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?