South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford is probably best known for his mysterious disappearance last summer that led to revelations of an extramarital affair. But at a Yale Political Union debate Tuesday, focused on his other recent claim to fame: his vocal opposition to federal stimulus money.
Sanford made his case for capitalism, small government and individual responsibility at the debate, whose tongue-in-cheek resolution was “Trust the Waffle House rather than the White House.”
In fact, the only mention of Sanford’s summer scandal came in his response to a question about an island house where he once lived. Now, Sanford said, it belongs to his wife.
Sanford said he expects to “be vindicated” for his opposition of stimulus money from the Obama administration. In an interview after the debate, he said he expects his state to see a $1.5 billion shortfall next year as a result of the federal stimulus funding. According to the Government Accountability Office, state governments have been using the money to fill short-term budget holes and avoid immediate layoffs instead of working toward long-term budget reform. Sanford has said that because governments like his will not have the funding in future fiscal years, their deficits will grow and become harder to manage.
Last year, Sanford was ordered by the South Carolina Supreme Court to accept $700 million in federal funding for public schools. He signed the paperwork accepting the funds in April 2009.
“When you’re beat, you’re beat in the world of politics, and you move on to the next fight,” he said after the debate.
Earlier during the debate, he had said politics is about “staying true to your principles.” Asked about the apparent contrast, Sanford said he would have been insane to keep continue to fight the stimulus package and expect to win.
Some 300 people packed the Sheffield-Sterling-Strathcona auditorium. The governor, introduced by YPU President Leah Libresco ’11 as a “hero to the budding Tea Party movement,” told the audience members they are witnessing a pivotal time in the battle between government and individual liberty. Sanford said during the debate that government dependence by the poor in post-Katrina New Orleans, coupled with the increased competition brought by globalization, bode poorly for Americans’ freedom.
“We live at the intersection of Hurricane Katrina and Thomas Friedman,” he said.
He added that although President George W. Bush ’68 made mistakes during his tenure, the aftermath of Katrina was not his fault. The governor emphasized that individuals themselves had responsibilities too, including choosing the right place to live.
“In New Orleans, there were people literally living 16 feet under the sea level, and you think there is some level of personal responsibility that goes with that,” he said to hisses, the YPU’s convention for expressing displeasure. “If you look at the Bible, written 2,000 years ago, it has very clear descriptions of where you build a house. You build it on a rocky foundation, not sandy soil.”
Backing off, Sanford said society always talks about rugged individualism and independence but also help from the government at every turn. But with increased dependence, he added, the size of government will soon balloon out of control.
Sanford said more important than restricting government is that everyone take an active role in politics: “With great power comes great responsibility,” he said, quoting “Spider-Man” (although he could not remember the film’s name).
The governor said after the debate that he likes the Tea Party movement because it is an instance where regular people are participating in political discourse.
“The more voices, the merrier,” he said.
Libresco said after the debate that its high energy level was great to see. Adam Stempel ’11, director of development for the YPU, said that although he disagrees with the governor’s position, he found Sanford to be “terrific.”