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18 June 2009

A Portly Politico Two-Minute Update: Mark Sanford on Sean Hannity; President Obama=FDR or Peanut Farmer?

Last night South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford appeared on Hannity, Sean Hannity's nightly program (some of us remember when it was Hannity and Colmes, and even though Alan Colmes was usually wrong--and pretty much admitted it--it was nice having a balance of points of view), to discuss the stimulus money the South Carolina Supreme Court is forcing him to accept. He also talked about the state of the nation and even fielded a few questions about a possible presidential run in 2012. At this point, unfortunately, it seems that Sanford will return to the Lowcountry and to the world of business after his term ends in 2010.

Of course, as much as I admire Sanford, he is unlikely to be a viable presidential candidate, at least not right now. Sadly, his commitment to limited government and fiscal responsibility traditionally do not fare well in American politics since the Second World War. He may be picked up as a vice-presidential candidate on a future Republican ticket, especially because of his status as a prominent Southern politician, but this seems unlikely, too.

Then again, if government spending continues to get out of hand--and if the American people continue to express their displeasure with it--we could see a dramatic shift in Americans' attitudes toward the role of the government in the economy. I don't think this about-face is terribly likely, but it is possible. President Barack Obama could be end up being more Jimmy Carter than Franklin Roosevelt, although I'm afraid that's pretty unlikely, too, even if their approaches to foreign policy are essentially the same. Regardless, if something like this did happen, Mark Sanford would be a logical choice for a presidential run in 2012.

One last thought: has anyone else noticed that Obama is always compared or contrasted against past presidents? Sitting presidents are usually held up against their predecessors or past presidents with similar philosophical and political leanings, but it seems that these comparisons are made between Obama and past presidents more than other presidents. George W. Bush, love him or hate him, was rarely compared to past presidents, either Republican or Democratic. He was always judged on his own merits. Obama is constantly compared to, most frequently and depending on your side, FDR or Jimmy Carter (although Kevin Baker compared him quite favorably--and then quite unfavorably--to Herbert Hoover).

I'm willing to cede that maybe this is the case because Obama is the new kid on the block, but it's more likely because we don't really know that much about him. Sometimes I wonder if he knows much about himself. I know it's horribly cliched to question the curret President's motivation, but it's something that needs to be done for every president. Obama, however, has defied classification, which is both brilliant and disturbing: brilliant, because he made himself all things to most people; disturbing, because he ran the slickest advertising campaign in contemporary American history. People "bought" Obama like an uninformed teenager at a used car lot--they chose the shiniest package but didn't check the air in the tires or the quality of the engine.

And so there is a desperate need to pigeonhole Obama, and the next best equivalent is either as a well-intentioned failure (Carter) or a manipulative pragmatist (FDR). Of course, Sanford is the 21st-century Barry Goldwater, and we all know how that worked out for the Senator from Arizona. Sanford, a legitimately committed politician who is willing to make unpopular but necessary decisions, is almost always going to lose out to slippery conmen who relentlessly push their own agenda. That in a nutshell is what's wrong with American politics today.

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