Tuesday, December 02, 2008

The Insurgent Governors: Mark Sanford, Rick Perry, Sarah Palin, Mitt Romney

By Bernie Quigley

- for The Hill on 12/2/08

First there was one, now there are twice as many.

When Mark Sanford, Governor of South Carolina, appeared before the House Ways and Means Committee last month and respectfully begged them to please stop sending money to his state he was greeted with outright hostility. Sander Levin, Democratic representative from Michigan, hovered over him: “You’re preaching to the wrong choir,” he said.

But when y’all build stuff and make things in our state, said Sanford, its always stuff we don’t want or need and you never do stuff we do need. Then you make us pay back all the money for the stuff we didn’t want in the first place.

The others seemed mystified. We’re not used to having governors come up here and ask us to stop sending money, one said politely. But the Michigan representative was all sketched out. Where does a Southern governor get the cayones to tell the federal government what it needs? The atmosphere became so hostile that it gave Charlie Rangel, representative from New York, the willies. He and he alone thanked the governor for coming.

Sanford’s message was simple: We are on a clearly unsustainable track in regard to spending. He followed up with an essay in The Wall Street Journal shortly after. Today he has another one and now he is not alone. Republican Governor Rick Perry of Texas co-authors the article. Not everyone wants a free lunch, say the governors. The article is titled Governors Against State Bailouts.

As governors and citizens, these two have grown increasingly concerned over the past weeks as Washington has thrown bailout after bailout at the national economy with little to show for it.

“In the process,” they write, “the federal government is not only burying future generations under mountains of debt. It is also taking our country in a very dangerous direction -- toward a "bailout mentality" where we look to government rather than ourselves for solutions.”

They are asking other governors from both sides of the political aisle to join with them in opposing further federal bailout intervention.

Not to worry, says Paul Krugman, Princeton economist, New York Times columnist and recent Nobel laureate, who sees again through the eyes of Roosevelt: The young ones will want it. We will build for them a Utopia.

No, say the insurgent governors: We're crossing the Rubicon with regard to debt.
One fact that's been continually glossed over in the bailout debate is that Washington doesn't have money in hand for any of these proposals. Every penny would be borrowed. Estimates for what the government is willing to spend on bailouts and stimulus efforts for this year reach as much as $7.7 trillion according to Bloomberg.com -- a full half of the United States' yearly economic output.

“With all the zeroes in the numbers,” they write, “it's no wonder Washington politicians have lost track.”

Sanford went to Congress in the freshman class of 1994, a “new Republican” hoping to challenge federal spending. What happened? “We got trapped in the world of governance,” he said.

My own thought was that Congress, the federal governing body, was not the best approach and that this was a job for governors. Draining the fed would only make for a weak and anemic federal government and country. Governors, on the other hand, if they would find some new independence of mind and pocketbook, could more effectively assess needs and demand a greater voice in their destiny. They could look to solve problems tailored to region and local need and purpose as a corporation might, avoiding, in Mitt Romney’s phrase, the “one size fits all” approach of the feds.

But the deficit figure in 1994 was miniscule compared to today: Former U.S. Comptroller General David Walker puts our nation's total debt and unpaid promises, like Social Security, at roughly $52 trillion -- an invisible mortgage of $450,000 on every American household, say the governors.

These two governors are not really alone. There will be more.

Sarah Palin, Governor of Alaska, brought spirit to the heartland and hit a nerve in the Eastern Establishment when she said during the campaign that she sent money back to the federal government which wanted to build a bridge to nowhere. If they wanted a bridge in Alaska, she said, “ . . . we would pay for it ourselves.” A radical idea in our times.

But maybe ours is a time of straw men, cowardly lions and tin men; gods all that are failing, waiting for a Dorothy to rise from the heartland and restore their spirit again. That and a hurricane, like the one which Governor Palin brought to the Republican convention.

In such times it is maybe not best to see with the eyes of Roosevelt but of Lao Tsu: To see form rising out of formlessness; formlessness which falls first into a quaternity, like Dorothy’s, at new beginnings. Mitt Romney could well be the fourth corner of this group.

When the Roosevelt Re-enactors called for a bailout of Detroit’s Big Three, Romney offered a principled, knowledgeable and experienced position against it that gels nicely with these three other governors.

If Romney signed on with them it would be a definitive moment for the Republican Party and possibly for the country. They will be going against the tide, going against history and going against popular opinion which is rolling now like thunder on the prairie.

They will also need an attitude like that of the sparky wide receiver for the New England Patriots, Wes Welker, who said over the weekend, “I didn’t feel nothin’,” when he was run over by a train. Get ready.

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