Politics and Principles in South Carolina

South Carolina is a peculiar state. It’s managed to produce both Lindsey Graham and Mark Sanford, two politicians who come from the same place but are literally like oil and water. Graham is the model of the kind of Republican who infiltrated the party after the Reagan era. He’s religiously conservative, completely irresponsible on budgetary issues and has a record on civil liberties which can only be described as embarrassing. Abe Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt and Barry Goldwater wouldn’t have recognized him as a Republican at all. He’s like an old-style southern Democrat but with less integrity. Mark Sanford is almost his exact opposite. He’s fiscally conservative and a strong supporter of civil and individual liberty. He’s in the Goldwater tradition and willing to stick by his prinsiples whatever the cost.

Being from the same state it’s inevitable that two such opposite politicians would clash. When Sanford held firm and opposed federal bailout money for the state, Graham tried to end-run him in the Congress and play havoc with states rights by giving legislatures federal authority to override governors to accept federal money. Last weekend at the South Carolina Republican Convention it’s not surprising that there were some fireworks.

On the floor Graham made a speech arguing for compromising Republican principles and moving to the center and was heckled by members of the audience who were Ron Paul supporters. In response he made a strong statement against libertarianism, saying:

“I am not a libertarian. If you are, you’re welcome to vote for me and help this party, but we’re not going to build a party around libertarian ideas. I am a Ronald Reagan, Strom Thurmond, Lindsey Graham, Carrol Campbell Republican.”

It was certainly not news to anyone that Graham isn’t a libertarian, and his self-identification with former Democrats, segregationists and pork barrel spendocrats tells the whole story about why so many in South Carolina aren’t happy with their senior Senator.

More interesting than Graham’s remarks was Governor Sanford’s reaction a few minutes later when someone stopped him in the hallway and asked him what he thought about Graham’s comments on libertarianism. Sanford went on at length, and said:

“It’s funny it was almost a pejorative comment a moment ago. Senator Graham spoke and said ‘I’m not a libertarian’, and whatever, whatever, as if that’s an evil word. Liberty is the hallmark of the American expriment. That is the distinguishing characteristic of our republic and frankly, what’s made it great. In my comments last night I said that is the genius of America, of affording liberty so that in your pursuit of happiness versus my pursuit of happiness and the dreams that went with that you uunleash individual initiative that can’t be there with central planning. People say, you know, ‘Mark, you’re kind of libertarian’ and they’ll say it as if it’s an evil word like ‘You’re a communist’ or something. I’m like ‘Throw me in that brier patch. I’m guilty. I love liberty’ and I think that ought to be a good thing and I don’t think that it should be something that people back away from. I’ve been accused of being a libertarian and I wear it as a badge of honor, because I believe in, love and support liberty.”

Sanford expressed a vision of the Republican Party which strongly contrasted with Graham’s concept of a party of appeasement and opportunism. Sanford offered a positive vision of a party which embraces rights and individual liberty and enterprise and initiative, a party like the GOP which freed the slaves and fought the monopolies and championed civil rights and won the cold war. Sanford seems to understand that the arguments between conservatives and moderates in the party is meaningless and that the party needs to move on a course perpendicular to the old ideas of right and left, in the direction of liberty.

Lindsey Graham represents the worst of the failures of the post-Reagan GOP. It’s not just that he doesn’t want to be a libertarian. He doesn’t want to be in a party which bases its policies on principles at all. Sanford seems to understand that ideals and principles and doing the right thing matter. He represents hope for a better future for the party and a return to real Republican values.


About Dave 536 Articles
Dave Nalle has worked as a magazine editor, a freelance writer, a capitol hill staffer, a game designer and taught college history for many years. He now designs fonts for a living and lives with his family in a small town just outside Austin where he is ex-president of the local Lions Club. He is on the board of the Republican Liberty Caucus and Politics Editor of Blogcritics Magazine. You can find his writings about fonts, art and graphic design at The Scriptorium. He also runs a conspiracy debunking site at IdiotWars.com.


  1. Golly Dave, for once I disagree with you 100%. Lindsey won re-election in SC by a huge margin, one of the largest GOP margins in the nation. Mark Sanford is considered by South Carolinians who have been life-long Republicans to be the very worst GOP governor they’ve ever had. He’s a grandstanding incompetent. He talks a good game about taxes, but refused to reinstate a a tax measure that would allow incoming industry to get tax breaks, costing the state many jobs. Lindsey, on the other hand, is basically “beloved” by the normal, average Republican.

    Don’t believe the Ron Paul Bot hype. Lindsey has also been the target of the anti-immigration hard-liners to the point where they started a very nasty campaign against him from out of state. In fact, his worst foes are not from South Carolina, but are hard line conservatives who are from outside of SC.

    What the Ron Paul Bots, and Mark Sanford in his nasty little melt-down did not admit is that fact that there is some very bad blood between Lindsey and the Greenville County GOP to they point where, last summer, they voted to censor him. The hard-line conservatives ran an extreme hard-line far right candidate, Buddy Witherspoon, against him in the primaries. Witherspoon was an agent of the Tanton machine with connections to VDare, and that lovely little bunch.

    Several weeks ago Lindsey had a run-in with a few of these same people in Greenville, where he basically told them off then. The “Boos” that everyone is taking about last weekend amounted to basically one Ron Paul Bot harassing Lindsey. The rest of the crowd gave him a standing “O”.

    Lindsey is one of the finest men to ever serve in Washington. He is a true patriot and a man of honor (which Mark Sanford is not). The far right has told such lies about him that he is now considered to be “moderate” or even “liberal” when that is very much not the truth at all. He has something like a lifetime 90% ACU rating.

    Sanford is grandstanding to run for POTUS. He’s already sold out Palin. He would sell his grandmother for a vote or a sound-bite if he could.

    I think you are going to get a big fat Blogcritics piece about this (when I have time to sit down and write it).

    The Pink Flamingo

  2. Obviously the perspective on this from within SC and from those of us looking at the two of them from a national perspective is very different.

    Graham’s record as a legislator is very unappealing. Despite the bizarre belief that he’s some sort of moderate, his record on social issues is hardcore conservative and his record on fiscal issues makes him one of the worst tax and spenders in Washington. Those of us who want to reform the GOP see Graham as an example of where the party has gone wrong. You’re quite right that he’s not really a moderate — it might be bette rif he were.

    Sanford, on the other hand, looks good to those of us who want reform on a nationwide basis. The things he’s done that you see as negatives we see as positives. We like the idea that he’s against corporate tax breaks. And we don’t mind that he has broken with Palin and the paleocons. We LIKE his libertarianism and want it to spread.


  3. I’m from South Carolina. I may live in New Mexico, but I grew up in the SCGOP. I have many contacts back in SC. My best friend emailed the other day: “Sanford is an idiot, the worst governor we’ve ever had.”

    The perspective from within SC is a little bit shaded by the hard-core conservatives who have promoted a tremendous amount of hate against Lindsey because he refused to bow to the Tanton crew. Lindsey is extremely well liked and respected in the state – a far cry from how Sanford is seen.

    This libertarian phase for Sanford is just another way to get attention.

    The Pink Flamingo

  4. If Sanford is so hated, how did he manage to win reelection witha 55% majority in the lst election. That’s not exactly squeeking by.

    Sure, the hardcore right doesn’t like Sanford and is willing to accept Graham because he plays along. But if one thing is clear it’s that the GOP needs to change, and getting rid of the blue hairs who have dragged the party down to destruction is the first step.


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