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Senator Jim DeMint, one of the earliest and most vocal supporters of the Tea Party in the U.S. Senate, has authored a new book, The Great American Awakening, and answered a few of our questions about his new book and his feelings about the growth of the Tea Party movement.
FW: What was it like being in Congress during the rise of the Tea Party?
JD: To be honest, it was tough being a conservative in Washington, D.C., in 2008. We were few and far between. We were concerned about our nation’s future, as I wrote about in Saving Freedom, but felt virtually powerless to make changes given the numbers in Congress. We had no way to stop stimulus spending or ObamaCare, and were thrust into controversy just for speaking out (as I was when I made a passing reference to ObamaCare as the president’s “Waterloo”).
But then, a funny thing happened. Millions of Americans started speaking out against the spending, borrowing, bailouts and takeovers, and those feelings of isolation started to fade. So many of my colleagues had abandoned our ideals in favor of special-interest governing and backroom deals, but the American people hadn’t. It was inspiring and encouraging and motivating to see so many Americans rise up and say “enough.”
FW: You’ve embraced the moniker of “Senator Tea Party.” How does someone who’s been in Congress for more than a decade get a nickname like that?
JD: Tea party frustration wasn’t with people who had experience in Congress, it was with people who were letting their principles be eroded by the nature of Washington: the backroom dealing and the special-interest pressures and keeping the status quo. To be the “Senator Tea Party” meant I was one of the few, if not the only one out of 100 senators, willing to stand up for my ideals and the ideals of my constituents. Whether it meant the isolation being the only one voting “nay,” losing campaign donors or even risking friendships, I considered it an honor to be recognized in that way.
With that said, I’ll be the first to tell you this is not a one-man show – at least not anymore. There are a lot of tea party voices in the Senate, including Mike Lee, Marco Rubio and Rand Paul all fighting for our shared principles. There are quite a few “Representatives Tea Party” too.
FW: What do you see as FreedomWorks’s role in the Tea Party movement?
JD: In many ways, the localized, grassroots nature of the tea party keeps the movement authentic and allows it the flexibility to be more effective at local and state levels than a large, centralized action group could be. When it comes to the federal level, though, the movement needs unity, organizational experience, and political connections. FreedomWorks has the resources and experience to bring different tea party activists and leaders to the same table, and connect them with the folks in Washington who need to be held accountable while in office – not just while on the campaign trail.
FW: Finally, why write The Great American Awakening right now?
JD: The two years between 2008 and 2010 were a truly transformational time for our country, for Washington, D.C., and for me personally. But if there’s one election more important than 2010, it’s the one coming up in 2012. I fear that if we don’t take time to reflect on where we were just a few short years ago and how we transformed the political landscape in 2010, we won’t be able to keep transforming it in 2012 and beyond. My goal in writing The Great American Awakening was to provide an open and honest look at what it was like to be in the trenches during those two incredible years from 2008 to 2010, but also to try to pull out of lessons so we can continue moving forward. It’s part history lesson, part memoir, and part motivational.
To purchase a copy of Senator DeMint latest book, The Great American Awakening, click here.