Seeking a column for tomorrow's page, I took a look at a writer I haven't run before (near as I can recall), Dick Polman of The Philadelphia Inquirer, who had written a column headlined, "Governing in the Real World."
It was pretty standard stuff, noting a tendency that usually holds true: The more local the level of government, the more pragmatic the people who serve in it. Governors are almost always more practical and less ideological than members of Congress, and mayors even more so. To cite the cliche, there's nothing Republican or Democratic about filling potholes or picking up the garbage.
But reading this column at this moment, with our own governor on my mind, I was struck by the fact that if Mr. Polman only knew Mark Sanford, he'd rethink his premise. An excerpt from the piece:
One big difference between governors and congressmen is that governors are out there on the front lines, dealing with the real everyday needs of their citizens. Whereas members of Congress can afford to retreat into ideology, governors have no such luxury.
Which brings us to Charlie Crist, the popular Republican governor of Florida, who today may well be known nationwide for two things: (a) the deepest tan since George Hamilton, and (b) the man-hug that he shared on Tuesday with President Obama.
Crist epitomizes the gap that separates Republican governors (who are trying desperately to safeguard the welfare of their citizens), and Republican members of Congress (who are opposing the Obama stimulus package that would help the governors safeguard the welfare of their citizens). Many of the Republican governors face huge budget deficits, thanks to the recession; they would welcome the infusion of federal money, which would allow them to keep paying (among others) the teachers and the firefighters and the unemployment checks of the jobless.
In other words, governors have to be practical. They can't take refuge in right-wing talking points that play well on the cable network talkfests, where ideological conflict makes for good TV.
That last sentence sounds as though Mr. Polman were describing Mark Sanford, which reminds us that
at heart, our governor is still that congressional hermit who slept on his futon in Washington and advanced no significant legislation. Most people who leave that environment to become governor realize, even if they didn't before, that NOW they have responsibility to run things, to lead, to make sure government does what voters expect it to do. Not this guy. I've never seen anyone so unaffected in that way. You'd think he never left the futon.
Every move he makes — from lashing out at an Employment Security Commission that is embarrassing him by serving way to many unemployed people to jumping up and down and demanding look at me; I'm a governor who doesn't want stimulus money — is about a national audience of like-minded people, not about South Carolina and the challenges that face it. It's about the Club for Growth and the editorial board of The Wall Street Journal. The only logical explanation for his behavior would be national ambitions that make me shudder even to contemplate, so I'm not even going to mention them.
Even when he steps out on an issue that would seem to be about something else, we return to that same concern with ideology and a national audience. Environmentalists applauded his coming out yesterday against the coal-fired plant to the Pee Dee. But he didn't do it for their reasons (even though the environment is one of the few areas where he sometimes makes common cause with folks who might call themselves progressives). He was careful to make the point that no, this was more about the cost. He didn't want this state entity, Santee Cooper, spending the money. Which sort of makes you say, huh? Until you realize, oh yeah, he's not talking to US. He's talking to like-minded Republicans outside of South Carolina who will be thinking about whom to contribute money to in a year or two…
I just shuddered again.