Senator George Allen (R-VA), the third subject in Townhall.com’s series on potential 2008 presidential contenders, visited South Carolina this past Friday. As keynote speaker, Allen drew in the crowds to a fundraiser for Ralph Norman, Republican candidate for South Carolina’s 5th Congressional District. After his speech, Allen sat down with Townhall.com to discuss his thoughts on today’s issues and what the future holds for conservative politics. Included here are excerpts from both the speech and exclusive interview.
COLUMBIA, SC -- George Allen is a serious contender for the Republican nomination for president. A former governor, he wears cowboy boots and can often be found outside with his can of dip. Consequently, some Republicans like Allen, because he seems the most like George W. Bush—a charge Allen can’t quite understand, and frankly, rejects. "I don’t know why people say that," he said. "My two role models are Thomas Jefferson and Ronald Reagan. Most people who know me think I’m most like Ronald Reagan." At the start of his speech, Allen proclaimed himself a "common sense, Jeffersonian conservative" and later quoted Patrick Henry. In fact, his talking points on government were so similar to Reagan’s that it seemed as if he had just read a few of the Gipper’s speeches on the way down to South Carolina.
Allen passionately emphasized his Reagenesque fiscal conservatism and Jeffersonian ideals on limited government. Most of his speech focused on lessening government and lowering the burdens placed on businesses. It is business, he said, that really drives the American economy: "Free people should be able to make free decisions."
He added, "Government doesn’t create jobs […] but government should get the field ready." In other words, government should get out of the way.
One way for government to get out of the way is to lower taxes. "Washington doesn’t have a revenue problem; Washington has a spending problem," he said. "The taxpayers are the owners of the government. That’s who we [Congress] work for."
When asked if the Senate would take up tax reform in the near future, he replied, "Nothing has been proposed as far as legislation goes. Our focus right now needs to be on extending the tax cuts: the capital gains cut, the dividend cut, and the elimination of the death tax, which sunsets in 2010." Tax cuts equate to economic growth. He added, "The tax cuts since 2001 have created 5 million new jobs in the private sector."
Allen went on to argue that Congress should view the taxpayers’ money as its own and spend it frugally, just as members would spend their own paychecks. "We need to look at things and see if it is absolutely necessary to spend the taxpayers’ money," Allen argued.
Allen not only identified the problems with the government, but he offered some innovative solutions. He suggested a federal line-item veto. "I had it as governor of Virginia, and the president should have it as well.”
Allen is also an advocate of a federal balance budget amendment. "We need a balanced budget amendment in Congress." He added, "49 states required balanced budgets, so why doesn’t the federal government?" Ultimately, he has decided, "We need to focus on what’s essential: national defense and the military […] then we need to bind down Congress with the Constitution."
Perhaps his most innovative suggestion is the "Paycheck Penalty." Congress often doesn’t pass the appropriations bills in time and adds millions of dollars worth of pork spending at the last minute. "If Congress does not pass the appropriations bill by October 1, the start of the new fiscal year, [congressmen’s] paychecks will be withheld. It’s their job; they need to get it done."
"Of course," he added laughingly, "that didn’t get a lot of support."
Allen also touched on immigration. He replied, "First and foremost, we need to secure our borders. They have been neglected." He highlighted the need for more personnel, more fences (both real and virtual), and more detention centers. "I don’t think we should reward illegal behavior […] you must punish illegal behavior, or you’ll get more illegal behavior." He also replied, "I’m not for amnesty […] I’m for immigration, but it must be legal immigration."
Of course, Allen couldn’t visit South Carolina and not field tough questions on social issues. When asked about abortion, he stated, "That should be decided by the states." He seemed to think the South Dakota ban is too strict and added, "I personally would add an exemption for rape and incest." If the Nebraska ban on partial birth abortion—which will soon be before the Supreme Court—is upheld, Allen foresees the Senate passing a ban again. "We did once, and it was held up."
Allen also defended the 2nd Amendment. "The 2nd Amendment is part of our Bill of Rights." "Law abiding citizens should be able to protect themselves and their property," he stated.
Unfortunate for Allen’s presidential prospect tour, the senator has an opponent for re-election. James Webb, former Secretary of the Navy running as the opposing Democrat. However, with the right effort and the same message on which Allen has delivered for Virginia since being in Congress, he should emerge victorious. "We’ll keep doing what we’re doing. He [Webb] is very formidable, but if we work hard and keep doing what we’re doing, we should be fine."
Allen is clearly the secret presidential frontrunner in the minds of many political types in South Carolina. These political types see two spots for contenders in the Republican primary: Senator John McCain and someone else. A lot of South Carolinians think Allen is that someone else. While McCain, Mitt Romney, Mike Huckabee and Bill Frist all have made trips to South Carolina in the past year, the consultants and strategists have all been hesitant to back anyone. Everyone is waiting for Allen to jump in.
The question remains though: Is America ready for another George wearing cowboy boots?