Among voters, there are few true moderates in American politics. While conservatives typically want drastic cuts in government and liberals typically want drastic expansions, even self-described moderates are usually open to any daring new idea that might pose a challenge to a status quo that everyone seems eternally unhappy with.
Americans from across the political spectrum voted for Ronald Reagan in 1980 and Barack Obama in 2008, wanting real change they hoped would be bold and quick. And both Reagan's alleged "extreme conservatism" and Obama's alleged "radical liberalism" were of less concern to voters than the possible continuation of the politics-as-usual they had just suffered through.
And yet in recent decades, show me virtually any Republican who has preached limited government while running for high office and I will show you a liar. Take a look at George W. Bush.
For every Democrat who has promised massive new programs, you will find a government in their wake mostly untouched and that differs little from their Republican predecessors. Take a look at Bill Clinton.
It seems the most enduring divide in American politics isn't between left and right, conservative and liberal, or Republican and Democrat, but voters who want real change and politicians who refuse to give it to them.
Mark Sanford is not that politician. As a South Carolina congressman and now governor, Sanford has had one primary guiding principle his entire political career — limited government. Not just limited government rhetoric, the sort of lip service paid by milquetoast Republicans to pacify their right-leaning base, but genuine, strict, fiscal conservatism. More importantly, Sanford has the guts to back it up.
If you ever need a good illustration of just how duplicitous the GOP can be, just take notice of how frequently S.C. Republicans get angry at Sanford for daring to actually represent the limited government principles they pretend to. It's as if they're saying, "C'mon Mark, you didn't really think we meant all that conservative stuff, did ya?" Luckily, Sanford does mean it, which to some makes him dangerous.
Gov. Sanford's recent refusal to request a federal loan to extend unemployment benefits made national headlines and received heavy criticism from the Employment Security Commission, many state politicians, and others.
Sanford had delayed his request for a federal loan until the ESC had agreed to a request by the governor — to allow a third-party audit be conducted in order to highlight waste and inefficiency and to reform the agency. When Sanford finally filed for the federal loan at the last minute, the ESC had still not agreed to an audit. In not submitting to the governor's wishes, was the ESC not showing "reckless disregard" for unemployed South Carolinians? What exactly are they trying to hide and was their refusal worth possibly hurting those out-of-work? And if the reforms Sanford would like to see were implemented, might not the ESC have more cash on hand for the unemployed rather than continuing to waste it on its own bureaucracy? Plenty of Republicans joined Democrats in calling Sanford's actions, or inactions, "reckless." The GOP used to call it "welfare reform."
In a general sense, the true "reckless disregard" being shown is not by men like Sanford, but politicians across the nation who refuse to even address, let alone fix, a broken system. Throwing wasted money on top of wasted money, whether at the national or state level, is just plain stupid. As of this writing, even the newspaper industry is asking for a federal bailout, and why not? Where are the leaders who might stand up, speak out, and prefer free-market solutions to a better socialism? How about just plain, old penny-pinching?
In a political environment where being a "responsible" politician now means you must waste as much money as the next, Sanford's fiscal conservatism is considered "reckless" precisely because he believes in responsible spending, budgeting, and accounting.
Many believe Sanford's recent actions are in preparation for a future run for president. We can only hope. I'll gladly take Sanford's so-called grandstanding over his colleagues' habit of lying down on the job. Far from being reckless, Sanford's consistent, career-long conservative approach to government could potentially redefine the Republican Party in a way that could appeal to voters from across the political spectrum, sickened by old problems and hungry for new answers. Four or eight years of Obama might offer a good example to which the governor can contrast his vision.
And who knows — with a two-party system still seemingly hell-bent on conducting business as usual, Mark Sanford just might one day lead the charge for change we can believe in.
Catch Southern Avenger commentaries every Tuesday and Friday at 7:50 a.m. on the "Morning Buzz with Richard Todd" on 1250 AM WTMA.