Jim DeMint, former U.S. Senator and President of The Heritage Foundation, casts a spotlight on Americans like you — local heroes who reveal answers to the real issues.
In story after story, DeMint and leaders across America give firsthand accounts of overcoming obstacles in education, health care… and other concerns Washington has failed to solve. It’s an inspiring journey, with solid research insights thanks to contributions from Heritage Foundation experts.
“Jim DeMint's important new book reminds us that America's real heroes are not to be found strolling through the corridors of power or ensconced in the mansions of the rich and famous. Rather, they're the modest man or woman who lives next door.”Dr. Ben Carson
Head of the highly respected conservative think tank The Heritage Foundation and former Senator from South Carolina, Jim DeMint is also the author of three books — including the best-selling Saving Freedom. The senator and his wife, Debbie, reside in Greenville, South Carolina and are the proud parents of four married children. They are also greatly enjoying their new role as grandparents.
© 2014 The Heritage Foundation
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This is an excerpt from FALLING IN LOVE WITH AMERICA AGAIN by Jim DeMint. Copyright © 2014 by Jim DeMint and the Heritage Foundation. Reprinted by permission of Center Street. All rights reserved.
I should have been the happiest of politicians. I was a respected U.S. senator from my home state of South Carolina. I had played a key role, through my political action committee, in bringing principled conservatives like Rand Paul, Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, Mike Lee, and other new leaders to join me in the Senate. I was cheered when I addressed local and national rallies of the Tea Party, a dynamic new force in American politics. I was a frequent guest on television and radio, and quoted in leading newspapers and journals. I had challenged the Washington establishment and forced it to make major concessions on supposedly untouchable practices like earmarks.
By standing for fundamental American ideas like limited constitutional government and individual responsibility, and against politics as usual, I had made a difference in how Washington worked.
And yet I was deeply frustrated by how little Washington had really changed. We still have an ever-expanding federal government and an ever-mounting national debt—approaching $17 trillion as I write in mid-2013. As of 2013, the share of federal debt for every man, woman, and child in America is $53,000.
And despite all the trillions of dollars flowing from Washington, the official unemployment figure, as I write, hovers between 7 and 8 percent—and some Americans have dropped out of the labor force altogether. The real wages of the average American worker have not risen in thirty years. And we have a permanent underclass dependent upon government for everything from their food to their housing.
No matter how hard other conservatives in Congress and I tried to stop it, the federal government kept metastasizing, invading every aspect of the life of every American.
I started to wonder what kind of future my four grown children and four grandchildren face. There was a time when many of us believed that the American dream would endure forever because America was too big to fail. But the warning signs cannot be ignored. Economic weakness and cultural decay are all around us. I fear that many institutions in America, and especially government, may have gotten too big to succeed.
Yet despite the obvious threats to our future, we don't seem able to agree on what's wrong or what we as citizens can do to get America back on the right track. The question I hear most often as I travel around the country is an urgent one: "What can I do?"
Politics as Usual Is Not the Answer
Big-government politicians in Washington, D.C., are not going to solve our problems. Quite the opposite: If we don't stop them, they will turn our country into another bankrupt nation. Our politics have become intensely negative and even self-destructive. Commonsense solutions like a balanced budget are ignored, and demagogues drown out the voices of reason and prudence.
We live in an age when instant communications and continuous polling, massively funded by special interests, have created a politics of misinformation and blatant pandering. Permanent campaigning has not only polarized politics, it has divided America. It has smothered our love of country and our love for one another.
I lived in this poisonous political environment for over fifteen years as a candidate, congressman, and senator. Then, in January 2013, I resigned from the Senate to join The Heritage Foundation as its president and CEO, convinced I could do more to help save the American dream for this generation and future generations from outside rather than inside the Washington establishment.
But saving the American dream is far beyond the power of any one person or institution. Every generation in its turn must fight for our country and sacrifice for the next generation. Now is our time. You and I, along with millions of other Americans, must join our hearts and minds to save the country we love.
I have talked with many discouraged Americans who believe that our problems are so big and intractable there is nothing anyone can do to save our country. This is not true. There is a way and only one way to start to change America's course, to turn back in a direction that will reunite our nation and preserve the blessings of liberty for us all: We must fall in love with America again.
We must begin by recognizing the reason for the politics of deceit and distortion. Political consultants use negative campaigns to suppress voter turnout, especially among people who don't follow politics closely and who want little from government. The strategy works. If they successfully discourage Americans who don't look to government to solve their problems from going to the polls, that leaves the outcome of elections primarily in the hands of those who want more from government.
But if we can convince voters who want more freedom and opportunity and less government intrusion into their lives—to register and vote, they can defeat the proponents of big government. This is what happened in the 2010 elections, when citizens inspired by the Tea Parties and their spontaneous grassroots activism turned out in force. It can happen again if we make clear to our fellow citizens how much is at stake, and provide the leadership to unite and inspire them.
Part of our challenge is to help our fellow Americans see that big government is not the solution to our problems; rather, it causes many of those problems, or makes them worse. Big government works hand in hand with big banks, big business, big labor, and big special interests, which are choking free markets and smothering the institutions of family, community, and church that built and sustained a strong, prosperous, and free United States of America through its first century and a half.
Now, big is not always bad—America is a land of big ideas, big dreams, and big accomplishments. But present-day big government is replacing self-government and what the British political philosopher Edmund Burke called the "little platoon."
The danger signs of a nation in deadly decline are all around us. State governments like those of Michigan and Illinois are edging toward bankruptcy. The city of Detroit became the largest U.S. city in history to file for bankruptcy. Young people are graduating from high school or college into a world of minimal job opportunities. Cohabitation is up and marriage is down. But the most serious casualty of big government and negative politics may be the loss of what Burke called "public affections."
"Public affections" means love of country, love of community, and love of our fellow man. It involves pride in our country and gratitude for our way of life. It is the source of patriotism and the fuel of responsible citizenship.
As Burke put it, "To be attached to the subdivision, to love the little platoon we belong to in society, is the first principle (the germ as it were) of public affections. It is the first link in the series by which we proceed towards a love to our country, and to mankind." He is saying that the indispensable glue that holds a country together comes from our association with the people and institutions that are closest to us. I believe his insight is the most convincing explanation of America's exceptional success in the past and of our present decline. The Founders of our Republic agreed with Burke about the importance of public affections to a united nation. In Federalist No. 46, James Madison, the father of the Constitution, challenged both state governments and the national government to rise above their parochial interests to "partake sufficiently of the spirit of both" state and national interests.
In his farewell address to the American people, President George Washington said that their new country "has a right to concentrate your affections." He reminded his fellow citizens that they had fought and triumphed together "in a common cause." "The independence and liberty you possess," he said, "are the work of joint counsels, and joint efforts of common dangers, sufferings, and successes."
In his first inaugural address, following a prolonged and bitter election campaign, Thomas Jefferson urged his fellow citizens to "unite with one heart and one mind." "Let us restore to social intercourse," he said, "that harmony and affection without which liberty and even life itself are but dreary things."
How, you may ask, is this possible? I think the only reasonable answer is through the kind of voluntary groups observed by French author Alexis de Tocqueville on his visit to America in the 1830s. He saw that within our states (there were twentyfour of them by then) were hundreds and hundreds of communities composed of individuals engaged in self-government. These communities were sustained by what he called "associations"— civic associations, religious and charitable organizations, business groups, local newspapers, and political parties. They built schools and hospitals and churches and in so doing deepened and widened the spirit of America.
Tocqueville identified two major factors that sustained that spirit—active local governments operating within a federal system, and the belief of the American people that they were masters of their own fate.
It is that American spirit—based on the first principles of the Founding but weakened by progressive big-government presidents from Wilson to Obama—that we must rejuvenate without delay.
Little Platoons—A Personal Perspective
When my children were in middle school, they played on the soccer and basketball teams at a small school sponsored by our church. My wife and I went to all the games and came to love our children's teammates and their families. This genuine love for the players and their families made us passionate fans of the teams and of the school. Our loyalty to the school led us to serve on the school board, drive on field trips, and participate in all parent activities.
Our involvement with the school also led us to become more active in the church and to build closer relationships with many families we met there. We taught Sunday school classes, participated in church socials, and volunteered to help whenever we could. The church became an integral part of our family life, and through other church members we became more involved with volunteer activities throughout our community.
I found myself serving on the United Way Campaign Committee, on the Chamber of Commerce Board, and in the Rotary Club—all as a result of my relationships with members of my church. We worked together to improve our local schools, health care, and roads, to help the needy, and to attract new businesses to our community. One of my fellow volunteers was a community banker who, with just a handshake as collateral, gave me a loan to start my own business, a market research firm. Some of the people I met through my volunteer activities helped my business grow by becoming clients.
I developed a deeper knowledge of my community and a genuine affection for it, and I had the satisfaction of making it a better place to live and work. My work at the community level brought me into contact with people throughout the state who were trying to improve the quality of life in their communities. We shared ideas and worked together in the effort to make our whole state the best place in the country to live and work. And whenever a large employer intending to build a new facility selected South Carolina instead of a competing state, we celebrated together.
Many of us also worked with volunteers in neighboring states to make our whole region more attractive to businesses from around the world. We worked with officials at the state and federal levels to overcome the bureaucratic obstacles that stood in the way of improved ports, highways, energy grids, schools, and other public services. I was a small part of all these activities, but I believed my participation was contributing to a better future for my family and our neighbors.
More important than my modest contribution to the improvement of my community, state, and nation was the impact that my involvement had on me. My attachment to my family, church, and school helped instill in me a real affection for my community, state, and nation. I became more personally attached to America because of my attachment to the little platoons of my life.
I learned that through voluntary participation and taking advantage of the small opportunities surrounding me, I could help shape the bigger worlds of my state and of America. I realized how lucky and blessed I was to live in a country that gave me the freedom and opportunity to make a difference.
This is how I fell in love with America—from the ground up. I love my country not because of what it has done for me, but because of what it has allowed me to do for myself, my family, my school, my church, my community, my state, and my nation. All these little platoons—and the big country that protects them and allows them to operate freely—have given me much more in return than I have ever given them.
Big versus Public Affections
I have also experienced the opposite of little platoons—the Bigs. Our children went from their small middle school to a big public high school. It had many good teachers and administrators, but the sheer size of the school created problems. The sports teams were all about winning, and even though our children were good athletes, there was no room for them on the soccer and basketball teams. Except for a few fund-raising events, it was difficult to find ways to get involved with other families at the school.
Unlike the elementary and middle schools our children attended, it was almost impossible to change anything at the big high school. The bureaucracy of teachers, administrators, the local school board, and state politicians, along with all the federal rules, discouraged parental involvement. And we couldn't choose another school unless we wanted to pay for a private school, which was far beyond our means and those of most of the parents in our community. So instead of working together to improve the school, we became disgruntled parents complaining about the things we didn't like.
Our family never developed much school spirit for this high school. We didn't get to know many families at the school except the ones we already knew from middle school. The whole experience created negative perceptions of the way our community and state operated our schools.
The high school was not my only local experience with Big. The community bank that had given me the loan to start my business was bought by a large national bank. The easy phone-call approvals for small loans for my business turned into a drawn-out multilevel paperwork process. I yearned for the days when I could talk to someone who could make a quick decision.
My charitable work with inner-city churches was often hindered by big federal agencies that resisted working with the religious organizations leading the effort to improve the quality of life for disadvantaged citizens. I know from personal experience that African American churches that provided day care for the children of working single moms had to avoid any moral and religious teachings or risk losing the day-care subsidy provided by the state.
All of us have experienced the frustration of dealing with the complex billing systems and impersonal computerized customer service of big cell phone companies, cable operators, and monopoly utilities. As I said before, I am not arguing that all Big is bad and all little is good—you need a strong government when you go to war, to take the most obvious example. But there is an enormous difference between the government of power-hungry progressives and the constitutional government created by the Founders, based on the separation of powers and a balanced federalism.
It is very hard and frustrating to deal with a big, distant entity unless you have some personal connection with a smaller part of that entity. When Big is all there is, people are unlikely to hold genuine affection for the whole. Even when people are dependent on the services of Big—whether government or private organizations—they are likely to resent their dependency and lack of choices while disdaining the people who control them.
As a result, the core institutions of our freedom and democracy are now disliked and distrusted by many Americans because they are associated with Big. Capitalism, the free-market philosophy that made America the most prosperous country in the world, is now widely seen as greedy and unfair because it is associated with big corporations and big banks, which in turn are linked with big government.
Education and health care, once the most personal and closeto-home services, have lost much of the public's trust and confidence as their units have grown ever bigger and ever more under government control. Even charitable groups and some churches have lost public affection as they have grown big and impersonal.
Now, as I say, not all Big is bad, and Big doesn't have to mean disaffection and alienation. As a consultant for many large hospitals, colleges, and businesses, I was able to help improve attitudes and performance by reversing the emphasis of management from top-down to bottom-up. Yet even when the Bigs are decentralized and decision making is moved from the boardroom to the factory floor, the most they can do is complement the work of the little platoons. They can never replace them.
Washington: The Mother of Big
Americans have a tendency—and with good reason—to blame Washington for much of what's wrong with our country. In many ways and in many places, the federal government has overridden individual decision making and the little platoons that made America exceptional and inspired patriotism among our citizens. Turning away from the Constitution, the federal government has become a centralized, top-down power structure that is creating inefficiency in government, a weak economy, and a divided, dispirited citizenry.
Special-interest groups across the political spectrum are spending hundreds of millions of dollars on political campaigns hoping to win a 51 percent majority so they can gain control of this federal structure and force their ideas and policies on the other 49 percent. (Unfortunately, for reasons I will discuss later in this book, the Right cannot be exempted from this charge.) As a result, many Americans have grown suspicious and even contemptuous of one another and of their country.
In writing the Constitution (and the Declaration of Independence), the Founders were guided by certain first principles: liberty and equality, the consent of the governed, private property, religious freedom, and the rule of law. All of these principles culminated in the idea of self-government—in the political sense of republican governance and the moral sense of governing ourselves.
That is how our federal government is supposed to operate. The original thirteen states came together to form a federal government to do those things they couldn't do separately. They signed a contract—our Constitution—that limited the federal government primarily to defense, the facilitation of interstate commerce, and a national system of justice. Just about everything else was left to "the States respectively, or to the people," as memorialized in the language of the Tenth Amendment, and adopted shortly after the original Constitution as part of the Bill of Rights.
Federalism—the constitutional concept of sovereign states united for common defense and cooperation—is a crucial component of our Republic and the infrastructure that makes our political liberty possible. But instead of honoring the contract with the states, power-seeking politicians and judges have continuously expanded the size and scope of the federal government. They endear themselves to many of their constituents with new programs and benefits, which require them to grow the government even more and increase the debt. And all the while, the American dream fades for more and more of our citizens.
Washington politicians have minimized resistance from the states to federal expansion by placating them with borrowed money. Unfortunately, besides increasing the national debt, federal money typically comes with expensive new mandates that require an increase in the size of state bureaucracy in turn. For just about every new federal program for education, roads, the environment—you name it—there is corresponding state government bureaucracy to administer it. And let us not forget: Every federal program comes with more federal rules and regulations that burden our liberty.
The end result has been the creation of an iron triangle of Washington politicians, federal bureaucrats, and state bureaucrats—a self-perpetuating arrangement that must be broken up if the American dream is to survive.
A Change in Direction
We can change America's course, but only if we understand what holds us together and what makes America exceptional. And I want to emphasize here that I am addressing all Americans—regardless of political party, race, creed, color, or ethnic origin.
Regardless of what political label we wear—Republican, Democrat, liberal, conservative, libertarian—we must remember that we're all Americans. Whether we are of African, Hispanic, Asian, Native American, European, or other descent, we must stand together to promote freedom, equality, and opportunity for everyone.
Falling in Love with America Again is about recognizing the little platoons that make America strong and prosperous and free. It is about recognizing how the Bigs threaten our way of life and the precious American dream.
This book will show how our big federal government and its big private-sector cronies are driving our country into a deeper and deeper hole. But the Bigs don't have to take us down with them, provided the little platoons are in place, ready once again to fulfill their historical role.
Tragically, many Americans don't appreciate the vital contribution the little platoons make to our well-being. That is why, with the help of my Heritage colleagues, I wrote this book. What makes it different, what makes it exceptional, is that it tells the stories of how all across America little platoons—families, communities, churches, schools, and volunteer organizations—are proving that decentralized, bottom-up efforts can work as well as ever. I showcase these successes and, using the best research and expert analysis available, demonstrate how such efforts can work for all Americans, not just those with a good job and money in the bank.
We will compare and contrast states that are helping their citizens to be successful with states that are collapsing under the weight of big government and bigger debt. We will document how some states are creating friendly environments, expanding job opportunities, and increasing their revenues without raising taxes. We will compare these successful states and their policies with states that are increasing government spending, chasing businesses and jobs away, and approaching bankruptcy.
Falling in Love with America Again will share inspiring stories of how Americans and their little platoons are growing local economies, improving schools, helping the poor and disadvantaged, making medical care more affordable, developing energy resources, and taking control of their lives. We will reveal how these successes create genuine affection between neighbors and a deep love for America, and how they contribute to restoring the federalism envisioned by the Founders.
I set out to write this book because I truly believe it is possible to rescue America before the federal government collapses under the weight of debt, irresponsible monetary policy, and bureaucratic dysfunction and takes the rest of us with it.
Friends of freedom, our time is now! We must all step forward to protect a fundamental idea of the American experiment: how the individual citizen, the states, and the federal government can work together to preserve our inalienable right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
This is not a partisan idea: It is an American idea. And it is working in states and counties and communities and among the people all across our country. Please join us as we fall in love with America—again.