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28 April 2009

Mark Sanford's Ideology

There has been much discussion lately about Governor Mark Sanford’s resistance to accepting federal stimulus money.  In the face of enormous public and political pressure, the governor has accepted these funds but will exercise considerable authority in determining who gets it.  For the purposes of this letter, I am not interested in whether or not this was the right thing to do.

I am more concerned with how the governor’s opponents have characterized his decisions.  Sanford’s rivals have accused him of political posturing.  Ignoring the vehement protestation against the governor’s actions, I find this interpretation lacking.  While the cynic in me is willing to acknowledge that there might have been an element of posturing to Sanford’s resistance, it seems highly unlikely that this was his only, or even a major, motivator.

His month-long battle against the federal stimulus, however, is much more readily explained by taking a look at his ideology and his record both as governor and as a congressional representative.  Sanford is perhaps the most ideologically consistent politician in contemporary American politics.  Since entering the political arena in 1994, Sanford has been the quintessential Republican; at least, he has been what the quintessential Republican should be.  By this I mean Sanford has sustained an unwavering faith in free enterprise and the free market while also endorsing socially conservative measures.  He is not quite a libertarian, but he has the general ideological bent of Ron Paul when it comes to the economy without the gold standard baggage.

A cursory glance at a website like ontheissues.org demonstrates how consistent Sanford’s ideology is.  In fact, the only inconsistency in his voting over the past 15 years is on affirmative action in college admissions.  While in Congress in 1998, Sanford voted against ending preferential treatment by race in college admissions, but in 2002 he said that affirmative action was acceptable in state contracts but not in colleges.  A closer examination of his voting history in Congress might reveal a few more inconsistencies, but I would wager any additional irregularities would still be far less than the typical congressman.

Regardless, Sanford’s commitment to fiscal conservatism and government accountability is astounding.  Sanford has repeatedly supported term limits (for example, he imposed one on himself while a representative to Congress), a balanced budget, and lower taxes, as well as pushing for choices for citizens in education.  Therefore, if we view Sanford’s struggle against the federal stimulus through the lens of his voting record and his statements as a congressman and governor, it is clear that his position derives from his sincere belief in his ideals.

Whether or not the governor is right is another matter.  That is not the point I want to make.  Agree or disagree, Governor Sanford is not taking a stand for political attention.  He is taking a stand because he believes it is right.  And, after all, isn’t that the important thing?

Aiken's Unfortunate Consensus

On 18 July 2008 the Aiken Standard ran a piece of mine, a simple letter to the editor.  Aiken's City Council had recently passed a smoking ban in restaurants and bars downtown, a measure I opposed.  I was therefore prompted to write this--admittedly polemical--piece.

Please note:  I myself am not a smoker.  I believe that it is a repulsive habit and has serious health risks.  At the same time, there are many establishments that thrive on smokers' business.  Additionally, smokers are well aware of the risks they are taking.

Smokers have been villainized for far too long.  This villainization has cut across political boundaries and has become a bipartisan issue.  The problem with this state of affairs is that we are now seeing the same attitudes toward the obese as we have been seeing toward smokers.  Obesity, like smoking, is simultaneously being treated as a disease and as a moral shortcoming.  As a portly fellow myself, I recognize the long-term health problems that come from obesity; however, I also recognize that being overweight is not some sort of disease.  With hard work and determination, an obese person can lose weight and a smoker can quit smoking.

Cancer is a disease.  You can't just work your way out of cancer.  Obesity and smoking are not diseases, and should not be treated as such.

And now, without further adieu, the unfortunately-titled "Can different people co-exist?" (Kudos to the Aiken Standard's terrible copy editing):  http://www.aikenstandard.com/results/cook-letter2008-07-18T13-21-20

In the beginning...

Hi there.

I never thought I would start a blog.  I enjoy writing and I do dash off the occasional letter to the editor of my hometown paper, the Aiken Standard, but I never thought that I would start "blogging."

In fact, the whole concept still irks me.  And yet, here I stand at the crossroads of public discourse.  Why have I, who have forsworn blogging until now, decided to start a blog?  I am not entirely sure myself, but I will say this:  we are living in trying times.  This is not an unusual observation; humans have been living in trying times for thousands of years.  Regardless, these times are my times, and I fancy myself somewhat educated, so I figure I should offer my interpretation of the major events of the day.

Despite the presence of excessive first-person in this (and most other) blogs, I will not be making this blog one of those self-indulgent love-fests.  I will write about topics that interest me and topics on which I believe I can offer some unique insights.  Otherwise, I will refrain from devolving into bloated descriptions of the sandwich I ate for lunch.  No one wants to read that, not even me.

The Portly Politico will, however, be a blog about contemporary American politics and foreign policy.  I will state my biases upfront:  I am socially and fiscally conservative.  I strive for an underlying consistency to my political and economic philosophy, although I recognize that this goal is impossible for anyone of any creed or inclination.  While I am conservative, I am mainly interested in economic and political issues, not social ones.  I am not entirely comfortable calling myself a libertarian, although I am certainly sympathetic with the overall thrust of modern American libertarianism.  But many social issues simply seem beyond the pale of government authority.

To give an example:  should abortion be illegal?  I think it is morally questionable, if not reprehensible.  Personally, I believe that, since we cannot be sure when life begins, we should play it safe and assume it begins at conception (although it is interesting to note that many medieval and early modern theologians believed that the soul did not enter the fetus until the fortieth day).  But to what extent can the government legislate for or against abortion?  I do not pretend to have the answers.

I do, however, have very strong and--I like to think--reasonable arguments in favor of free enterprise and free market capitalism.  I consistently vote Republican in national elections.  I generally oppose the more leftist and extremist contingents of the Democratic Party.  But I am not an ideologue--I want to hear what all sides have to say.  I am a firm believer in reasonable, rational debate, not name calling or yelling.  Even though many Enlightenment thinkers were guilty of such things themselves, I believe in the ideal of Enlightened discourse:  the rational, unemotional discussion of topics to arrive at greater truth.  I recognize, too, that this is an impossible ideal, but I will do whatever I can to fulfill it.

And so my little adventure in blogging begins.  I promise, future posts will not be nearly so self-indulgent.  But now that we know each other, I hope you'll come back--and perhaps join me in the great collective discourse of our age, a discourse that can only come from the freedom of information found on the Internet.