We invite Alabama’s senior senator to take a good look, and an even better listen. The newly elected Tea Party candidates say they are conservatives, just as he proudly claims that ideology. However, there’s something different about this new crowd’s politics and Shelby’s politics.
The Republican wave of new faces washing into Congress is quite a sight. Like any political force in the ascendancy, these newcomers and their backers, both deep-pocketed contributors and GOP allies, have a big to-do list.
Or, in this instance, we might call it an undo-list. Americans frustrated over a dismal economy are generally easily motivated to punish the party in power. Congressional Democrats paid dearly for a high unemployment rate, diminished earning power of working Americans and lack of confidence that things will improve any time soon.
Oh, and it was more than that. Republicans smartly stoked up conservative voters against the things accomplished by President Barack Obama and his fellow Democrats in Congress. The economic stimulus that garnered only a handful of Republican votes was a point of contention. Opposition to health-care reform that will give more uninsured Americans coverage was a conservative rallying cry.
And this is where the undo list comes into play, as well as a dilemma for seasoned Republicans like Sen. Shelby.
Shelby is surely a conservative. In a visit last week with our editorial board, Shelby made his views clear. Tax increases are off the table, even raising the $100,000 ceiling on the Social Security withholding in order to bolster the program. He prefers a flat tax. He was famously a dissenting voice during the economic crisis of 2008 and 2009, preferring to let financial institutions and automakers fall rather than prop them up under a government bailout.
The newcomers who helped the Republicans win a majority in the U.S. House and, as it appeared at press time, a narrower partisan gap in the Senate have sounded a more extreme tone, at least on the campaign trail. Many have questioned notions deeply rooted in the American conscience such as the constitutionality of Social Security, the appropriateness of the Civil Rights Act, the necessity of the Department of Education, the 17th Amendment’s right to directly elect U.S. senators and the general virtue that citizens need a government watchdog to protect the safety of their water, air, prescription drugs, food and other essentials.
That’s a small-government bridge too far for Shelby, who proudly told us of how much federal money he has secured for Alabama. He’s not alone; there are other big-government conservatives in Washington.
Something tells us Shelby and his like-minded Republicans are headed for a showdown with the ideologues swept into office by the Tea Party’s momentum.