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Why Mark Sanford's fight for conservatism means fighting the GOP

Just Say No to Government

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Frustrated with Gov. Mark Sanford's refusal to accept $700 million in federal stimulus dollars and his opposition to the state budget, S.C. Senate President Pro Tem Glenn McConnell addressed the governor in an open letter this month, writing, "Time and again, you have failed to address problems in a constructive manner and proactively work with the Legislature to find solutions."

Noting Sanford's constant opposition to the Republican-dominated state legislature, McConnell added, "While the attacks you have launched may have been intended to build your national image as a reformer, in the final analysis, the work of a true reformer is measured not by words or TV ads or by press releases, but by what he or she has been able to accomplish."

McConnell has a point. But it's also nearly impossible to accomplish anything when there's only one reformer.

There are two types of "conservative" Republicans. The first type believes that government is broken, but simply needs Republicans to better manage it, while the other believes we need to actually reduce government. The first type can enjoy long careers by peppering their continuing support for the status quo with conservative-sounding language. The second type tends to make fewer friends because their career-long language consists of telling Democrats, Republicans, and even their constituents one word: "No."

Texas Congressman Ron Paul earned the name "Dr. No" in the House of Representatives for opposing most legislation brought to the floor. During his tenure in Congress, Sanford joined Paul in saying "no" more than any other congressman. Would America have been better served if Paul and Sanford tried to work more with the rest of the legislature to help bring us to our current state? Or might we have been better off if there were more leaders willing to consistently say "no" to more laws, more spending, and more government in general?

Consider the example of New Mexico's own "Dr. No," former Republican Gov. Gary "Veto" Johnson, who earned his nickname for vetoing 750 bills from 1995 to 2003, more than all the vetoes of the other 49 governors combined. Johnson also cut the growth of his state's government in half, privatized half of the state's prisons, reduced state employees by 1,000, oversaw the longest period without a tax increase in the state's history, and left office with a budget surplus. No doubt, New Mexico leaders wanted to spend as much money as South Carolina's legislature or any other state government. But Johnson constantly said "no," and was able to do some good.

The bloated budget and massive debt that continues to plague the state of South Carolina is a microcosm of the bloated budget and massive debt that continues to plague the entire United States. Everyone from across the political spectrum will generally agree that such reckless behavior is a problem and we cannot go on forever conducting business as usual. Yet when any leader dares to reverse course by saying "no," such leaders will invariably find themselves being attacked for daring to obstruct business as usual. The same state legislature that created our current economic woes are the same leaders who are now saying Sanford is the problem, as if a more cooperative gubernatorial extension of themselves would be preferable and somehow produce different, better results.

When Ronald Reagan was elected in 1980, the new president hung a portrait in the White House of his hero, President Calvin Coolidge. Author Ivan Eland described Coolidge as a president who believed the United States had too many laws. He once said, "We would be better off if we didn't have anymore ... The greatest duty and opportunity of government is not to embark on any new ventures." But as it was in his own time, Coolidge's conservative philosophy remains unpopular today, where "good" or "great" leaders are always defined as those who expand the power of government to accomplish certain goals. The opposite is also true, and it was for this reason that Time magazine once felt compelled to declare Sanford one of America's "worst governors" for his habit of constantly opposing government.

I'm often criticized for bashing Republicans, but I do so because it's hard to take most of them seriously. Any Republican who talks about "fiscal responsibility," yet spends as much as any Democrat, whether at the national or state level, is completely worthless. Unfortunately, this description fits the bulk of the Republican Party. Most Republicans aren't the least bit serious about their conservative rhetoric.

And as America continues to spiral downward the longer spending goes upward, the few, serious conservatives willing to say "no" to government will always get the loudest "yes" from me.

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