Gideon's Blog

In direct contravention of my wife's explicit instructions, herewith I inaugurate my first blog. Long may it prosper.

For some reason, I think I have something to say to you. You think you have something to say to me? Email me at: gideonsblogger -at- yahoo -dot- com

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Thursday, June 09, 2005
Okay, some things I learned about Governor Mark Sanford.
  • He is very tan. I mean bronze god tan - really, really tan.
  • He is surprisingly short.
  • He's funny enough that you can see how he succeeded in politics. He doesn't laugh at his own jokes and his sense of timing is good, but he doesn't seem like he's an entertainer, just someone who knows how to deliver humor as part of a speech.
  • He's still sufficiently provincial that he's kind of goggle-eyed at New York - and the amount of money to be raised in New York. I didn't feel like this was faked. Whether it's faked or genuine, it's obviously an asset in a politician.
  • He either has an excellent nose for the sorts of books that a New York crowd would like and expect him to be reading, or he has terrible taste in books. He name-dropped both Thomas Friedman's The World Is Flat and Richard Florida's Rise of the Creative Class. The latter actually made me cringe. But, on the positive side, the "lessons" he drew from these books were much more sensible than the books themselves. From Friedman: that China and India have huge reserves of cheap talent, so the competitive challenge for a kid from South Carolina is very tough. From Florida: that South Carolina should try to attract rich, well-connected retirees who might invest locally, and that protecting quality of life (which means protecting the coastal environment and making sure roads are in decent condition) is important to attracting said retirees. Those don't sound like bad lessons.
  • He has national ambitions. He's already got a bunch of money in the warchest, and while he's had trouble with South Carolina's (Republican) legislature, he's not expected to have any trouble defeating whichever Democrat runs against him next year. So why's he doing a New York fundraiser? There's only one good answer.

I spoke with the Governor for about 5 seconds, as you'd expect. He assumed I was a friend of one of the hosts (which I'm not) and said it was very generous of me to come and give money on his say-so. But I spent more time talking with his legislative director. Basically, Governor Sanford has a complicated and ambitious agenda for South Carolina, and he's not going to get most of it done. He's trying to cut taxes dramatically and streamline government services, and he's getting some (but not all) of that done. But he's also trying to radically reshape South Carolina's government, and I get the feeling he's losing most of those battles. South Carolina is run to a considerable extent by commissioners chosen by the legislature, rather than by the Governor. The school system, which consumes 50% of the state budget, is not under the Governor's control, for example, nor is the highway system (which is in considerable disrepair). Governor Sanford is trying to strengthen his own office at the expense of the legislature and, especially, these independent commissioners. And the legislature - unsurprisingly - is fighting back.

It's a surprising agenda for a conservative, given that conservatives - especially in the South - have tended to favor weak executives and weak central governments. But Sanford is a Republican, not a conservative Democrat, and he's one of a new generation of "reform conservatives" so it's not so surprising when you consider that. I've written before about how the Progressive tradition is now more alive in the GOP than among the Democrats (just as, I believe, the realist/internationalist Hamiltonian/Eisenhower tradition in foreign policy has better prospects among the Democrats these days than among Republicans, where it traditionally found its home). Governor Sanford is a good example.

After the George W. Bush Adminstration, Republicans are going to be looking for someone who carries forward what they like about Bush, but who is a contrast in other ways and reverses course on matters where they disagree. There is no question in my mind that the next GOP nominee, and the one after that, will be acceptable to what gets called the Christian Right. They are a huge percentage of the GOP vote, and there is no sign (yet) that they are a threat to the GOP's ability to govern nationally (albeit they have hurt receptivity to the national GOP in states like California and New York). Areas where many Republicans dissent from the Bush agenda are: immigration, foreign policy, and domestic spending. Sanford will be a candidate who is certainly acceptable to Christian conservatives and who will be very appealing to conservatives concerned about the level of domestic spending under Bush.

He's one to watch. I'll keep watching him.