The Current Crisis

The Palmetto Pathetico

Why is the governor of South Carolina still a national news story?

By 9.3.09

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WASHINGTON -- Why is the governor of South Carolina still a national news story?

This past week Governor Mark Sanford was again in the news, and neither sex nor romance had anything to do with it. I can understand his first great news splash, after he completely vanished from the face of the earth. Then he duped his staff into announcing that he was communing with the birds and the bees along the Appalachian Trail. Then it was discovered that he had actually been emulating the birds and the bees down in Argentina with a secret Argentine inamorata. She is easy on the eyes, and would certainly have been worth the trip, if only he were not married with four children, and if that bizarre deception about woodsy trails had not been attempted.

At the press conference following the debacle he referred to his Argentine beaut as his "soul mate." Obviously the guy was in love. It was the real thing. Had he been from a more romantic place than South Carolina, his ratings would be sky high. Mr. Sanford should be the mayor of Paris or an alderman in Monte Carlo, if they have aldermen in Monte Carlo. Yet, South Carolina is not Monte Carlo, and his fellow Republicans from the Palmetto State want him to retire or he will be impeached when the legislature convenes in January. So now he calls press conferences and invites reporters to follow him as he travels throughout the state to Lions Club meetings and Kiwanis Club meetings, and perchance an occasional meeting at an Odd Fellows' lodge. He does seem a bit oblivious. At these statewide meetings he apologizes and then implores the assembled -- he calls them "friends" -- to help him ram through important legislative changes. He calls them conservative reforms.

Well, I for one find Governor Sanford tedious. Even his syntax is tedious. On the front page -- yes, the FRONT PAGE -- of the Wall Street Journal, Governor Sanford is reported as saying, "I have a newfound level of humility, knowing how hard I work and how hard I push is not the ultimate driver of change. Power resides with people." Now, I have always said that of all the virtues the one that I find absolutely mystifying is the so-called virtue of humility. I mean, what is the point of it? Governor Sanford's declaration strikes me as a concatenation of non sequiturs. What does his hard work have to do with humility? What does the power of the people have to do with humility? From all I can tell after reading this week's news stories, "the people" of South Carolina want him to resign.

Nonetheless the governor is traversing his state working to advance a conservative agenda of reform. It sounds like the reforms are, as the Journal reports, "dull." One would set up a government department to monitor state spending. As things stand today, that function is now performed by a board controlled by legislators. All right, that is like a board of foxes monitoring the hen house. Governor Sanford's reform makes sense. But it is indeed dull. It is nothing like major regulatory reform, major tax cuts, privatizing government functions, perhaps paying for major roadways with user fees.

This brings us to one matter that is, for a certitude, a national story. Governor Sanford is a conservative, and so successful have conservatives been at governing over the last twenty to thirty years that they do not have much of an agenda left. They succeeded throughout the country at fighting crime, lowering taxes, streamlining government -- at least making an effort to streamline government. To a large degree conservatives are the victims of their success. Their policies solved most of the major problems of the last half of the 20th century: the Cold War, the urban crisis, stagflation.

If it were not for the 9/11 attacks, President George W. Bush would not have had much to do during his presidency. He might have addressed the housing bubble, but there was no clamor to do so. In fact, both sides of the aisle seemed to think subprime mortgages were written into the Bill of Rights.

Yet with the Obama Administration in place, it has become increasingly clear that very soon the conservatives will have plenty on their agenda once again. They will have the fiscal mess that Obama is creating. There will be healthcare in need of market reform and malpractice reform. Foreign policy is going to be in dreadful need of adult supervision. Most alarmingly, after the Obama Administration demoralizes our intelligence community and mucks up the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, our defense policies are going to need urgent attention.

So very soon conservatism will have a very full agenda, though I doubt that Governor Sanford will be very much involved.

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About the Author
R. Emmett Tyrrell, Jr. is the founder and editor in chief of The American Spectator. He is the author of The Death of Liberalism, published by Thomas Nelson Inc. His previous books include the New York Times bestseller Boy Clinton: the Political Biography; The Impeachment of William Jefferson Clinton; The Liberal Crack-Up; The Conservative Crack-Up; Public Nuisances; The Future that Doesn't Work: Social Democracy's Failure in Britain; Madame Hillary: The Dark Road to the White House; The Clinton Crack-Up; and After the Hangover: The Conservatives' Road to Recovery.