June 30, 2009

Sanford and the Revolution

There was always good reason to doubt whether Mark Sanford was the right man to lead the Ron Paul revolution in 2012. Many Paulistas were talking up this prospect because Sanford was apparently more ?mainstream? and ?legitimate? than the Good Doctor, yet held almost all of his views.  But this pretty much means he was a guy who said a lot of libertarian-sounding things, and did some libertarian deeds, while staying on reasonably good terms with the GOP establishment. And though ?Big Government Republicans? might rejoice at Sanford?s demise, let?s not forget that the governor ultimately endorsed John McCain for president?even if he couldn?t find much of anything good to say about him?and on FOX News he announced that he defers to Newt Gingrich on major foreign policy decisions…

I also doubt Sanford would have actually brought more people to the liberty movement than Dr. Paul would have. Sanford?s certainly a handsome man, but he?s rather uninspiring, and sometimes rambling, as a speaker; he lacks Paul?s peculiar kind of charisma (avuncular charm) and hasn?t immersed himself in economics and political philosophy quite the way Paul has. 

Sanford earned everyone?s respect vetoing hundreds of state bills and rejecting Obama?s ?stimulus? money. But whether he had the right stuff?and, quite frankly, whether he was really radical enough?to take over the Paul movement remains to be seen. 

(Also,  I?m tolerant of quirkiness; however, stories (perhaps apocryphal) of the governor forcing his staff to use both sides of post-it notes and his ?hobby? of drilling holes in his backyard with a hydraulic excavator, into which neighbours sometimes fell (!),  would have raised a lot of eyebrows.)

All this being said, I don?t think Sanford?s momentary infidelity should disqualify him from political leadership. As Paul Gottfried and I joked yesterday over the phone, if Stanford were our president and he stopped engaging in insane wars and various ?diversity? and ?economic stimulus? programs, and stopped taking our money to fund such nonesense, then we wouldn?t give a fig if every Sunday morning he had to shuttle various mistresses out the backdoor of the White House or was being linked in the tabloids to Lindsey Lohan. That scene from Fran?ois Mitterand?s funeral, in which the president?s widow walked hand-in-hand with his mistress, might be a bit too laissez-faire and, well, French for us, Anglo-Saxon roundheads; however, the American political system would be much improved if we all stopped thinking of politicians as celebrated representatives of our most cherished moral virtues, and instead as inherently suspect creatures whom we trust about as far as we can throw. 

There are, of course, times when it?s right and meet to attack politicians for hanky-panky, such as when Paul Wolfowitz got his new girlfriend a six-figure salary at the World Bank, or when Bill Clinton messed around with a government intern in the oval office and then lied about it under oath; however, I?m generally of the mind to tell my national leaders: ?Go screw around with whomever, just get out of my life.?

The Sanford scandal is also highly instructive for what it reveals about how the GOP establishment operates. As Jim points out, Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour has been one of the big winners?after taking over Sanford?s post with the Governors Association, he now has to field questions about his presidential prospects: ?[Oh gee, well, my word!] I can?t just say flatly ?no??… Barbour, of course, has the ?moral? cred to appeal to the Religious Right as well as the beltway connections to assure everyone in power that nothing in Washington will really change. Ever. The neocons, in turn, can stop fretting over whether they should try to co-opt Sanford, or else reject him as a dangerous anti-government extremist, and instead just wash their hands of him and move on to the rehabilitations of multi-divorcees Rudy Giuliani and Newt Gingrich.

A recent blog in the WaPost from Chris Cillizza, which Jim also brought to my attention, indicates that a certain other South Carolina politician might benefit from Sanford?s demise:

Dispirited Republicans looking for national leaders amid a wash of scandals that have dominated national news over the last fortnight got a bit of good news on Sunday with an inspired performance on ?Meet the Press? by South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham (R).

Graham, who spent the 2008 election cycle as Sen. John McCain’s loyal sidekick, appeared alongside former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, the GOP frontrunner in advance of 2012, and managed to stand out. […]

Asked about Gov. Mark Sanford’s extramarital affair, Graham, who is close to the governor, said that he was ?disappointed? in his friend’s behavior and praised Obama as one of the better role models in the entire country for the idea of being a good parent, a good father.?

Ridding oneself of a political rival while seeming polite and upstanding in the process?Gutsy! Kissing up to Obama in order to get a liberal reporter to label you a ?national leader??Priceless!! 

I guess Graham should be given some credit for not throwing Sanford completely under the bus. But then, this is one guy who definitely doesn?t want to encourage reporters to inquire too closely into politicians? private lives…

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