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.