Why must we choose
between vision and effectiveness?
By BRAD WARTHEN
EDITORIAL PAGE EDITOR
THIS IS THE election year for complementary pairs. For treasurer we have the Brash Rich Kid vs. Everybody’s Granddaddy. For lieutenant governor, Mr. Mature is challenging Wild Thing.
But the most marked dichotomy is at the top of the ticket. On one side, we have incumbent Gov. Mark Sanford, a policy wonk who has all sorts of ideas, but who can’t get anything done. The fact that he can’t get anything done is both a bad thing and a good thing, because some of his ideas (restructuring state government) are excellent, while others (paying people to abandon public schools) are very, very bad.
Opposing him is veteran state Sen. Tommy Moore, a “git ’er done” kind of guy. He prides himself on bringing together lawmakers from across the spectrum who may be miles apart on a given issue, and getting them to sit down and work something out. He can flat get a bill passed, sometimes in the face of considerable odds.
While he can do what the governor can’t, Sen. Moore is lacking in the very department where the governor is blessed with an overabundance. When I suggested as much to him last week, noting that he seemed to lack as strict and specific an agenda as the governor’s, he said rather grumpily that “I’m glad you didn’t say I didn’t have ideas.”
Well, I didn’t. But by the time the interview was over, he had provided little in the way of specific proposals. If I put all the ideas he set forth in that meeting in my pants pocket, I could turn it inside-out without making much of a mess on the floor.
This is not good. I’ve lived all over the country, and I’ve never seen a state that needed principled, effective leadership as much as my dear native South Carolina.
Some would say I’m asking too much. But people who would fit that bill do exist in our state. Charleston Mayor Joe Riley for one. U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham for another. They have vision, they see how things are connected, they see what needs to be done, and they have the skills to work with political friend and foe alike to bring about results that represent significant progress.
But they aren’t running for governor. Instead, we get an ideologue who is so into libertarian think-tank theories that he has no idea how to persuade real people — even in his own party — to work with him. That’s been our governor for four years. And our alternative is a very grounded, realistic veteran deal-maker who can work with whatever you bring to the table, but who doesn’t throw much on it himself.
This is not to say Tommy Moore lacks principles. In fact, I’d say his principles — grounded as they are in real-life experiences — are probably closer to those of the average South Carolinian than the hothouse hypotheses of the incumbent. He’s certainly a lot closer to me when it comes to understanding the role that government must play in improving life for all South Carolinians.
“I agree with those folks who are saying, ‘More money isn’t the answer’: More money isn’t necessarily the answer,” Sen. Moore said. “But I can guarantee you that less money over the last three and a half years hasn’t gotten us anywhere.”
He said he would want his legacy to be that he made government more efficient in performing its legitimate functions.
“The government can be a partner to people,” he said. “Government isn’t evil. You don’t need to starve government to where it’s small enough to drown in a bathtub.” That’s a reference to the governor’s ideological ally Grover Norquist, who has said that’s his ultimate goal as leader of a national anti-tax group.
“The easiest thing is to come to Columbia and be against something,” said the senator. “The hard thing is to be for something.”
Trouble is, it’s hard to find much that Sen. Moore is for, specifically, when it comes to education. He’s definitely against being against the public schools. But that doesn’t quite add up to being for a substantive agenda for moving the schools forward.
He wants to improve prenatal health care and early childhood education. He wants comprehensive tax reform. He would pursue economic development for rural areas. But when you dig for specifics, they are scarce. He keeps saying he wants to hear other people’s ideas. He’s confident he can then sell the good ones to the Legislature.
The general impression is that he would be a reactive governor who would deal with things as they were brought to him, but would not initiate particular proposals.
By contrast, the current governor is all about throwing out his ideas to see what will happen — which, generally, is nothing, except for a lot of hard feelings.
He claims that his pushing of extreme ideas such as the “Put Parents in Charge” bill has led to accelerating public school choice and the development of charter schools. So should we interpret his advocacy of paying people to abandon public schools as a mere strategy to achieve some more moderate goal?
No, he admits, “because I actually take those extreme positions.” He laughed, and said “I would love to get there if I could.”
Ultimately, he said South Carolina needs someone who believes in fundamental change, not someone who knows how to work the system.
“We come from different vantage points,” the governor said of himself and Sen. Moore. “I come from outside the system; he comes from within.”
“He’s basically said the system ain’t broke…. We say the system is broke.” So if he gets four more years, will we be able to look back and say the system is fixed to any degree? “Nah,” he said. “The political system is such that we all know that you never get the whole bite of any apple.” Nevertheless, he hopes he’d have “a material impact” on government restructuring.
The governor misses the point. It’s not an either/or. South Carolina needs a governor who is not only committed to positive change, but who also has the ability to work with others to make that change come about.
Once again, when we go to the polls Nov. 7, we won’t be offered a candidate who fits that description. We need and deserve better.
Why must we choose