They say "walk before you run," but for politicians like Jim DeMint it's the other way around. First you run, then you walk -- walk out, that is, on your commitment to serve.
But DeMint's performed one public service by abandoning his post: He's given us a glimpse of a half-hidden Washington where leaders don't lead, think-tankers don't think, and the house always wins.
Always Be Closing
DeMint's leaving to run the Heritage Foundation, a right-wing Reagan-era "think tank." Is he a policy expert, a problem solver, a "thinker"? What was DeMint's professional background before he entered politics?
Sales. DeMint ran a small marketing group (one to four employees, according to business databases) in Greenville, South Carolina.
That's not as incongruous as it sounds. The Heritage Foundation is a marketing organization, founded by billionaires and corporations to provide cogent-sounding arguments -- sales pitches, really -- for policies which favor them at the public's expense.
"Join Rush Limbaugh and nearly 700,000 other conservatives as a Member of The Heritage Foundation today," chirps the "think tank's" website -- presumably because the first name that comes to mind when Americans hear the word "thinker" is Rush Limbaugh.
DeMint's new job will undoubtedly consist of promoting far-right ideas, lobbying his fellow politicians, and raising money from millionaires, billionaires, and corporations.
That last part should come naturally. DeMint's collected more than $17 million in campaign contributions, raising four times as much as the average Senate candidate during the last two campaign cycles alone. His donor list includes defense contractors, megabanks, and the ubiquitous Koch Brothers.
DeMint's also raised more than $20 million in the last two years for his Tea Party PAC. You remember the Tea Party, don't you? That's the "people's revolt" against powerful Washington interests.
Good luck with that.
DeMint should feel right at home at an organization co-founded by right-wing beer magnate Joseph Coors. According to Right Wing Watch other corporate donors include General Motors, Ford, Proctor and Gamble, Chase, Dow Chemical, Mobil Oil, and Smith Kline pharmaceuticals.
The job pays more than a million dollars a year.
Call Them Irresponsible
DeMint's following the new, growing practice of walking out whenever a better offer comes along. First came trendsetter Sarah Palin, who quit halfway through her first term to pursue lucrative personal and television appearances. Rep. Jo Ann Emerson of Missouri followed in the Demi-Governor's footsteps this year, announcing she'd be leaving Congress less than a month after winning re-election.
Emerson's "better offer" came from a group which lobbies for not-for-profit electric utilities. She refused to disclose how much she'll make at her new job as its president. "I am not leaving Congress because I have lost my heart for service," she added. "To the contrary," she added. "I see a new way to serve."
Most of these cash-and-carry quitters seem to be Republicans -- but not all. Democratic Senator Evan Bayh announced his decision not to seek re-election just one day before the filing deadline for his state's primary, a denying Democratic voters the right to choose their own nominee.
That left Bayh with a $10 million trove of campaign cash. Some said that would come in handy for a future lobbyist, but Bayh insisted he had nobler aspirations. "I want to be engaged in an honorable line of work," said the sanctimonious solon, who accompanied his departure with a self-righteous outburst about the evils of "partisanship."
Instead, as Ezra Klein noted, Bayh joined a lobbying group which says its "principal clients" include "national energy companies, foreign countries, international manufacturing companies, trade associations and local and national businesses." He also hooked up with an investment group and -- like fellow walkout Sarah Palin -- got a gig with Fox News.
Bayh's Senate career was distinguished only by his effectiveness in watering down important legislation on behalf of corporate interests. His new gig just made the role official.
Wine Dark Washington
DeMint's resignation exposes a seamy web of influence which includes politicians, ex-politicians and lobbyists, along with a flotilla of ""senior vice presidents," "advisors," board members, "commissioners," and other well-fed possessors of vague sinecures.
(I'm looking at you, Alan Simpson.)
Big-money minions always make money. Take health reform: A key provision in the health bill -- its most unpopular -- is the "individual mandate" forcing people to buy overpriced and inadequate insurance from private insurers. It would have been much better policy to include a "public option" which offered the alternative of buying Medicare coverage. That idea was extremely popular, supported even by a narrow majority of Republicans.
But it was killed during closed-door negotiations. The lobbyists delivered for corporate America during those negotiations, and in return the money flowed like wine.
So, undoubtedly, did the wine.
The public option was delayed by filibuster threats from Senators like Jim DeMint, then suffocated by corporate Democratic "centrists" like Evan Bayh. That left no alternative to the despised "individual mandate,"first proposed in 1989 -- by the Heritage Foundation.
See how it all fits together? And just yesterday a key player in health reform announced she was leaving government to become a drug company lobbyist.
The beat goes on.
"It's springtime in Washington in January," said a DC lawyer who probably didn't intend to evoke this song. But his words matched the melody perfectly.
Those talks, like those over health reform, are being held where this seamy web of insiders works best: in the dark.
How many politicians want to vote against big-money interests when they know there's a pot of gold at the end of the political rainbow? Some can't wait and cash out early, like DeMint.
And who knows? Maybe a creative "think tank" is working on a new system that lets them skip the dreary work of governing altogether. Then they can just make their sale with the voters, turn their voting proxy over to their sponsors, and head straight for the cashier's window.
Heritage co-founder Paul Weyrich was forthright about his feelings toward democracy. "Our leverage in the elections quite candidly goes up," he said," as the voting populace goes down." Who knows? Maybe someday they'll eliminate voters altogether. In the meantime they need their DeMints and Palins and Bayhs.
These politicians aren't leaders. They're corporate America's sales force.
"Will You Help Save the American Dream?" asks the Heritage Foundation website. But that's just another sales ploy. These politicians have already cashed in on their dreams -- by selling yours.