It started last year, with growing opposition to the federal stimulus package and other record spending in Washington.
It boiled over last summer, with the raucous town hall meetings in which members of Congress faced the wrath of constituents opposed to the mammoth health care bill.
It continued earlier this year with the seating of Sen. Scott Brown, the Massachusetts Republican who had shocked the political world by winning Ted Kennedy’s old U.S. Senate seat.
Then there was Senator Bob Bennett’s stunning rejection by fellow Republicans in Utah, Rand Paul’s GOP primary win in Kentucky, and Arizona Senator John McCain and other establishment Republicans making “tea-party” noises on nearly every issue.
It’s beginning to look as though this will be a “Tea Party” year. Clearly, the grassroots rebellion against big government—or established politicians in general—is affecting politics in this midterm election season.
One of the more prominent tea-party stories could emerge from Alabama. There, the state has witnessed the return of Judge Roy Moore, the West Point graduate and Vietnam veteran who is running for governor.
Moore made national headlines in 2003, when, as Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court, he refused to remove the monument of the Ten Commandments he had installed in the rotunda of the courthouse. In taking his stand, Moore paid a price for failing to obey a federal judge. He was eventually removed from office. In 2006, Moore ran for governor but was defeated in the GOP primary by incumbent Governor Bob Riley
Moore, though, had struck a chord with social and religious conservatives. The judge became a national symbol of the fight against the hijacking of big government by proponents of a radical cultural agenda. Indeed, two of their biggest concerns—legalized abortion and illegal school prayer—arose from judicial decisions in the 1960s and 1970s in which the U.S. Supreme Court, they maintain, dictated specific cultural outcomes to the country.
Yet Judge Moore’s stand for the Decalogue in the courtroom had implications reaching beyond cultural concerns. He has said it was about “whether or not you can acknowledge God as a source of our law and our liberty.”
This argument hearkens back to the Declaration of Independence. If the source of law and liberty is God, then no person or government is above the law and none can abridge the fundamental rights of the people.
This is the classic religious case for rule of law over rule of man, and ultimately, for limited, constitutional government.
Clearly, Moore was calling not merely for the rollback of the hard left’s influence over big government; he was arguing against big government itself.
And that aligns him today with much of the country’s Tea Party mood.
The political and policy implications are clear enough. This religious argument can attract not just social conservatives opposing the counterculture, but libertarians and independents questioning decades of exponentially expanding government. With record deficits, both state and federal, this becomes a budgetary argument for fiscal sanity and discipline. With unemployment approaching double digits nationwide and in Alabama, it becomes an economic argument for a lighter tax load on families and businesses. And with most Alabamans dismayed over the passage of the health care bill in Congress against their wishes, it becomes a philosophical and political argument for the defense of freedom.
Following through on this world view, Moore pledges to cut not merely the growth in spending, but spending itself, as well as an array of taxes.
In order to become governor, Moore first needs to win Alabama’s June 1 GOP primary. He faces two main opponents, Bradley Byrne and Tim James.
Byrne has the deepest pockets and is widely seen as the “establishment” choice. Unfortunately for Byrne, 2010 is already proving unkind to establishment politicians, particularly those who, as critics charge, supported a number of tax increases as he did while serving as a state legislator. Byrne, an ex-Democrat, claims support from elements of the business community, but given the mood of the electorate, he risks being seen, rightly or not, as the candidate of business as usual. James, the son of the former governor, Fob James, seems to have positioned himself as a Moore clone with money to burn. James’ dilemma is obvious: Why vote for a clone when the original is running? That, in any event, is how Moore’s people view his candidacy. James, however, has been using his ample funds to make his case to the electorate.
Polls show that any one of these candidates could win.
If Moore wins, his likely Democratic opponent will be Rep. Artur Davis, a friend of President Obama since Obama’s law-school days at Harvard. Obama’s near-certain involvement will help put the Alabama gubernatorial election on the national radar screen.
If America has a “Tea Party” Election Day in November, then, should he prevail, Roy Moore could be seen as a symbol of that day. After that comes the difficult job of governing. Will he and others like him around the country succeed? Will he be able to reform a government dominated by the opposing Democratic Party and by special interest groups? Will the Tea Party activists and their supporters appreciate the difficulty of reform, learn to savor small advances as well as big ones, and be in it for the long haul? If so, then big government’s days could well be numbered.
Paul Liben has worked in New York City and Washington, DC as a speechwriter for the past 15 years. He served as a speechwriter for New York Governor George Pataki and then as director of speechwriting for U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff. A published writer, he has written op-eds for more than 100 publications, including the Wall Street Journal, Los Angeles Times, Washington Times, Baltimore Sun, Philadelphia Inquirer and Houston Chronicle.