Mark Sanford’s Lonely Battle for Austerity: Did It Lead Him to the Appalachian Trail?

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Grace Beahm / The Post and Courier via AP

Former South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford expresses his gratitude about the decision made not to recommend his impeachment by the State House judiciary subcommittee in Charleston, S.C., Dec. 9, 2009.

My new book about President Obama and his stimulus, The New New Deal, unspools the politically shrewd but remarkably cynical GOP strategy to obstruct the President.  Congressional Republicans who supported stimulus in 2008 and even voted for a $715 billion stimulus in 2009 somehow pegged Obama’s similar $787 stimulus as the death of capitalism, although they still pursued stimulus cash for their districts. GOP governors who denounced the stimulus as fiscal lunacy quietly used its aid to states to balance their hemorrhaging budgets. But there is at least one principled Republican politician in the book: Mark Sanford, the now-disgraced former governor of South Carolina.

Sanford was a true limited-government conservative, an honest deficit hawk and austerity ideologue who favored massive spending cuts during an economic free-fall. He did not pretend, as so many Republicans did, that austerity would reverse the slide, which is economically ridiculous. Like President Hoover’s treasury secretary, Andrew Mellon, he argued that America needed to purge the rottenness from its system, by shrinking its government and eliminating its red ink even if it had to endure the pain of another depression first. He actually bragged to me about the unpopularity of his policies. “Nobody likes Dr. Doom,” he chortled. For too long, he said, the GOP had been a party of pastry chefs, urging Americans to eat all the dessert they wanted: “We need to become a party of country doctors, telling people that this medicine won’t taste good at all, but you need it.”

Sanford was not the only conservative Republican who talked a big game about stimulus; Bobby Jindal of Louisiana, Rick Perry of Texas, Haley Barbour of Mississippi, and Sarah Palin of Alaska all vowed to turn down freedom-crushing stimulus dollars headed for their states. But Sanford was the only one who actually tried to put less money where his mouth was, turning down $700 million designed to prevent layoffs of teachers and other public employees. The others accepted almost every dime; Perry even tried to use some of it to renovate his governor’s mansion. Granted, it had been firebombed, but the hypocrisy was intense.

Sanford liked to say he was “Tea Party before Tea Party was cool,” a former financial analyst who had distributed bumper stickers during his 1994 run for Congress that said DEFICIT with a Ghostbusters-style slash through it. He believed that accepting the one-time stimulus windfall—and its “maintenance of effort” rules prohibiting education cuts—would prevent South Carolina from making the tough choices necessary to live within its means. Just as Obama saw the crisis as an opportunity to make investments in priorities like clean energy, infrastructure, and research, Sanford saw it as an opportunity to make the painful cuts that politicians habitually avoid “when times are good and people are fat, dumb and happy.”

Sanford only wanted to turn down 8 percent of his state’s stimulus cash, less than 2 percent of his state’s budget. But the backlash was ferocious. Protesters built a tent city called “Sanfordville” near the capitol. Business-funded scare ads predicted horrific consequences if he got his way. The Republican leaders of the state legislature denounced him as a heartless Scrooge intent on “budgetary Armageddon,” warning that without the extra cash South Carolina would have to fire teachers and cops, shutter programs for autistic and disabled kids, fling open the doors to state prisons and dismantle the safety net when it was needed most.

“I’m a conservative, but I’ve got compassion for the poor, the blind, the mentally ill,” groused a powerful GOP legislator, Hugh Leatherman. “Sanford wants chaos. Absolute chaos! He’s destroying this state, and the Republican Party, too.”

When I sat down with Sanford, the venom didn’t seem to bother him much. Wearing jeans and a denim shirt, he lounged on his office couch like he was home watching a game. “I sleep like a baby,” he said. South Carolina had the nation’s third-highest jobless rate, and he knew the Obama money could avert some short-term suffering. But he wasn’t interested in postponing the day of reckoning. “I get it: I’m supposed to be proactive,” he said. “I know, more spending is supposed to lead to recovery, and then we’ll be able to pay back all our debts. That’s a hope, not a plan.”

Sanford wasn’t surprised that his fellow Republicans were giving him flak. He believed he belonged to a party of hypocrites whose anti-spending fervor tended to cool whenever they had a chance to do some spending themselves. He was pleased to see Republican congressional leaders rediscovering the old-time religion of No, but it seemed mighty convenient that their passion for limited government only reignited once they lost control of the federal purse strings. “They were on the opposite side just a few months ago when they had the keys to power,” he said.

Ultimately, Sanford didn’t even have the power to turn down the free money. The stimulus bill allowed state legislatures to accept money that governors refused, and the supposedly archconservative South Carolina legislature did just that. And two months after we met, Sanford’s political career imploded when he told his staff he was going hiking on the Appalachian Trail, then admitted at a weepy press conference that he had gone to visit his mistress in Buenos Aires.

When we spoke again two years later, Sanford said the ruckus over the stimulus had bothered him more than he had let on, and hinted it may have influenced his erratic behavior.

“There’s a remarkable loneliness when you push against the current,” he said. “It was the loneliest I’ve been in my life. It doesn’t justify my actions. But it was an unbelievably lonely time.”

59 comments
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RobertSF
RobertSF

Every so often, someone says of a politician that, yes, he's a conservative, but he's a genuine conservative, and not hypocritical like others. But that doesn't make it any better. It's like saying that someone is a sincere fascist. No matter how sincere, fascism is still objectionable, and the same goes for conservatism.

Conservatism is a morally indefensible position that favored absolute monarchy over constitutional monarchy, Divine Right over democracy, slavery over freedom, oppression over civil rights. Conservatives have supported every known form of inequality over efforts to reduce it.

NC doc
NC doc

I think we all should be as fiscally responsible as a guy who hops on his jet to South America to be with his mistress whenever he wants to.

sacredh
sacredh

Sanford was just a complete fool. He was married. He had sons that loved and respected him. His wife had tons of money. He was the governor and the dipsh1t thought he could fly to South America, have an affair and nobody would notice the governor was missing? There's stupid, and then there's Mark Sanford.

RealityBitesU
RealityBitesU

HAVE YOU NOTICED how these crazy postings come out by "conservatives"

that seem to divert and distract people from talking about the real

issues and the real facts, especially when those FACTS ARE SO DAMAGING

to the Republicans? They do this on purpose. Think about it. The info in

this article is pretty damaging. This pretty much proves that the

Republicans are to blame for the economic mess and America not

recovering quickly as we could have.  The Republicans have purposely

hurt

America.  Our America. Just in order to get back into power. This is

evidence. They don't want people discussing it. Ignore these

manipulators. Visit other sites and  discuss the issues don't get caught

up in their game.

miki801
miki801

Hmm. Sanford kept going on junkets and having sex and lying about it because the country was in debt.  He certainly gives a personal tilt to stimulus package.

Ivy_B
Ivy_B

Lots of news updates to folks mentioned here.

It seems Sanford has proposed to his girlfriend - wants to make an honest woman of her as they used to say.

http://www.wyff4.com/news/colu...

David Vitter supposedly tweeted to a 20 year old @LuvMy_Kisses. When questioned, it seems it was an inadvertent staff button hit. No doubt the GOP will be as relentless following up on this as it was with Anthony Wiener.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/...

sacredh
sacredh

Michael, thank you for this story. Have you ever wanted to tell one of them that their excuses are about the lamest and most ridiculous sh1t that you've ever heard? It must be hard to keep a straight face when listening to them.

Ohiolib
Ohiolib

Shorter GOP: it's only wrong when democrats do it. 

Jim Long
Jim Long

i thought his 15min was up.

LiberalLies2012
LiberalLies2012

"Defrocked" former Governor Mark Sanford is still a target for the lib-loony press represented by Michael Grunwald.

Pssssst Michael.  Sanford is no longer a Governor.  

The guy messed up big time.  He was ousted as Governor.  Should we start hounding those Democrats who are also guilty of the same "crimes" as he?  

Ex-offenders like Sanford still get busted up and down by the media, but Elliot Spitzer gets a TV show.  Unreal.  

I'm surprised you didn't use a more contemporary person like current Governor Mitch Daniels and reviewed his record with "austerity".  Why is that Michael?  Is it because it worked?

How about the current Governor of Ohio, John Kasich?  Hasn't he implemented dozens of "austerity" measures which show the unemployment rate in Ohio is among some of the best rates in the country?

Perhaps Governor Scott Walker.  Not only is he showing that cuts work, but that the bottom line for Wisconsin has improved drastically.  So much so that he was victorious in a recall election only 2 years after taking office.  

Rant and shill all you want Mr Grunwald.  The people in this country realize what dire straits we are in with spending.  States like Ohio, Indiana and Wisconsin are taking the hit now before it all falls apart later.  Our ONLY hope is a Romney Presidency, and to kick Obama to the curb.

nflfoghorn
nflfoghorn

And you don't see a problem with a governor being so hated consituents couldn't wait a full term to vote him out??

nflfoghorn
nflfoghorn

Sanford wasn't ousted--he served his full term.

And didn't quit mid-term like some well-paid ex-governor did.

RealityBitesU
RealityBitesU

 

HAVE YOU NOTICED how these crazy postings come out by

"conservatives" that seem to divert and distract people from talking

about the real issues and the real facts, especially when those FACTS ARE SO

DAMAGING to the Republicans? They do this on purpose. Think about it. The info

in this article is pretty damaging. This pretty much proves that the

Republicans are to blame for the economic mess and America not recovering

quickly as we could have.  The Republicans have purposely hurt  America.

 Our America. Just in

order to get back into power. This is evidence. They don't want people

discussing it. Ignore these manipulators. Visit other sites and  discuss

the issues, don't get caught up in their game.

ARTraveler
ARTraveler

LL rules-just change the subject to a Democrat.  Notice that the GOTP DOES hound Democrats who do the same thing and most resign while we can still see Senator Vitter (R-black book) in his seat and winning re-election.

LiberalLies2012
LiberalLies2012

It seems wearing diapers as an adult is not offensive to those voters in Louisiana. But look at Louisiana's history overall.

f_galton
f_galton

"GOP governors who denounced the stimulus as fiscal lunacy quietly used its aid to states to balance their hemorrhaging budgets."

Liberals who advocate higher taxes still take deductions, though I'm sure you're an exception. 

53underscore3
53underscore3

I'm fine with higher taxes.

I'm fine with getting these militantly entitled rich to pull their weight like the rest of us.

nflfoghorn
nflfoghorn

You don't get the irony.  Just the iron.

ARTraveler
ARTraveler

We take our lead from Mittens who said to use every legal method and tried to store all our excess cash in The Caymans, Bermuda, and Switzerland but they won't take less than $1.

nflfoghorn
nflfoghorn

Sanford purposely didn't accept stim $ .  

Lurch is doing the same thing.

So how is Sanford's stance more principled?

nflfoghorn
nflfoghorn

Have teh neocons purposely left this thread alone?

Sue_N.
Sue_N.

I … I don't even know where to start with this.

I mean, fine, give Sanford props for knowing, and saying out loud, that he’s a member of a party of hypocrites who have no problem spending like drunken sailors when they’re in charge, but suddenly discover their inner skinflint when the other party holds the purse strings. Not exactly a new revelation to most of us, but it’s nice to know one of them recognizes it as well.

But the rest of it … Seriously, where do these people get their belief that, when the economy is going to shytte, that’s the time to throw it into further shock by plunging into austerity? “We need to become a party of country doctors, telling people that this medicine won’t taste good at all, but you need it.” Really? Even if the medicine contains poison? When an economy, national or state (or, God forbid, both) is shedding jobs like a molting bird does its feathers, is that really the time to say, “Nope, sorry, not gonna help. I have my principles, you know. Yeah, it's gonna hurt (you, not me; I’ll still have a job), but we’re just gonna let the patient die. You'll thank me later (those of you that survive, that is).”

An ideologue who chooses ideology (and a deeply flawed one, at that) over people and then uses people’s suffering to advance his ideology isn’t “principled,” he’s dangerous. And despicable.

But then to go on and say he cheated on his wife because it’s “lonely” in Whackjobistan? I'm sorry, how long had he had his mistress? And wasn’t there at least one other? That’s not loneliness. That’s moral failure.

This is all just monstrous selfishness. Sanford’s ideology was more important than his duty to the people of his state, just as his lust for his mistress(-es) was more important than his duty to his family. IOW, “I got mine, screw you.”

Literally.

shepherdwong
shepherdwong

"Seriously, where do these people get their belief that, when the economy is going to shytte, that’s the time to throw it into further shock by plunging into austerity?"

Keep in mind, the Republican Party is no longer a governing party. It's an anti-government party.

jmac
jmac

Republicans believe government doesn't work, then they get in power and prove it.  

shepherdwong
shepherdwong

"Republicans believe government doesn't work..."

That's what they say (they're liars). Republicans make sure government doesn't work because government that works (regulates and taxes) cuts into profits and makes sure that the workers of society enjoy the fruits of their labors, rather than having them siphoned-off to the Mitt Romney's of America.

Sue_N.
Sue_N.

I know. But, see, I have this weakness. I keep thinking that because I value reason and logic, then others do as well. I keep forgetting that one of our (so-called) governing parties has gone not only crazy, but rock-stupid, too.

RobertSF
RobertSF

We need to recognize that as a liberal failing. Politics is not about reason and logic but about passion and prejudices. It is inherently adversarial, something that liberals can't quite seem to grasp.

Voters vote for you not based on what you promise (since campaign promises are never kept anyway) but based on how good you fight the other guy. If you put up a weak fight, it's thumbs down.

Liberals should learn to fight dirty. The reason and logic can be left for when they're actually in power.

AfGuyReturns
AfGuyReturns

They're part of the club...

Club members don't have to concern themselves with worries about "the others".

If "the others" were worth worrying about, they'd be members of the club, too.

See how easy that is?

shepherdwong
shepherdwong

“I sleep like a baby,” he said.

So do psychopaths. Just because you don't feel guilty doesn't mean you have nothing to feel guilty about.

ERenger
ERenger

Babies don't actually sleep very well. 

sacredh
sacredh

They do if Prince Valium sings them to sleep.

AfGuyReturns
AfGuyReturns

Yeah, I don't think he understands that psychopaths can sleep like a baby after doing some truly horrid things.

Not having a conscience does have its advantages, obviously.

sacredh
sacredh

Wakes up crying ans sh1ts his pants?

grape_crush
grape_crush

a) Didn't Newt Gingrich use the same type of excuse?

b)  Sanford said the ruckus over the stimulus had bothered him more than he

had let on, and hinted it may have influenced his erratic behavior.

Wasn't Sanford cheating on his wife at least as far back as 2008?

Sue_N.
Sue_N.

Adultery is the new patriotism.

ERenger
ERenger

By blaming politics, they can avoid the only other possible choice --- blaming their wives. 

Obviously they can't blame themselves. 

anon76returns
anon76returns

It takes a lot of soul searching and introspection to realize that you have only the other person to blame.

Glen Fiddich
Glen Fiddich

 b)  Perhaps that is what he meant by "stimulus"....

ERenger
ERenger

“There’s a remarkable loneliness when you push against the current,” he said. “It was the loneliest I’ve been in my life. It doesn’t justify my actions. But it was an unbelievably lonely time.”

-----------------

I'd say he made the right choice. If you are being crushed by loneliness, then an Argentine mistress is a lot more helpful than the Appalachian Trail.

ERenger
ERenger

"He believed he belonged to a party of hypocrites whose anti-spending fervor tended to cool whenever they had a chance to do some spending themselves."

----------

Well, he got that part right. 

deconstructiva
deconstructiva

MG, while we now know via Europe that austerity does NOT work – and thus Sanford’s mission was a fool’s errand (though the rest of the teavangelicals don’t yet realize this, but I digress) – it’s too bad to see that he lied to you. That was NOT “an unbelievably lonely time,” as his emails to his mistress proved….

.

http://www.thestate.com/2009/0...

Sue_N.
Sue_N.

Everybody in South Carolina had to learn to do without.

Except, y'know, him.

MrObvious
MrObvious

it may have influenced his erratic behavior.

Yeah....sure

sacredh
sacredh

it may have influenced his erotic behavior.

.

More truthful.

MrObvious
MrObvious

Yeah, now we know why he have always had a hard on for the deficite.