Thursday, February 19, 2009

Emergency Strike-When Standing on Principle Doesn't Quite Work Out

Look at this series of quotes issued by Mark Sanford, Governor of South Carolina this morning:


On the one side is South Carolina’s Mark Sanford, the chairman of the Republican Governors Association, who refers to the spending package as “a tremendous mistake.”

“The spending plan will prove to be an absolute disaster,” Sanford said in an interview. “The bottom line is that it’s horrible.”

"The problem with the Republican brand is that we haven’t done as advertised. We ran as conservatives and didn’t govern that way,” said Sanford. “The way out of the electoral carnage of the last few years does not rest in being all things to all people. It’s delivering on what you promised.”

From CBS News:

“Being against it doesn’t preclude taking the money,” Sanford said on CBS. “I think there are a number of wrinkles that have caused a number of us to say ‘Wait a minute, let’s take a long look at whether or not this really makes sense for our state.’”

The inconsistency of these quotes from our favorite principled governor warrants a special code-red emergency strike. How can we let this go to waste?

First some background:

While congressional Republicans are almost uniform in opposition to the stimulus package recently signed into law by President Obama, there is an interesting divide growing among the 22 Republican governors that could give us a hint into the primary battle in the 2012 Presidential Election. I'll call this divide "Crist/Sanford Chasm."

Meet Charlie Crist, the popular Republican governor of Florida, the perennial swing state. Crist enjoys popularity in the 70% range. A couple of recent polls have shown that if he tries to run for the United States Senate in 2010 to replace the retiring Republican Senator Mel Martinez, he would win in a landslide. Ditto if he runs for reelection as governor. But Crist's life isn't so easy these days. Last week, he committed "heresy" by introducing Obama at an event in Florida promoting the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. The right wing was up in arms, with some questioning Crist's conservative credentials, and criticizing him for taking money from what they feel is a bill full of useless pork.

Crist is no Rockefeller Republican, in fact he's pretty much a mainstream conservative. But Crist understands that his state is facing a severe budget shortfall, and a lot of people are hurting from home foreclosures, which are happening at a faster rate in Florida. So this fiscal conservative decided that he needed to act in the interest of his state (the website projects that Florida will gain 200,000 jobs from the bill). So Crist puts aside his ideology to take care of the pressing needs of his constituents. How dare he.

On the other end of the spectrum is South Carolina governor Mark Sanford. Mr. Sanford used to be in the House of Representatives where he took such "principled" stands as opposing a memorial for the Underground Railroad because it costed too much (he and Ron Paul were the only representatives to vote against it). But lucky Sanford gets elected in 2002 to "reform" government in the Palmetto state. Sanford certainly isn't making many friends. He has constantly battled the Republican-controlled legislature over the state budget, because he has sought enormous cuts in state programs that even conservative Republicans weren't comfortable with. He even brought in live pigs to demonstrate pork in state spending bills (this story helped the Strike ace a college presentation on Governors trying and failing to exert extraordinary executive power). Good old Sanford unfortunately lost most of these spending battles. A majority of his 100 vetoes have been overridden by the legislature.

Now that Republicans have lost badly in two consecutive elections, much of the party faithful is convinced that it can regain majority status by returning to the principles of strong fiscal conservatism. Heroically taking the mantle of fiscal conservative crusader, Governor Sanford took a post leading the Republican Governor's Association. He expressed early and frequent opposition to the stimulus plan even before it was formally presented. He took the airwaves telling people that the stimulus was just a giant pile of pork, and that the best way to stimulate the economy was to let the free market self-correct. He even publicly criticized Crist for endorsing the measure, questioning his conservative credentials. It looked like this taxpayer hero would show those spend-happy feds that he doesn't need their porky spendulous bill. After all, it's only gonna be used for resodding the mall and STD's, right? His principled stand went far enough that it looked like he would actually reject the stimulus money.

But then reality struck. South Carolina's Congressman, the House Majority Whip James Clyburn publicly feuded with Sanford about the bill and even managed to insert a provision saying that if a governor rejects stimulus money, the state legislature can still authorize it. Faced with growing unemployment and economic malaise, South Carolina desperately needs help. And after his tireless crusade, Sanford is forced to relent.

Amazingly, this is not the first time Sanford has been forced to abandon his ideological principles in the face of political pressure. Earlier this year, he made a big stink about rejecting federal payments for state unemployment insurance, but ended up taking the money when members of both political parties strongly objected.

So to review, Sanford stakes his political reputation going on TV derisively mocking a bill, saying that it's "horrible" and will "do-nothing," but he still does EXACTLY what Governor Crist did: accept the money. Sanford can no longer say to himself: " even though Governor Crist has high approval ratings, and endless opportunities for higher office, he's doesn't have what I have: absolute ideological purity!"


"Mark Sanford's wild ride over the past two months is a lesson for the kids out there. It seems easy and fun to drink from the seductive bottle of holier-than-thou ideology, but don't be lured in. The next morning, when the reality strikes that voters reward statesmen who deliver needed services not self-righteous ideologues, you'll have to vomit back up all that ideology, take the bitter medicine of government spending, and feel the soul-crushing humiliation that you were just exposed before the world as a buffoonish hypocrite who abandons his principles at the first sign of political trouble."

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