Hell for Jim DeMint would be being stuck in an almost-empty bar during a 12-foot snowstorm, with a gay bartender on duty, the heating system giving out and the keys to the locked door in the pocket of a union leader. At a lone table, an Islamic man begins reading aloud from the Quran.
The practical, moral and political dilemmas of such a scenario would be great for South Carolina's junior U.S. senator, who has said "the gays" have been a destructive force in society and shouldn't be allowed to teach in public schools. He's also at the center of a controversy about his refusal to allow a vote on Obama's nominee to head up the Transportation Security Administration. DeMint fears the agency will be unionized. Union bosses, in DeMint's world, will make the country less safe.
I'm not sure if he's ever shaken the hands of the union members of the New York City police and fire departments, who performed heroically during the greatest national emergency of our generation.
In DeMint's world, Obama is afraid to use the word terror — contrary to the oodles of videotape DeMint critics are happily cycling through on cable news to disprove DeMint's claim. In DeMint's world, Obama hasn't taken the issue seriously, no matter the opinions of former Bush administration officials who are telling reporters they agree with Obama's policies, no matter the president's decision to send an additional 30,000 troops to Afghanistan to fight terrorists; and no matter his order for missile and covert attacks inside Yemen and the countless drone missions that have killed top terrorist leaders.
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Currently, DeMint is in heaven as political junkies wonder aloud if he is becoming a viable 2012 presidential candidate and fellow Republicans angle for his ultra-conservative, Tea Party-approved endorsement.
The red meat ideology that makes him a hero to Tea Party patriots would present hellish choices for DeMint if he found himself in a situation in which he had to rely on "a gay," a union leader and a follower of Islam. What if his life — or the lives of others — depended on his ability to negotiate or empathize?
Would he turn his back on a bartender with access to nonalcoholic liquids needed for survival, because he was gay? Would he remain locked inside a freezing building rather than accept help from someone associated with a trade union? What if the passenger who subdued the Nigerian underpants bomber was a Muslim, like the young Muslim men who have died in our armed forces sacrificing for our freedom? Would DeMint still be comfortable with his views about that religion? Would those touting him for 2012 demand he deny their heroism?
Or would he, despite the expectations of those who could make or break his political career, use the situation to see beyond the stereotypes, beyond the rhetoric? Would he understand that once we use our time — whether forced by a snowstorm or by choice — to learn about each other as individuals that there is common ground we can share, common ground we must realize if this "war on terror" has any chance of being successful? DeMint knows intelligence officials have determined that how we conduct ourselves matters, so much so that places such as Gitmo have inspired additional terrorists, more than replacing the ones we have killed.
Or would he be guided by images of a primary challenger running TV ads declaring "DeMint fraternizes with gays and union bosses?"
I hope for the former, but fear it would be the latter choice.