It was all the buzz in Washington, which gives you some idea of what passes for excitement within the Beltway: something between a riveting game of mahjong and attempting the New York Times crossword puzzle using a fountain pen.
But there it was on A-1 of the Washington Post and jumping to an entire page inside the paper (you better sit down for this): South Carolina's own Foghorn Leghorn, Republican Sen. Jim DeMint, was stepping down from his seat to take a cushy job at one of the capital's most harrumphing think tanks, the uber-conservative Heritage Foundation.
Go ahead. Take a moment to catch your breath.
It probably says something about Potomac hubris that DeMint explained the reason he was ditching his elected responsibilities to his South Carolina constituents, midway through his second term, was because he believed he could be more influential heading up an association of professional chin-rubbers than serving in the most exclusive club of lawmakers in the world.
Really? Instead of actually crafting laws from the Senate chamber (or put another way, doing his job), DeMint is convinced he can be more powerful sitting in a leather chair on Massachusetts Avenue caressing right-wing position papers claiming climate change is a fad.
Some poor, naive, innocent souls might labor under the delusion that getting elected to the U.S. Senate would certainly have to be considered one of the highest public service honors anyone could imagine.
But there are two kinds of senators: sober-minded, serious lawmakers on both sides of the partisan aisle who come to Washington truly believing in the idea of making a difference; and the hucksters, the self-promoters, the demagogic flimflam artists. See: DeMint, Jim.
We had a chap like DeMint in Florida: former Sen. Mel Martinez, R-Maynard G. Krebs, who fled his job after less then one term when he was stunned to discover he was expected to show up for work now and then. Well, what do you expect for a lousy, stinking $174,000 a year?
You could be forgiven in thinking DeMint had so much clout he made the late Chicago Mayor Richard J. Daley look like a Loop panhandler. After all, he was the beefcake boy of Fox News who sent tea party types into a dreamy trance at the mere mention of his name.
But DeMint leaves the Senate with less of a record of accomplishment than the Washington Generals, hapless foils of the Harlem Globetrotters. Since his 2004 election, DeMint has not sponsored nor passed a single piece of noteworthy legislation. Or put another way, what the citizens of South Carolina got for a measly $174K was a full-time ideological towel-snapper.
To be sure, DeMint became something of modest kingmaker, championing the successful campaigns of the likes of Marco Rubio. But it is also just as likely that DeMint received a black spot in interoffice mail for his role in pretty much guaranteeing the GOP's slouch toward irrelevance. A string of DeMint-backed tea party candidates lost when more credible Republicans would have had a better chance at winning. They included Nevada's Sharron Angle, Delaware's Christine O'Donnell and Missouri's Todd Akin, who believed women possessed a magic power to ward off pregnancy after being "legitimately" raped. Loser, loser, loser.
As the Post reported, DeMint even flummoxed his colleagues by using parliamentary procedures to force weekend votes, only to blow off the actual roll call himself.
Some public servants use their time in office to build a legacy. DeMint was more interested in padding a resume. At the Heritage Foundation, he will essentially oversee an organization that cranks out talking points for the Rush Limbaugh/Glenn Beck/Sean Hannity Axis of Silly Poltroons.
And for that DeMint is going to walk away from the U.S. Senate?
If Jim DeMint thinks the Heritage Foundation provides a better bully pulpit than the Senate, one wonders just how warped is the mirror the soon-to-be former senator has been gazing into.