Monday, March 16, 2009

Mark Sanford

Reihan Salam, co-author of Grand New Party, on the South Carolina governor:
In short, Sanford is the real deal. He is the candidate Rush Limbaugh and countless others who embrace the cause of shrinking government have been waiting for.

But the real test is whether Sanford is willing to put shrinking government ahead of cutting taxes. The evidence suggests that the answer is yes. Earlier on in his tenure as governor, Sanford made a serious effort to gradually eliminate the state income tax. Yet he ultimately came to terms with the fact that he'd have to raise another tax, like the much-despised property tax, to make up for the lost revenue, and so he ultimately abandoned his plan. Rest assured, other Republicans, including George W. Bush, wouldn't have had the same scruples, as evidenced by the state of our public finances.

Though I can't say I agree with every detail of Sanford's vision of limited government, I find him extremely impressive. President Obama has, through the force of his intellect and personality, expanded the scope of political debate in the U.S. He has, in just a few short weeks, moved the center of political gravity to the left. We're now seriously debating an expansion of government that hasn't been on the table since the 1970s.

Mark Sanford represents the counter-reaction. He is moving conservatism away from the delusions of pain-free prosperity and toward the rigor of self reliance. My sense is that this is not a move that will help Republicans win elections. Just as LBJ crushed Goldwater in 1964 by highlighting the many middle-class benefits he put in place, Obama will certainly try to do the same thing to an aggressive budget cutter like Sanford.

Yet this might be the political argument we need. At some point in the near future, we will come to the sudden, sharp realization that we're not as wealthy as we thought we'd be. And while no one wants to balance the budget on the backs of the poor, an evocative phrase that George W. Bush once deployed against congressional Republicans, we might eventually be forced to trim the benefits we provide to middle-class taxpayers, particularly ones provided through the tax system. Sanford seems like the only politician, Republican or Democrat, with the guts to make that case.
Salam might well be correct about the bolded part, but I think that the coming backlash against Obama's big government approach -- which will only drive us higher into debt without an increase in prosperity -- will make people more amenable to Sanford's philosophy. 2012 just might be a real window of opportunity after disgust with the endless bailouts, government intervention and overspending takes hold.

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