You know Lee Greenwood. He’s the country-music star who hit patriotic paydirt with his 1980s hit song “God Bless the U.S.A.” Joe Miller, the Republican nominee for Senate in Alaska, actually looks like Greenwood, to the point that Miller could easily be mistaken for the singer if he ever strolled through Nashville. And, listening to Miller speak, you hear echoes of Greenwood’s famous tune. The Tea Party may not be looking for a single spokesman or leader, but in Joe Miller it has its personification: an outsider, a constitutionalist, and someone who’s thoroughly fed up with the political system’s disrespect for the common man.
If I brought the Greenwood resemblances up to Miller, he wouldn’t wax nostalgic about the Eighties, or even about a Hannity Freedom Concert. Miller would probably want to know why I spent three sentences talking about anything other than policy solutions. There’s no shooting-the-breeze with Joe Miller. When he recently dropped by National Review’s Capitol Hill office, the Alaskan was, in the words of my colleague Bob Costa, “cool as ice.”
His coolness is refreshing in such hot political times. A former U.S. Army officer who earned a Bronze Star in the Persian Gulf War, Miller gives the impression of great seriousness. He’s a man on a mission.
“God’s country isn’t going to mean much if Washington, D.C., collapses,” Miller says in response to a casual comment from a lower-49er about Alaska, the frontierland this Kansas boy chose to adopt as his home. “The fact of the matter is,” Miller says, “the federal government is bringing the whole country down. If we don’t seize this opportunity to change the direction of D.C., our country is not going to be the land of opportunity that it once was. The competitive nature, even at the individual level, is being depressed. Dependency from the federal level is all around us. The tax policies, the regulatory policies — they are all designed to kill American business. As you look at it, the only explanation you get is that there is somebody who wants to try to equalize the economies of the world. To me, I just find that incredibly frightening. I had incredible opportunities as a kid; I want to make sure that my children, and their children, have those opportunities. And they will not, if we continue in the direction that we’re in.”
Miller says that as someone from a state that has happily taken federal funding in the past. The Bridge to Nowhere will ring a bell. But Miller says he and his state want something different from their representatives. “People understand that we’re nearing bankruptcy. And they understand that the numbers are so enormous that if we don’t do something now we’re going to be buried under it.” Alaskans, he says, “understand that, fiscally, this cannot continue. At the end of the day, a state that heavily depends upon federal funding, as far as economic activity goes, is going to have to find something else to create jobs and to keep the state moving forward. And that, of course, is the natural-resource base. That is the argument that was used at statehood, which carried the day by one vote: that we had, within the state, the ability to create an independent economy through our national resource base. But, of course, the federal government, it seems, at every turn, has restricted our ability to use those resources. But those are the only options we have: Our human resources and natural resources. Alaskans understand that they need a fighter to get those things accomplished.” In other words: Don’t tread on me. He may not be as colorful as Michele Bachmann, but the message is similar. It’s about freedom.
When asked what kind of senator he wants to be, he’s not interested in massaging Beltway egos. “Well, I’m not going to be a co-opted senator, I can tell you that much,” he says with the combined confidence of a military captain, Yale Law graduate, and hunter. “That’s the mandate of Alaskans: to get things done and to change the direction of D.C. Frankly, I’m encouraged by what I’m seeing at the leadership level. I think there’s an understanding that the mood of the nation has changed in such a way that there is not going to be toleration of business as usual.”
He’s realistic about the prospects for hope and change, Tea Party style; but he’s determined. “I think that we have enough like-minded people coming into D.C. that we’re actually going to be able to accomplish something. And none of these folks that are coming in are part of the establishment, for the most part. They are being told by their people at home that the system is broken and they better do something about it.”
The Senate has long been the place good House ideas go to die in committee. A Joe Miller could help shake up that side of the Capitol for the better. Alaskans can write in the Republican who lost the primary, Lisa Murkowski, who is, like a sore loser, determined to keep her seat. Or they can very easily elect this self-assured David who took on Alaska’s Goliath. He’s a bit foreign to Washington, as Bill O’Reilly’s body-language expert would have confirmed about his recent tour there. But it’s the kind of foreign that goes well with the tea the House cafeteria will be serving come January.
— Kathryn Jean Lopez is editor-at-large of National Review Online