Sanford’s Parting Shot on Partisan Politics
After Congressman Mark Sanford lost his re-election bid in the South Carolina primary Tuesday, he delivered some somber points about partisan politics.
What do you really expect from the people you elect? Is it only partisan politics or do you want them to think for themselves?
Congressman Mark Sanford was hoping to advance in the South Carolina Republican Primary Tuesday night to keep his seat in the 1st Congressional District.
Sanford, who has openly criticized President Donald Trump, was attacked by some Republicans who seemed to argue that attacking the president — when the president is in your same party — should be a fireable offense.
Some voters apparently agreed.
At the end of the night, before the race was even officially called in his competitor’s favor, he delivered what amounted to a concession speech, making it clear that he could tell that from the numbers he was seeing up to that point, he was likely to lose.
But what happened next was a very personal essay on his view of serving constituents. He said he had always kept his promises to keep the interests of his district in mind. But he suggested that promises he said he has made consistently seemed to take a backset to partisan politics:
A lot of these town hall meetings I’ve had over the last couple of years, they’re vigorous, and people will tell you what they think, but oftentimes they’re not listening that much to each other. And if we’re going to solve these problems, Republicans, Democrat or Independent, whatever you are, one, we’ve got to be humbly listening, but two, it’s important that we don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.
He also talked about politics in America and in the Republican Party itself having reached what he described as “an inflection point.” In business language, that’s essentially a “turning point.” He said he has always believed in being the party being in one of less taxes and less in the way of government. But he said the promises he made over the years — to uphold those ideas — “aren’t selling in this particular political climate.”
The big question politicians face
What I found most interesting is something his opponent referred to as well. It was a question both said they were asked often by would-be voters:
Because a lot of people would come to me over the course of this campaign and say to me, “Are you for or against Trump?” And I’d say, “I’m neither for nor against Trump.”
I’m for ideas that I’ve long stood for over the entirety of my time in politics based on limited government. And inasmuch as he agrees with those ideas of limited government, and market principle and the voice of local folks, I’m going to agree with the president. And on those issues on which he disagrees, I’m going to disagree with the president.
It may have cost me an election in this case, but I stand by every one of those decisions to disagree with the president because I didn’t think it, at the end of the day, was either concurrent with the promises I made when I first ran for office or the voices of the very people of the First District that I represent.
The question is, should that have cost him an election if that is indeed what did cost him a victory?
The bigger question, I think, is what do we want in our lawmakers?
If we elect a Republican president and a Republican congressman, must those two always agree? Must they always be on exactly the same page?
I look at churches, where even people who are in the same denomination, the same church, and indeed even sitting on the same pew may have fundamental disagreements with the message being delivered on a Sunday morning.
What are we, as a society, supposed to expect from our leaders?
No matter whether you’re a Republican, a Democrat, or neither, I would ask you to consider what you expect when you feel a decision made at the federal level seems out of line with the best interests of your family at the local level.
Do you really want your local leader to go along with the federal decision just because the person in the White House happens to belong to the same party?
Before you answer that, let’s reverse the scenario: let’s suppose the person you didn’t vote for is in the White House and makes the same decision. Let’s say the more local lawmaker is also one you didn’t vote for. The federal level makes a decision that may be good for the country as a whole, but might hit your area particularly hard: What would you expect that lawmaker to do?
I think it’s easier to condemn the lawmaker who isn’t of your political ilk for not “standing up” to the president who also isn’t of your political ilk.
You might call any lawmaker who didn’t put the local interests first as cowardly.
But if it’s your party (or at least the people you voted for), that are involved, somehow the motive isn’t considered; only the action is.
I’m not trying to preach my politics here one way or the other. But I was struck by Sanford’s comments and the bigger notion of what we want from our local lawmakers.
If all we want as an electorate is a lawmaker who will parrot whatever our president says, it leads to an even bigger question: Do we really need local lawmakers at all? Do we need a Congress, or is the president enough?
‘Shall we play a game?’
Remember the movie WarGames from the early 1980s? The opening premise was that when the president gives the order to launch a nuclear attack, that president’s decision could be hampered by individuals monitoring the missle silos who may be too “cowardly” or too “weak” to actually turn the key to launch the missles. The suggestion is to “take the men out of the silos” and give full control to the national level, so when the order is given, there is no human element to question it.
If you’ve watched the film before, you know the implications to which the plot nearly leads.
But the scenario Sanford proposed, and what he suggested may have had a hand in pushing him out of office, whether correct or not, certainly should give everyone pause.
Let’s assume for a moment that Sanford’s assessment is actually correct.
If we don’t want politicians questioning or in any way criticizing the president, what are they there for?
If they’re not allowed to think for themselves, why do we spend the money as taxpayers on their salary?
If following “the voters” means following without deviation what is said and done in the Oval Office, are these middle cogs really all that necessary in the kind of America these voters appear to want?
If the reason Sanford lost — even in a small degree — is because he wasn’t afraid to publicly disagree with the president, then why wouldn’t we want to take our representatives out of those silos?
All of us, I think, need to take time to consider what our votes mean. If voting for a specific candidate means we’re supposed to agree with every position that candidate — or even its party — takes, I would think we’d have a lot more political parties out there.
There’s a reason fewer and fewer people seem to be considering themselves as pure Democrat or pure Republican.
It’s barely possible that somewhere in between — even if not quite dead center — seems to be a better match for some voters. But when almost no candidates run without either the label of the right or left, is our only option, then to go full throttle to the edge of either side?
What do you want in your elected leaders?