Leading the Opposition

Reihan Salam, co-author of Grand New Party: How Republicans Can Win the Working Class and Save the American Dream, has an interesting article today on Governor Mark Sanford, the studious and professorial governor of South Carolina. Sanford made waves last week by becoming the first of the nation’s governors to reject a portion of the “stimulus” funds. More accurately, he asked the Obama administration for a waiver to spend the state’s portion of the stimulus money shoring up South Carolina’s fiscal health, a move consistent with his 15-year political career, and a request that was predictably denied today.

Salam notes some of the appeal of Gov. Sanford: his dogged determination to keep the government from involving itself where the private sector is best suited; his consistent approach to reducing government spending; and his popularity among fiscal conservatives across the country. As Salam states, Sanford is among the few Republicans who actually governs according to his professed principles.

While calling Sanford “impressive,” Salam’s assessment of the political efficacy of his brand of conservatism isn’t so rosy. He views Sanford as a Goldwater-type figure, starting a conversation that may produce political results in the future, but not politically successful on the national level himself. Other authors, however, have a different view.

If anything, as Salam notes, Sanford’s focus on limiting spending to sustainable levels, which prevents the boom-bust budget cycles through which we constantly suffer, might actually be more effective at producing limited government than the starve-the-beast tax cut approach (because re-election-seeking Congressmen tend to replace cuts with debt-financing, not corresponding budget cuts). Whatever Governor Sanford’s future political plans, he has clearly taken the role of opposition leader to President Obama’s fiscal mayhem, and any accusations of political grandstanding are made by the ignorant: throughout his political career, Sanford has taken –and will continue to take–principled positions that anger the echo chamber, while remaining wildly popular among the voters.


Governor Sanford today sent a response to the Obama Administration’s rejection of his request for a waiver. The entire letter is available on the Corner.


Several legal scholars have suggested that the bypass provision of the Obama “stimulus” bill could be unconstitutional. Basically, the argument posits that Congress may allocate funds subject to conditions, but may not bypass the recipient states’ constitutional structure.

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