Dick Armey Is Priceless

New York Times Magazine has a pretty revealing--and entertaining--profile of Dick Armey, the former Republican House majority leader who now chairs Freedom Works, a conservative grassroots organization that's been the major principal group in facilitating the tea party protests this year and, in so doing, has risen to prominence as one of the most influential groups in American politics today.

In it, Armey tells writer Michael Sokolove a lot about his ideas...and those, in turn, tell us something about the movement he's now part of. For one, he says that "The largest empirical problem we have in health care today is too many people are too overinsured."

He also criticizes GOP leaders for pressing a socially conservative agenda after he retired from the House in 2003. "When Republicans are fighting against the power of the state, we win. When we are trying to advance it, we lose," he says. Which is emblematic of why the present conservative movement is so disconnected from and distrustful of the Republican Party establishment: the concerns of fiscally conservative tea partiers have little in common with the socially conservative campaigns run by President Bush in 2000 and 2004, and the increased spending under his administration.

He also says he thinks belief in death panels is silly, but that he doesn't mind it if it helps him. "You know that expression: The enemy of my enemy is my friend?" he says to Sokolove. "Are their fears exaggerated? Yeah, probably. But are Obama's promises exaggerated? I may think it's silly, but if people want to believe that...it's O.K. with me."

But the coup de grace of Armey's exuberance and folksy charm comes when, after an earlier discussion that, more or less naturally, led Armey to refer to himself as a "big shot"...

Later, in North Carolina, we sat down to dinner, and he said: "You ever see that Danny DeVito movie, I think it was Danny DeVito, where he says big shots never order off the menu? They just say what they want." We were at an On the Border, a Tex-Mex restaurant chain and not the type of place I imagine many big shots patronize, but he pushed the menu aside without reading it and told the waiter what he wanted the kitchen to cook up for him.

To anyone who's ever been to On the Border, this is patently hilarious. If you haven't, it's pretty good, sort of like Chevy's, or Chili's, or a Tex-Mex TGI Friday's. I've only been once, but I didn't see any big shots in there.

Imagine sitting down at a Chili's and, without a menu, just telling the waiter what you want as he hands you a margarita that's bigger than your head. I think I'm going to try that next time.