpless when I just say call or e-mail. But now I say listen, you stand up, speak out, get a sign, show up at a Congressman’s office, let them know that you’re not asleep and you’re not stupid, and they can’t use this kind of sweet rhetoric to take our freedoms away. And people are responding everywhere. Obviously, I want people to be peaceful, and we don’t want to stir up trouble, but the fact is people in Washington think that we are stupid as Americans, and that they can say things that have nothing to do with the policies they’re passing. And that’s what we’re seeing now. What the President has been saying about his health plan, and what’s in the legislation, are two totally different things. And that’s why they wanted to pass it before we left in August. They didn’t want anyone to read it. But now people have looked under the hood, Hugh, and they see a lot of things they don’t like. And they’re finding out about them from your show, from blogs, and they’re showing up and they’re letting these Congressmen know that they don’t want the government to run their health care.

HH: Here’s the central deception in the President’s pitch, Senator DeMint.

BHO: Here’s a guarantee that I’ve made. If you have insurance that you like, then you will be able to keep that insurance. If you’ve got a doctor that you like, you will be able to keep your doctor.

HH: Now he can’t make those guarantees, can he, Senator DeMint?

JD: No, in fact, an outside analysis of this by firms that have nothing to do with politics say that about 100 million Americans will lose their private insurance, their employer insurance if this is passed, because what will happen is you’ll have a government-subsidized plan with lower rates, lower reimbursement to physicians, with a lot of mandates that people are pushed into, and the private insurance is going to cost more because of it. And so you’re going to run the private insurers out of business. Small businesses will just stop offering health insurance, and people will be forced into the public plan. There’s no way you can have a government-subsidized competitor, and expect the private sector to continue to survive.

– – – –

HH: Senator DeMint, you are late to politics. You are not the classic Washington politician who went to the state house, then went to the state senate, then went to Congress, and then went to the Senate. You kind of dove in, what, at age 48?

JD: Yeah, I didn’t expect to win. I’ve told people I’m not sure I would have run if I thought I was going to win. But I was so mad at the system by the time I was 47 years old. I mean, I had a business, I had four children, and I saw the damage the government was doing. I saw what taxes were doing to my small business and job creation. And I just thought maybe I could change things. And there’s one of the chapters in the book that is titled From Normal to Politician, because it really is a road going from the real world to going to a very illogical world that’s not shaped by truth or facts, or rational thinking, in my mind. And so I just wanted people to understand how I got there, and that I was not a lifelong politician, and certainly didn’t have any ambitions to be into politics.

HH: You also have a very important section about how when you got there in 1998, four years after the conservative revolution of ’94, already that revolution had begun to run out of gas. Of course, Newt was toppled, of course Bob Livingston was going to be, you talk about sitting down with Bob Livingston, talking about what we were going to get done, then he’s toppled. Why did the revolution of ’94 run out of gas?

JD: Well, what…and Newt will tell you this now, too, is when we took over the majority, the people who became chairmen of committees were a lot of the old time Republicans, big spenders, appropriators. And they saw this as an opportunity to expand spending and earmarks, and do things that they had wanted to do. And the people who came in and gave them the majority, the young Turks, they got some things done. I mean, they did push for a balanced budget, the welfare reform. But by the time I got there, all the discussion was about how do we maintain the majority, how do we redistrict so we can be protected for life. And the big reform ideas that I was excited about weren’t even being talked about anymore. And I freely admit in the book that the Republicans betrayed the trust of the American people. Once we got the presidency and the majority in both houses, we did not do those things that we talked about of limited government, and real tax reform, and of personal accounts for Social Security. We did not have those things as priorities. And I think that people just finally decided if they want big spenders, they’re going to go to the party that knows how to do it. And the Democrats are showing us they’re a whole lot better at it than we were.

HH: But I think people are waking up that bad Republican governance, or lazy Republican governance, is a whole lot better than energetic Democratic governance.

JD: That’s right. I almost regret criticizing Republicans now, because I didn’t know how bad the Democrats were until they ran unabated with a majority. But I think what’s happening with Republicans, and I see it in the House particularly, is they’re coming back to those first principles, those principles that made our country great. And so again, this is not about politics. The question is which party is going to carry that banner of freedom, refocus the American people on what really made us an exceptional nation in the first place. And I think you see Republicans everywhere coming back to those principles.

HH: You also have, it’s separated by the book in some places, the story of your faith and your awakening. You have to get, you know, to the middle of the book to hear about how you pulled the Bible out, and your wife thought you were crazy, and then finally end up at the Christian Men’s Business Committee.

JD: Yeah.

HH: And you went to, what, 20 years straight of Friday Christian Men’s Business Committee meetings?

JD: Yeah, I hesitate in politics to say anything about faith, because people say oh, you’re trying to violate separation of Church and state. But one of the points I make in Saving Freedom is that the principles that make this country great, and make us work in the political area and the economic area and our culture, are principles that are derived from religion. And we can prove that with a lot of statistics of what’s happened. And really, the founding of our country grew out of the Protestant Reformation, and the reawakening here in America. So faith is important, and we don’t want the government to push religion, but we certainly don’t want the government to purge religion from our culture, which is what our federal government has been doing for the last several decades. And I think what we’re seeing is that our economy, our politics, our culture does not work once you lose those Judeo-Christian values that are our underpinning.

HH: Now you also have this History Of Faith And Freedom chapter in which you do chart this in relatively brisk fashion. Did you just feel like it was necessary to lay out some history on which to stand your arguments?

JD: Well yeah, because I really think religion has been so maligned, and any kind of value judgment that can have a connection with religion today, is being dismissed nationally as a violation of separation of Church and state. And I want to refute that, because it’s important we have a secular government. But it is also important that our society be religious. Our founders told us that, because government sets minimum standards with its laws. But the high aspirations, the high standards of the people come from their religious convictions.

– – – –

HH: The President used him as a punching bag a couple of weeks ago. It didn’t look like he did much damage to you, Senator DeMint. It’s always kind of interesting, though, to be in the sights of the White House, isn’t it?

JD: It really is, and it actually gave me an opportunity to share my point of view with millions of people around the country. And I think any time a president of the United States starts attacking individually a junior Senator, he’s obviously off his teleprompter. And of course, he went after Bill Kristol and other people in the media who criticized him, he went after a policeman in Massachusetts. He’s gone after doctors, accusing them of taking out tonsils for profit. I think he’s making a lot of mistakes in showing what he really believes as a person, and that he really does not believe in the freedom of people to operate. He thinks we have to be centrally managed. And he tells us that every day in different ways.

HH: Do you think we can get him to bring the copy of Saving Freedom to the next press conference, and throw it on the ground or something like that? That would be good for the book.

JD: I think it would. I’m just hoping he’ll criticize it. But one thing I did before I left, Harry Reid is actually a friend of mine, and he and I agreed to read each other’s book over the break. So I read his book, and it gave me a little insight into how my opponents think. And so hopefully he’ll read my book, and we’ll get a chance to talk about it. But I gave a copy to every Republican Senator, so hopefully some of them will read it, even though there are a few that I hope don’t read it, because I’m a little critical of the big spenders in the Republican Party.

HH: Well, you can assure the majority leader when you get back there that I’ll be happy to have him for an hour on the program, he’ll be treated with respect, and I will have read his book in great detail. So take that offer back. You know only read his book, you can book him good press in the conservative world.

JD: I will.

HH: Senator DeMint, you write on Page 82, “Freedom is a discipline that must be continuously pursued to be achieved and preserved.” There’s a lot of talk about freedom in the book, and it’s almost like you assume that our assumption of freedom is worn thin.

JD: Well, freedom is like a muscle, and if we don’t work it out, it’s just going to get weaker and weaker. And it has in our country, because certainly in our government schools, we’re not really teaching what it means. We’ve cheapened it by throwing the word around. We’ve suggested it really means license to do anything you want. But those who are fighting for freedom overseas understand that it’s a discipline, and that it’s very costly, and there’s a sacrifice involved. But we as a country have to understand how it works, and we have to nurture it, and we need to make sure people again are part of that process. But I’m just saying that it’s something we have to work on. We’re not going to be free just because we’re Americans. And I think if we look around, we should notice that if our country, our federal government owns our largest dealers or auto companies, our largest insurance company, it controls education, it’s trying to control health care, a few of us need to start scratching our heads and say hey, this isn’t right.

HH: In Saving Freedom, you use statistics judiciously, because sometimes books about policy overwhelm the reader. The one that struck me that we’ve really got to put out there, military spending fell from 46% of the federal budget in 1966 to 20% of the federal budget in ’06, proving, I think, in one line that this massive expansion of government has got nothing to do with the essential services mandated by the Constitution that the federal government do.

JD: You’re right, and I talk a lot about the Constitution in the book. It’s our only oath of office that we take. And my job’s not to get money for South Carolina, or to go out and do what I think is best for the country. I’m supposed to protect and defend the Constitution, which limits what we do. And the primary function of the federal government is to protect our nation, to enforce laws and justice, and to regulate interstate commerce. These are things if we keep our focus on the good of the country rather than parochial interests and special interest, the federal government will be functional and effective. But what we’re doing now is we’ve gone well beyond lawmaking to trying to manage essential services across our country. And the government is becoming dysfunctional and wasteful and corrupt. We’ve got to stop this tide in a hurry.

HH: There’s a chapter in Saving Freedom on the rule of law. And the reason I bring it up is today in the New York Times, I talked about this earlier today with a couple of law school deans, the Smart Guys, one from the left, one from the right, Erwin Chemerinsky, John Eastman, and today in the New York Times, Ted Olsen is profiled. Now I worked with Ted at Justice a hundred years ago, back in the Reagan years. But Ted is arguing that the Equal Protection Clause demands that California’s twice voted for definition of marriage, it’s now in the California Constitution, one man and one woman, violates the United States Constitution. And if Ted was here, I’d say that’s the antithesis of the rule of law that you, Senator DeMint, are arguing here. People have to have certainty that laws change only in a specific way, and not by judges.

JD: You’re right. I’m real surprised at Ted Olsen. I’d love to talk to him and know what’s behind this. But if you really want to go back to the root of marriage, it is a religious institution that has been protected through laws at the state level. But now for us to come in and make a law that is about religion, which I believe is what we’re doing when we try to change the definition of marriage, we’re undermining one of the foundational aspects of our society. And this is something we need to fight for. I’m so proud of California for voting to maintain that basic aspect of our culture, and not to allow it to be politicized in the way that some are trying to do.

HH: Now in terms of the judges, I assume, I do not know for sure that you voted against Judge Sotomayor becoming Justice…

JD: I did vote against her, yes.

HH: And I assume you see a lot…I don’t think you’re on Judiciary…

JD: No.

HH: But I assume you’ve seen a lot of these nominees coming through.

JD: Yeah, I met with her for about thirty minutes. Had a good meeting.

HH: Hard left lurch, though, isn’t it?

JD: Well, she’s a nice person, and I think I don’t want to malign her personally. But she’s an extension of Obama’s belief about the Constitution being inadequate. And he’s been quoted as saying that the Constitution is a charter of negative liberties. It tells a government what it can’t do, but not what it must do. He thinks the Constitution needs to be extended through the courts.

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