There’s no doubt the main catalyst for the Tea Party movement and the motivation of other independent voters today is the out-of-control spending, bailouts, trillions in debt, and the unprecedented aggressive expansion of government into our lives, businesses, health care, and earnings, by the Obama administration, Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid and their allies. The debt in the trillions dwarfs all other deficits in our nation’s history many times over, and, if it is not reversed, it will be the ruin of our country. To preserve the American Dream, millions of freedom-loving Americans are going to stand up on Election Day and demand change.
But it would be a mistake to view the current tide as pro-Republican. People are mad at both parties, and they have a right to be. As I have traveled across Virginia over the last several years, participating in tea party rallies, campaigning for conservative candidates, and doing all I can to help elect people who will save our country from what is happening in Washington, I hear it again and again. People are fed up — not just with one party — but both of them.
Indeed, in the 2009 Summer of Rightful Discontent at town hall meetings and rallies — in addition to opposition to “cap-and-trade” energy tax schemes, “stimulus” spending, and the massive government takeover of health care, all being advanced by the Democratic leadership in Washington — people were stirred and riled against the TARP bailout and disgusted by the 2008 bailout of failing auto manufacturers by President Bush, and those who voted for these bailouts.
Just a few years prior to that, the anger was directed at a Republican president and Congress that failed to bring spending under control. That spending was a fraction compared to what is going on now, but people had a right to expect better of the Republicans when we were in charge. And no one who was in Washington back then can avoid a share of the blame — all of us should have done more. But I will also say this: Many of us have been fighting Washington-style insider politics and pork-barrel spending for years, and have the scars and bruises to show for it.
My governorship was an insurgency based on bringing common sense conservative principles to office, and we turned things around in Virginia. We grew private sector jobs at an unprecedented rate, cut taxes, cut the welfare rolls in half, and actually cut the size of the government workforce by 10,000 employees.
We also stood up for constitutional principles. As governor, I hosted a meeting of all the Republican governors in Williamsburg to get them motivated, organized, and on record in favor of a return to the principles of federalism — changes that would restore the founders’ design and reinvigorate the role of the states in our federal system, like a states’ repeal amendment that would allow two-thirds of the states to repeal federal laws or initiate constitutional amendments.
During our administration, we fought the federal government bureaucracy encroachment into the rights and prerogatives of the people of Virginia. We were in courts and the halls of Congress, fighting the EPA on many fronts and the federal Department of Education, which was trying to dictate to us how to enforce discipline in our schools.
I guess we were “tea partiers” before it was cool because I’ve heard it said that the TEA in Tea Party stands for “taxed enough already,” and that was certainly the stand I took as governor. We cut government waste and taxes and regulations, put power back in the hands of the people, and let job-creating businesses grow and thrive. In fact, in our four years, more private sector jobs were created than during any previous administration, by far. We also stood strong for federalism when others, including plenty of Republicans, said it wasn’t a priority and we shouldn’t bother.
The people of Virginia sent me to the Senate in 2000, and I was not there long before I figured out that the place is largely dysfunctional and controlled by many insiders and elites who are out of touch with hard-working Americans. I made no secret of the fact that the way the Senate worked — or failed to work — was frustrating and a disservice to the American people. They weren’t happy with me when I voted against the “Bridge to Nowhere” or indoor tropical rainforests in Iowa or orchid gardens in Pittsburgh. The ruling powers were not thrilled when I proposed the “Stop Over-Spending Act,” or when I proposed that the paychecks of members of Congress be withheld until they passed and sent to the president a proper budget, or when I insisted that federal, state and local tax commissars must not be allowed to start taxing access to the internet.
One thing I decided soon after arriving there was to devote a big part of my time to electing more real conservatives who would help change the way the place behaved. And so I chaired the National Republican Senatorial Committee in 2004, and I won’t say we batted 1000 in terms of electing conservatives, but I am very proud of the fact that we helped elect people to the Senate that year like my good friends Tom Coburn, Jim DeMint and John Thune. Tom, Jim and John won those races because they were (and are) good, strong, principled leaders, but I’m proud that we helped them get across the goal line so they could serve the people of their states and this nation.
The Democrats — and plenty of Republicans — have criticized me for taking issue with the way the Senate behaved during those years. You may have read that I said the place moved at the pace of a wounded sea slug. I said many other things about the Senate, too. My point was this: You can’t serve the people and put this country on the right track if you are endlessly preoccupied with process and privileges and dilatory courtesies to politicians. What we needed was a little less “senatorial privilege.” We need to get back to basics and common sense principles and solutions that improve people’s lives and American competitiveness. We need to trust free people.
The establishment types didn’t understand it — they said that I didn’t like the Senate and that I didn’t belong there. But it wasn’t that I disliked the Senate — what I disliked was the slow, unaccountable and cumbersome way the Senate operated. The Senate is a great institution — in fact, the framers designed it to be the house of Congress that would be most responsive to the states. If only that were true today! Nothing could be farther from the founders’ vision than the Senate of Harry Reid. It should be a Senate that listens to the people, but the Senate of today ignores the people; instead, Harry Reid pushes the massive healthcare bill through on Christmas Eve. It should be a Senate that is accountable to the people and the states, but the Senate of today — the Senate of Harry Reid — thumbs its nose at both the people and the states. It should be the body that insists on a presidential line-item veto like I used many times to restrain spending as governor. It should be a Senate that takes the long view and insists on balancing the budget and acts on initiatives to make America more competitive for jobs and investment. It should be a Senate that does not abdicate its Constitutional responsibility and give unelected bureaucrats in the EPA the right to regulate CO2 and cause skyrocketing electricity, fuel and food prices. It should be the Senate that keeps the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts we passed in place for everyone so that our economy will finally get moving and creating jobs again. But today the Senate loves taxing and spending and red ink, and is obliviously mortgaging our children’s future with unprecedented, dangerous debt, owed more to China than held by Americans.
The turnaround begins in just a couple of weeks, when a new more conservative, more principled Congress is elected. It won’t be a perfect solution or complete victory; President Obama and his czars will still be running the executive branch and Democrats will still have much authority in the Senate. They’ll conspire to keep the healthcare monstrosity on the backs of the American people and small business owners, and continue their redistributionist efforts to raise taxes and spend taxpayers’ money and increase government control. But thanks in large measure to the Tea Party and many independents, one thing will be different. The Republicans who go to Washington will have a new sense of purpose, a new energy and resolve, and most important, a new commitment to common sense Jeffersonian conservative constitutional principles. The beginning of the American comeback is only a few weeks away…
George Allen is a former Governor and U.S. Senator from Virginia.