The boy who cried ‘big government’

By BRAD WARTHEN
EDITORIAL PAGE EDITOR
ON NOV. 15 on the opinion pages of The Wall Street Journal, Gov. Mark Sanford took a courageous stand. Just ask him, he’ll tell you.
    The piece started out with the customary tone of self-congratulatory righteousness that is one of the principal reasons the leaders of his own party in the S.C. State House hate to see him coming:

    I find myself in a lonely position. While many states and local governments are lining up for a bailout from Congress, I went to Washington recently to oppose such bailouts. I may be the only governor to do so.

    So is the image etched sharply enough in your mind’s eye yet? He is Horatio at the bridge, holding back the invaders. He is the boy on the burning deck, “whence all but he had fled.” The big-government barbarians are at the gate, and only he stands against them, the double-edged sword of free markets gripped tightly in his unwavering hand.
    Thank God for Mark Sanford, we are to think, as we read on:

    But I suspect I’m not entirely alone, as there are a lot of taxpayers who aren’t pleased with Christmas coming early for politicians….

    And therein lies the key. He’s not alone, and he knows it. He’s striking a pose before a crowd. This has worked well for him. It got him re-elected in 2006. Despite the fact that he had alienated most people who actually had to deal with him in the course of trying to govern our poor state, he managed to strike all the right attitudes to persuade a majority of voters that he was their tribune, and only he could keep the “politicians” (which reminds me, when was the last time you saw this guy working in the private sector?) from robbing you blind. (Of course, it also helped that the Democrats nominated Tommy Moore.)
    This image has resonated with a lot of folks outside South Carolina as well. The Club for Growth, for instance, and Howard Rich. The folks who edit the editorial pages of The Journal are thoroughly enchanted; they’re the ones who kept alive the idea that our governor would be John McCain’s running mate long after it had been dismissed by everyone else. (Maybe he should have picked Mr. Sanford, you may be thinking at this point. Not at all. Mr. Sanford appeals to a narrower sliver of the GOP base — economic libertarians — than the red-meat, populist slice that loved Sarah Palin.)
    The very day that his op-ed piece was in the Journal, we also read that Mr. Sanford had been chosen to chair the Republican Governors’ Association. So they’re sold.
    Mark Sanford calls the idea of federal aid for his state — a proposal I had not even heard about before he was posturing against it — “Christmas coming early for politicians.” As if any spending from Washington went into the pockets of anyone who thought South Carolina might need the help. He says that while his own prisons chief, Jon Ozmint (one of the most conservative men you’ll ever want to meet) is talking about releasing prisoners early because he doesn’t have the money to keep them behind bars — despite the fact that South Carolina spends less per prisoner than any other state.
    I know Jon Ozmint; he doesn’t want the money for himself.
    Now at this point all you libertarians out there have decided I’m sticking up for big spending. You’re mistaken. I don’t know whether the federal government should help out the states or not. Seems to me the feds have a lot on their plates, and they’ve already done more bailing out (mostly in the vaunted private sector, mind you — you know, the depository of fiscal wisdom and responsibility) than I ever wanted to see.
    The same day that op-ed piece ran, I read in The State that the federal government had spent money to open a grocery store and a bank in the Celia Saxon neighborhood of Columbia. I looked at all of those politicians cutting that ribbon, and I wondered whether that federal investment was a good idea. I understand the need: The lack of viable retail businesses in a neighborhood contributes to a host of social ills — or at least, occurs in tandem with such ills. But, I wondered, if it took federal money to set them up, can the businesses be viable? I hope so, because the neighborhood could use the shot in the arm. But will it work?
    That’s how I look at such spending: Will it work? Will the investment — in prison guards, or schools, or Wall Street, or a grocery store — pay off, and have the intended beneficial effect on the community or the state or the nation?
    Are there some politicians who will always say “yes” to the spending? You betcha, as another governor would say. But I wouldn’t look to those politicians to help me figure out whether spending is wise or not in a given instance.
    Nor would I ask Mark Sanford, because he’s just as predictable. Maybe more federal largesse flowing to our cash-strapped state would be a good idea, and maybe it wouldn’t be. But in trying to figure that out, the last person I’m going to ask is our governor. He’s not the boy who stood on the burning deck in the iconic Victorian poem. He’s the boy from the Aesop fable — the one who cried “big government” so many times that when government finally did go too far, you couldn’t tell by him.

Read the Sanford column and more at thestate.com/bradsblog/.

23 thoughts on “The boy who cried ‘big government’

  1. p.m.

    Funny. I accused on the other recent Sanford thread of being way past crying wolf about him, and it turns out the column you had already written accused him of crying wolf too often.
    That’s pretty ironic. Now if he’ll just write a piece for the WSJ about me crying wolf, we’ll have an equilateral trifecta.

  2. Lee Muller

    If you hadn’t heard of the notion of a bailout for states and cities, thank Mark Sanford for informing you – it was sneaked into the $700 BILLION mortgage bailout by Democrats. Dozens of Democrat mayors, including Bob Coble, have already asked for bags of cash which they don’t need.
    South Carolina state government doesn’t need any extra cash. They have collected over $3 BILLION in surplus revenue in the last 5 years. The current budget, even with $450,000,000 in cut-backs, is still over $500,000,000 larger than it was just a few years ago.
    High taxes and fraudulent government programs like junk loans to minorities and Medicare have choked off the economy. But the socialistic liberals refuse to admit failure, and propose more taxes and more wasteful spending to bring on an Obama Recession in 2009.

  3. TopAssistant

    We are BROKE and you are slamming someone who does not want federal dollars? China leapfrogged Japan, increasing its Treasury holdings by $43.6 billion to $585 billion. Japan, now the second-largest foreign owner of U.S. government debt, reduced its holdings by $12.8 billion to $573.2 billion.

  4. Lee Muller

    There are no “federal dollars”.
    Almost all the federal money comes from a small minority of US taxpayers.
    The money which some lousy governors and mayors hope to get their hands on is deficit money, pure fiat currency, created out of thin air last month by printing $2.0 TRILLION in worthless paper.

  5. Doug Ross

    This pretty much sums up the entire piece:
    “I don’t know whether the federal government should help out the states or not.”
    And you attack Sanford for holding true to his principles regarding government. It is truly weird that you blame Sanford for everything he HASN’T done somehow being more damaging to the state that what the legislature HAS.
    Until we give the Liberatarian view of government a chance, the current state of government at all levels is owned 100% by the career politicians.
    Brad, someday you’ll come to grips with the fact that you want to pawn off every responsibility to monolithic entities (big government, national healthcare, a global military presence, an open borders one-world immigration policy, a tax-them-into submission energy policy,etc.)
    Luckily, America relies on the power of individuals to overcome your “let someone else handle it” views.

  6. Lee Muller

    People like Mark Sanford make a lot of people uncomfortable, because their clarion call for individual responsibility and restraint stands in such stark contrast to the avoidance of responsibility for one’s own welfare.

  7. Brad Warthen

    That’s right, Doug. I don’t know whether it’s a good idea or not in this case. But I can’t look to Sanford to help me figure that out, because I can’t trust him to analyze it fairly and pragmatically. He will ALWAYS say it’s a bad idea, even if it’s a good idea. He’s beyond ridiculous about it. And he’s got a delusion of grandeur thing going about the fact that he ALWAYS cries “big gummint,” whether it makes sense in the particular case or not.
    Nor would I look to those people who were cutting ribbons at the Celia Saxon thing to tell me whether it was a good idea — Clyburn, Coble and the rest. Because they’ll likely say it’s a GOOD idea whether it is or not. But the column wasn’t about them, because they weren’t the ones yelling “HEY, LOOK AT ME; I’M YOUR ANTI-GUMMINT HERO!” The way Sanford was doing.
    I didn’t even get into the wondering WHY he would be attracting all this attention to himself. It doesn’t get him anywhere in terms of his moribund agenda here in SC. He can’t run for governor again; both Senate seats are safely held by his own party. Surely, surely, SURELY he isn’t dreaming of the White House?
    What he ought to do is go out and work in the private sector for awhile and show us all how it’s done — if he really believes in this stuff he spouts. And you know what? I believe he really does. I just can’t figure where he thinks he’s going with his personal Lone Hero crusade.

  8. pete

    At the end of the day, Mark Sanford is a failure as governor.
    The power of his ideas, be they right or worng, could not overcome his leadership failures.
    As for his time here, he might as well had been a liberal democrat. The end result is the same.

  9. emcee

    Brad, why are you picking on “the best damn governor period” that I can ever remember by saying that he needs to get a job in the private sector? My God, look at what ya’ll just put in the white house.

  10. Doug Ross

    >The power of his ideas, be they right or
    >worng, could not overcome his leadership >failures.
    The power of his ideas could not overcome the (Barney) fiefdoms that exist in the legislature.
    The governor is term limited and hamstrung by good old boy politics. Every aspect related to the quality of life, education, and the economy in this state can be laid at the double-wide doormat of a select few politicians… and their chief enabler, Brad.

  11. Bill C.

    With idiots like Brad Warthen running The State, I don’t feel bad about a business failing and employees losing their jobs. As long as Brad is employed by The State, I can only wish bad things for that organization and smile when they happen.

  12. Birchibald T. Barlow

    As much as I detest Mark Sanford, I can at least respect that the his policies come from his philosophy of small government, one that is shared by many in his party. However, you try to paint him off as some kind of monkey at a lever who only knows how to pull in favor of less government no matter what the situation.
    Sure, the letter claiming “I find myself in a lonely position” sounds like one from a blowhard politician. And yes, Sanford has shown himself to be a very poor leader when it comes to working with the legislature. And I too wholely disagree with many of his decisions. However, unlike you, I can at least respect where they are coming from.
    But keep throwing around terms like “libertarian” to paint the governor as a fringe looney.

  13. bud

    My God, look at what ya’ll just put in the white house.
    -emcee
    You’re right emcee, George W. Bush, a man twice endorsed by the state, has been a travesty of a president.

  14. bud

    Birchibald, the reason Brad finds Governor Sanford so offensive is because the governor’s philosophy as it relates to the government’s role in problem solving is exactly 180 degrees opposite from Brad’s. Sanford opposses ANY government solutions whereas Brad supports government solutions to EVERY problem, big or small.

  15. Doug Ross

    And Bud hits the nail on the head again… Brad takes every opportunity to demonize Sanford for having a different political philosophy than he does.
    Unfortunately, Sanford has never had the opportunity to even try to do things his way because it would render the current members of the Good Old Boy power mongers who actually run this state.
    Brad wants Sanford to compromise his basic principles in order to “get along” with the legislature. Sorta like bargaining with a carjacker about how many miles you’ll let him drive your car.
    Brad doesn’t dare support Sanford’s philosophy on government (even on the smallest scale) because if Sanford’s ideas worked then how could Brad continue to defend the status quo?

  16. p.m.

    Y’all didn’t put Bush in the White House, bud. The guy y’all elected has already backed off his Iraq timetable and his elimination of the Bush tax cuts, and he hasn’t even taken office yet.
    You elected a political whore who was willing to tell you whatever he wanted to get your vote.
    And now Chuck Schumer, the biggest political whore of them all, is saying we need a $500 billion to $700 billion stimulus package as soon as Obama reaches office, and House ditz Nancy Pelosi, who makes Sarah Palin look like a Rhodes Scholar, is singing falsetto in Schumer’s off-key choir.
    But you are right about one thing, bud. Brad never found a problem he thinks government can’t solve, and thus he’s willing to make an utter fool of himself by going after a governor who realizes the folly of a government going deeper into debt to solve a financial crisis.
    I think Brad must be just jealous that Sanford makes the Wall Street Journal when Warthen doesn’t. Or maybe he’s hoping his objection to Sanford will go national like his column on Edwards.
    Whatever, Sanford’s piece in the WSJ makes a lot more sense than Brad’s column, which offers nothing but supposition to support its accusations.
    Sorry, Brad, but I don’t believe it just because you think so. You need to prove it.
    You didn’t.

  17. bud

    Poor Obama. He is left with the biggest mess, from the worst president in American history. He’ll have us out of Iraq soon enough though. He’s just being cautious. As for the tax cuts, obviously with the current crisis it’s not sensible to try and balance the budget. His hand was forced. The deficits are going to become enormous. But with the savings from our Iraq withdrawal not so bad as if Bush remained with his failed philosophy. It may take 3 or 4 years but Obama will straighten things out. I’m predicting Obama will win the 2012 election with 65% of the popular vote and 425 electoral votes. Even SC will likely vote Obama.

  18. Lee Muller

    We KNOW the city of Columbia doesn’t NEED any bailout money because we can SEE how much money they just voted to WASTE on RECREATION, parks, etc. Good managers don’t borrow money to buy luxuries.
    Likewise, the state has 1/2 BILLION more dollars in revenue today than it had when Mark Sanford took office. They blew $3 BILLION in surplus, unbudgeted revenue on new pork programs. Cut those out and …voila!… the state will have a surplus again.
    If Obama and Pelosi raise taxes and continue to frighten investors, there will be no recovery from this slump, and it will turn into a hard recession as smart money sits out and waits for Obama to fail and be removed.
    If that happens, the state should cut its spending to match the incomes of the taxpayers, and they need to cut it ahead of the decreases in revenue, not after the fact. That means they should be preparing for a 35% reduction in spending right now.
    If US automakers have to wait for Obama to take credit for bailing out their bankrupt union pensions, they will go under. They need union concessions NOW. They don’t have time for bankruptcy court and some flaky Democrat judge who will try to help the unions.

  19. p.m.

    Bud, what savings from the Iraq withdrawal? Obama’s already said that may not happen until his second term.
    You and your fellow lemmings have bought us a pig in a poke, and I need your address, because I’d like to sent you a bill.

  20. Lee Muller

    The Iraqi parliament just voted for the American troops to remain there until 2012. They are afraid Obama will hand the country back over to his Al Qaeda pals.

  21. Lee Muller

    Thing about The Boy Who Cried Wolf is that there WAS a wolf.
    Just like Mark Sanford is right about their being greedy politicians and businessmen acting as wolves by seeking TARP bailout money they don’t need.

  22. John Wallace

    CLOSING THE GATE ON OUR FREEDOMS AND LIBERTIES
    As any rancher, farmer or game warden can tell you, the best way to catch and domesticate wild animals that roam free is to destroy their natural instinct to forage or hunt for food. It doesn’t matter whether they are wild ponies on Assateague Island in Virginia, buffalos on the range in Wyoming, wild pigs in Borneo or wild dogs somewhere in the wilderness. It pretty much works the same way.
    The first step in the process is to find a suitable place in the animal’s habitat where you can leave food out in the open. Pretty soon, the animals will find the food, eat it and will return again to see if there is more. Within a short period of time, the animals will come to that same location almost every day to eat the free food.
    When the animals get used to coming every day, the rancher, farmer or game warden can install a fence down one side of the location where the animals come to eat. When they get used to seeing the fence, the wild animals will return and eat the food that is left for them. At some point, another side to the fence is installed. The animals will eventually get used to the new section of fence and will continue to return again and again to eat the free food. The process is continued until all four sides of the fence have been installed to form a compound, with an open gate installed in the final side. The wild animals, having become accustomed to getting free food at the location, will go through the open gate and enter the fenced in area to eat the food.
    When the entire herd has come through the gate to eat in the fenced in area, the gate is then slammed shut and the whole herd is captured in the compound. They have now lost their freedom. At first, some of the animals run around trying to find an escape route, but eventually they tire and return to eating the free food. They become so used to eating the free food that is left out for them that they either forget, or lose the desire, to forage or hunt for food in the wild. As time goes by, they learn to accept their captivity.
    This is similar to what is happening in America today. Moving ever so slowly towards socialism, our ever expanding and intrusive government bureaucracy is attracting more and more citizens and illegal aliens to the free food banquet at the federal trough, while at the same time adding sections of fences with increased governmental rules and regulations that will eventually take away their individual freedoms. Our so-called elected leaders keep handing out the free food on a regular basis in the form of federal grants, subsidies, affirmative action, supplemental income, rebates, stimulus packages, tax credits, and thousands of special programs designed to help particular groups of people who now see themselves as victims. Eventually, the recipients of these never ending and expanding social programs will come to rely on the federal government for their very existence.
    Just like the wild animals mentioned earlier, it appears that a significant number of American citizens and illegal aliens are gradually becoming accustomed to feasting at the trough of big government and the number of people receiving government handouts on a regular basis is growing by millions every year. Unfortunately, it will not take long before a significant percentage of the American population becomes so used to receiving the federal assistance that is left out for them that they will either forget, or lose the desire, to escape the system and enjoy their freedoms and liberties.
    The politburo in the new expanded American government will tell the people how much money they can earn, where they can go to school, what sodas they can drink, what foods they can’t eat, what kind of a car they can drive, where they can travel, what national ID card they must carry and it will impose any number of other restrictions on them. If we continue on this road to socialism, the American people will no longer be free. The question is: “Will they learn to accept their captivity at the hands of their new masters?”
    Thomas Jefferson said: “A government big enough to give you everything you want, is big enough to take away everything you have.” Americans must remember that we cannot fully enjoy our freedoms and liberties in America unless we keep our government limited. As our government grows and becomes more intrusive, as it is today, it is our freedoms and liberties that are becoming limited. Americans must remain vigilant in these trying times as there seems to be many traitorous elected officials in this country who would like to close the gate on our individual freedoms and liberties, as well as our nation’s sovereignty.

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