Sunday, March 08, 2009

Mark Sanford: Plain Right

The "old right" conservative magazine had a good article on South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford. Those who have followed this blog know that Sanford was my first choice for 2008 if he was going to run for president. The number one reason is his consistency. Too many Republicans lately have talked a game about being for less government and more freedom and have failed to walk the walk when it came time. The GOP Congress from 2002-2006 the Bush administration showed that. That, more than any reason why, is why we lost elections in the last two elections.

Mark Sanford explained that well in his article for the Politico right after the last election.

Right now, the GOP needs to get its credibility back first and foremost. It needs to stop being all things to all people. It needs to gets its message back and have a credibile messenger for its message. That's not in Washington, unless someone like Mike Pence, Tom Coburn, or Jeb Hensarling take the leadership there. That's with the governors. Governors in 92-93 paved the way for 1994. Welfare Reform (which Obama is destroying) that Clinton finally signed the third time it went to his desk did not come from thin air, or especially Washington. It came from Wisconsin and Michigan. Tommy Thompson and John Engler.

If someone tells me one more time that the answer to the GOP's troubles are due to "charisma" or "new technology", I'm going to kick his arse for short term thinking. The first answer is getting credibility on the basic message of the GOP, limited government (especially federal) and more freedom. The second is branching out to other ideas which are more locally based. That's why we have states, and why until recently, the GOP has been competitive in most states, at least at the local level. Federalization of issues that should be at the state level failed us - as it failed the democrats in the early 2000s (Clinton's war on the West and struggles in the South, Republicans struggle in the Northeast/MidAtlantic and Pacific Coast). Charisma and technology are luxuries and tools. They are part of the tactics, not the message. If things are even up or close, they can help win, but to use a sports analogy, the best video scouting can not help a team who doesn't have the right players. That goes back to credibility. The problem right now is the players in DC and their record from 2002-2008 (06-08 was democrat control, but there wasn't much of a difference overall from the "demlite"[in actions if not words] control after Armey left). The worst thing the Republicans did was when its leadership (if not a majority lot of its members) support that first high profile bailout that Bush wanted. McCain, Boehner, McConnell, Bush. The democrats of Pelosi, Reid, and Obama also supported it too. All that means is that it is a bipartisan piece of trash. We're supposed to be better than that.

For examples of better, go back to the gubenatorial ranks. While there are a lot of differences among them, those are the ones who are successful to various degrees. Sanford, Jindal, Douglas, Pawlenty, Huntsman, Palin, and Daniels. Jindal and Palin get most of the hype (and Pawlenty and Huntsman to a lesser extent), and I like both of them myself (need to see more on Huntsman), but my choice out of all of them by far is Mark Sanford.

From the American Conservative

Mark Sanford is easy to overlook. If Republicans need a champion in the Obama era, there are more colorful candidates than the South Carolina governor. He doesn’t play electric bass, or to the Religious Right, like Mike Huckabee. He has made no attempt to rewrite the GOP’s almost forgotten small-government playbook like Minnesota’s Tim Pawlenty or Louisiana’s Bobby Jindal. Though he is popular, Sanford seems incapable of playing a red-meat populist like Sarah Palin. He looks plain, his philosophy is old, and he has an elegiac demeanor that seems incompatible with electoral politics.

But unlike many other Republican politicians of his stature, Sanford recognizes that there are limits to ambition, that government treasuries are not bottomless, and that no ideology can captain the globe. If the promise of “hope” in the form of bailouts fails to revive the American economy, Mark Sanford will be the GOP’s most dangerous man in 2012.

In recent weeks, he has become the unofficial spokesman against Obama’s trillion-dollar economic stimulus plan. Other Republican governors like Arnold Schwarzenegger beg for more federal subsidies, but Sanford has threatened to decline large portions of the bailout, preferring not to bridle South Carolinians with the accompanying obligations. While cable’s talking heads shout at him, he somberly quotes Adam Smith and Friedrich Hayek. He worries aloud that the bailouts represent a “crisis of American civilization

I don't hear enough about that part. Obligations. Nothing is free. Besides the government waste that is the stimulus package, there's another cost to accepting the money. Freedom. If someone offers you a few million, but the price is x, it's not free. In order to accept the million, you have to do x. That's called a contract. In this sense, it is a "take it or leave it," contract.

As part of the Gingrich Revolution in 1994, Sanford pledged to serve just three terms. His explanation for the self-imposed limit reveals the two sides of his personality, the brainiac and the bumpkin. He says, “The ‘beta’ is the correlation between an individual stock and the market as a whole. Term limits change the beta of a political decision. Some politicians look at a single political decision and say, ‘Man, this could affect my career for the rest of my life.’ But with term limits, if it only affects you for the next two years, it’s not a life-changing event.”

How many pols follow their term limit pledges these days? Sanford did it by not running in 2000 for re-election to congress. He waited till 2002 and ran and won (in an upset) for governor.

Naturally, Sanford compiled a strikingly different record from many of his fellow revolutionaries. He regularly found himself grouped with Ron Paul and a few other staunch conservatives like Steve Largent and Tom Coburn on the losing end of lopsided votes. “I remember the leadership would come and say, ‘This stuff is okay during the campaign, but we have to govern,’ and I thought it was govern toward a specific end, not just govern to govern,” Sanford recalls.

But principle had its price. He was the lone vote against a bill to halt violence against women, claiming that it was unconstitutional. The first negative ad he faced in South Carolina claimed Sanford was soft on domestic violence.

He was unsurprised by the party’s quick betrayal of conservative ideals: “A lot of people walked in not clear about what they were about philosophically. And if you aren’t totally clear walking in, you’re going to end up very fuzzy in a very short period of time.”

Part of the rest of the story is the "violence against women act" was ruled unconstitutional by SCOTUS. It sounds great to oppose, and I myself come from the old school where men don't hit women (enforced by something a lot stronger than the law), but the Constitution is clear in its power.

As far as the "leadership" comments about governing, Sanford is right. Governing for power's sake is what got us bridges to nowhere and blunders like No Child Left Behind. Governing right with the right messages is what needs to happen, not changes once there is an election.

His record as governor is sound by conservative standards, but thin. He proposed a plan to eliminate the state’s income tax within 18 years, but abandoned the project when political compromise that involved an expanded property tax transgressed his ideology. “He won’t take 10 cents of something he dislikes for a dollar of something he loves,” Folks says. But when staffers advised him to tacitly endorse primary challenges against the moderate GOP legislators who stymied his reformist agenda, Sanford played it safe and backed incumbents. There are limits even to his political will.

Sometimes compromise is the right thing to do. Sometimes it depends on what is possible. Sometimes being a hardliner is the best decision. Governors getting involved in backing primary challengers is usually the most controversial thing that gets pushed. Most don't do it. As far as the tax offer, 18 years to get rid of one traded for another tax? Sounds bad to me. SBT was bad, MBT was worse.

Sanford’s most notable accomplishment as governor may be eliminating an illegal $155 million budget deficit that was hidden by his predecessor. When trying to find the last $16 million, legislators suggested that he had done enough. Sanford replied, “I’m sworn to uphold the Constitution. It doesn’t say come close and declare victory.” He then vetoed 106 pork projects to make up the deficit and was overruled on 105 of them. The next day, he took two piglets and an array of cameramen into the statehouse—his first and probably last attempt at playing rabble rouser. “I don’t like using political instruments that blunt,“ he admits, “but what’s not remembered is that it worked.”

It did work. Sometimes that is what it takes, and what was not mentioned is that he battled the big spenders in his own party. THAT's credibility. It is easy to oppose big spending from the democrats. It's harder, but more important, when it comes from those with the (R) next to their names.

Sanford’s conservative credentials compare favorably to anyone else mentioned as a 2012 presidential contender. He calls the public-education system “a Soviet-style monopoly.” He promoted school choice through tax rebates to avoid the appearance of government control. He passed a “Castle doctrine” bill that was supported by the NRA. He favors a law-and-order approach to immigration, but opposed REAL ID on civil liberties grounds. Though he avoids showy displays of piety, he is reliably pro-life.

But the governor edges closer to pure libertarianism at times. He rolls his eyes at the Columbia sheriff’s department’s zeal in investigating Michael Phelps’s recreational pot use. And he criticizes Alan Greenspan’s management of the “opaque” Federal Reserve. “If you take human nature out of a Fed, it might work,” he explains. “But you can’t. You can have these wise men. But who wants to turn off the spigot at a party that’s rolling?“

I don't have 100% agreement with everybody, but I'm close here. Stay out of my gun cabinent. Don't overspend. Support life. Support border control, but don't take away too many freedoms, and I don't care if Michael Phelps lights up a doobie.

He also deviates from the Republican line on foreign policy. In Congress, he opposed Clinton’s intervention in Kosovo. And he was one of only two Republicans to vote against the 1998 resolution to make regime change in Iraq the official policy of the United States. He says that it was a “protest vote” in which he tried to reassert the legislature’s war-declaring powers. When asked about the invasion of Iraq, he extends his critique beyond the constitutional niceties. “I don’t believe in preemptive war,” he says flatly. “For us to hold the moral high ground in the world, our default position must be defensive.”

I'm a believe in politics stopping at the border. That still goes today with Mr. Obama in the White House. I'll just say that I generally agree with Sanford's principles on this and leave it at that. That aside I think the job in Iraq needs to be finished, and so far Obama seems to be doing the right thing there (leaving Gates there and letting him run it). That's as far as I'll comment until the job's done.

Beyond his rare lapses in ideological or political judgment, Mark Sanford doesn’t seem to have the charisma that conservatives say their message needs. He is awkward in the clubby world of politics. He can regale you with long stories details about a budget skirmish with the legislature, but he has almost nothing to say about USC basketball. He draws lessons from Ayn Rand’s work (“She doesn’t believe in the social compact really”), but is unfamiliar with basic sports metaphors, claiming, “We got the proposal to the 99-yard line.”

What was that I said about kicking someone's arse if charisma was the main problem, again? My attitude is this. I'm voting for either an executive or a representative. I'm not voting for a coach. The only time sports matters (outside of government wanting to ban some of them like the UFC) in my voting is for university trustee as one out of many issues, and I am a major fan of many sports. Sanford doesn't know football like I do. So what.

Close legislative ally Gary Simrill admits, “He’s not the ‘morning in America’ type.” But Sanford’s appeal isn’t about personality. For him, the imperial executive and the celebrity president are linked: “It got to the point of absurdity with this election. Everybody put a lot of hopes and dreams in Obama. But our nation was founded by the rule of law, not by men.” The governing style of movie stars, whether they call their opponents “girly men” or don flight suits for the cameras, led to the present crisis. Official Washington has no memory, demands largesse, and prizes optimism as its cardinal virtue. But Sanford is haunted by the past, tight with a checkbook, and worried about future. If he has any chance, it’s because he sounds a lot like the rest of us.

That says it best. I'm absolutely sick of American Idol politics, whether it be Clinton being a wannabe Rocky, Bush's Top Gun (at least he can fly a plane, but it wasn't needed), or the cult of Obama. In fact, I'm much inclined to vote for someone with a much more businesslike approach to politics than a American Idol BS approach.

For the 2010 gubenatorial and congressional races, we need to go back to the principles and live what we believe. Mark Sanford has set a good example for many to follow and is a good starting point for candidates to build on and perfect.

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