In last week’s Best of Charleston issue, City Paper readers picked Gov. Mark Sanford as our “Best Conservative” and rightfully so.

“Facing budget deficits and high unemployment, Sanford has opposed the state legislature’s pet projects and the White House’s economic stimulus,” the write-up read. “The controversial governor’s logic may not be practical, but it is conservative.” In these tough economic times, accusing conservatives like Sanford of not being “practical” for opposing massive spending has been a common liberal theme.

During a press conference last week, President Barack Obama was asked about the plummeting stock market, the rapidity of which many believe has been caused by anxiety over the president’s spending plans. According to the president, worsening market reactions to his plans should be ignored as we focus on long-term recovery. “What I am looking for is not the day-to-day gyrations of the stock market … but the long-term,” Obama said.

Liberals continue to praise the cool-headed and “practical” approach of Obama, who they believe has the good sense to spend whatever it takes to rescue the economy. And while Obama is at liberty to declare that spending is needed to address our immediate economic concerns, conservatives who dare take the long view are chastised for not being practical, if not ideologically insane.

On one point, Obama is right. In inheriting a terrible economy from a terrible Republican administration that took spending to unprecedented heights, the president’s critics in the GOP are mighty rich to criticize spending now. But Obama is also essentially vindicating Bush economics — or as Vice President Dick Cheney said of his own administration’s spending, “Deficits don’t matter.”

Unlike Bush, Obama, and the majority of both parties, Sanford is one of the few leaders who has been consistently practical on government spending. Sanford was the only governor who traveled to Capitol Hill last November, not to accept the John McCain, Lindsey Graham, George W. Bush-sponsored stimulus package, but to oppose it.

While GOP Govs. Bobby Jindal and Sarah Palin held their hands out, Sanford said before the House Ways and Means Committee, “I’m here to beg of you not to approve or advance the contemplated $150 billion stimulus package … This $150 billion salve may in fact further infect our economy with unnecessary government influence and unintended fiscal consequences.”

In criticizing Obama’s recent stimulus, Sanford stated similar concerns: “The president’s stimulus represents the largest and most invasive economic action in our government’s history. For a relatively small number of short-term jobs, this administration and this Congress are poised to mortgage the economic future of my four boys and the millions of young Americans just like them. To me, that’s simply not a morally acceptable outcome.”

Is Sanford driven by his free-market ideology? Of course he is. Genuine conservatives have long argued that the same penny-pinching practiced by families and businesses that strive to live within budgets should also apply to government. But the notion that Sanford’s dedication to these elementary economic principles has blinded him to practical statesmanship is absurd and ignores the fact that Obama’s New Deal ideology is as integral to his big spending agenda as any alleged statesmanship the Left continues to ascribe to him.

For decades, the ordinary activities of government have been to saddle American businesses and workers with a monstrous debt, forever increasing the size and scope of government, all under the auspices of good intentions. Liberals are right to call Sanford impractical in the sense that he seeks not to conduct the same wasteful government business as usual, but to rebuke it in the hopes that the economic woes South Carolinians and Americans at large are now suffering don’t extend to their children and grandchildren. Unlike Sanford, Obama doesn’t represent “change,” but continuity.

Some believe that Sanford has become such a vocal oppponent of Obama’s stimulus plan because the governor plans to make a presidential run in 2012. The American Conservative‘s Michael Brendan Dougherty writes, “Official Washington has no memory, demands largesse, and prizes optimism as its cardinal virtue. But Sanford is haunted by the past, tight with a checkbook, and worried about [the] future. If he has any chance, it’s because he sounds a lot like the rest of us.”

And if the rest of us have any chance, it will come not from ideologues masquerading as statesmen like Obama, but genuine statesmen like Sanford, whose practicality informs his ideology — and whose conservative long-term view promises the only practical solution.

Catch Southern Avenger commentaries every Tuesday and Friday at 7:50 a.m. on the “Morning Buzz with Richard Todd” on 1250 AM WTMA.

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