THE GREAT AMERICAN AWAKENING: TWO YEARS THAT CHANGED AMERICA, WASHINGTON, AND ME
By Sen. Jim DeMint
B & H Books, $14.99, 240 pages
To Nancy Pelosi, they were “Astroturf.” White House press secretary Robert Gibbs accused them of displaying “manufactured anger.” The Democratic National Committee called them “rabid right-wing extremists.”
But the men and women who peopled the Tea Party movement were something else entirely. And at least one politician in Washington got it: “This was no insider movement. This was grassroots at its finest.”
That’s South Carolina Republican Sen. Jim DeMint, writing about the Tea Party in his new book, “The Great American Awakening.” Subtitled “Two Years That Changed America, Washington and Me,” it chronicles the rise of a movement that provided a crucial wake-up call in the aftermath of President Obama’s victory in the 2008 elections.
This is no partisan brief. Mr. DeMint makes it clear that members from both parties were doing a poor job representing the interests of the American people. “Many Republicans denounced the explosion of government interventions into the private sector, but our leaders in Congress supported more spending and the Wall Street bailouts and were not willing to admit they made any mistakes,” he writes.
If conservatives weren’t going to lead, that meant liberals were going to get a shot. Unfortunately, they “neither understood nor respected the principles of freedom,” Mr. DeMint writes. The results, from even higher spending than what had occurred under President George W. Bush to new government programs such as “cash for clunkers,” roused the American people - and gave birth to the Tea Party.
One of the best parts of Mr. DeMint’s book is the way it puts readers “in the scene,” so to speak, at the start of the Tea Party movement. He describes what it was like to be in and around the statehouse in Columbia, S.C., on April 15, 2009, and see large crowds of people turning out in protest - passionate, to be sure, but not angry - holding hand-lettered signs about bailouts, debt and taxes.
The people gathered there - and in Tax Day protests all around the country - were no angry mob. They were ordinary Americans who were worried about what was happening to their country and just plain fed up with the inaction and business-as-usual attitude of their elected representatives in Congress. They had heard all the talk about “hope” and “change” throughout the 2008 election and realized that it was little more than hollow hype.
It was such an electric moment, according to Mr. DeMint, that when he was introduced to speak to the crowd, he put aside his written remarks: “This called for nothing other than a heart-to-heart talk with friends, not an impersonally scripted speech. … ‘I’m not here as a Republican, or a conservative, or a senator today,’ I said. ‘I’m here as a fellow American who is very concerned about the direction of our country. I know the last place to change is Washington, D.C. … The first thing to change is right here in the hearts and minds of the American people,’ I continued. ‘We can take back our country!’ “
This wasn’t a political rally. It was, Mr. DeMint points out, a gathering of Republicans, Democrats and independents, all united by a deep and abiding concern that the country they loved was on the wrong track. They saw taxpayer bailouts of giant corporations, mandates to buy government-run health insurance and, of course, higher and higher spending, and asked themselves: What in the world is going on? Who is in charge here, us or “leaders” who act as if they have no one to answer to but themselves?
Mr. DeMint’s book doesn’t dwell only on the Tea Party. He also covers the important debates and key events taking place around this time, from the nomination of Judge Sonia Sotomayor to be an associate justice on the U.S. Supreme Court, to the time when Gov. Mark Sanford of Mr. DeMint’s home state revealed that he was having an affair with a woman from Argentina whom he called his “soul mate.” He talks about what it was like to be depicted as an assassin and accused of hatemongering for the unspeakable crime of disagreeing with President Obama.
Mr. DeMint’s book also, to its credit, goes beyond politics - to God and country. “Big government is a religious issue,” he writes. “History shows [that] in nations where there is a big government, there is little God. … Socialism and secularism go hand-in-hand, as do faith and freedom.” Amen.
If you want to know what it was like to be a politician as the Tea Party movement coalesced and gathered strength, “The Great American Awakening” is for you. You’ll see how the electoral landscape changed so dramatically between Election Day 2008 and Election Day 2010, and, more importantly, you’ll learn why.
Ed Feulner is president of the Heritage Foundation (heritage.org).