As the McCain veep watch chugs on, one name that's come up repeatedly is that of South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford, whom fiscal conservatives love. One thing that's not as widely known about Sanford, though--and one reason why it might not be realistic to expect Republicans to be enthusiastic about his selection--is that he's a harsh critic of the Bush administration's power grab in the wake of 9/11. Sanford appeared last week (with Democratic Senator Jon Tester) at the Cato Institute in Washington to voice his opposition to the REAL ID Act, which he considers an affront to individual liberty and states' rights (McCain supports the act). Here's what Sanford told me in a brief interview after the event:
TNR: What sort of sacrifices is it reasonable to ask citizens to make in the war on terror, in terms of privacy? Is there anything that citizens will have to give up, compared to what they were used to before 9/11?
MS: I don't see 9/11 as a seminal event in that regard. Liberty is the ultimate homeland security, and anybody who promises, 'I can take care of this problem for you,' at the end of the day, I don't think is telling the truth. … Tragically, post-9/11, there's been a lot of earnest, well-intentioned but ultimately destructive activity that expanded federal power inappropriately and encroached upon state authority.
TNR: How would you assess President Bush's record in the realm of homeland security and the war on terror?
MS: History will be the ultimate judge. I will say, though, that I unabashedly come from the conservative side of the ledger. I think that some of his policies not been particularly conservative in their approach. In the long run, I believe that that undermines both homeland security and liberty.
McCain, of course, has also voiced displeasure with some aspects of Bush's record in this regard, so perhaps it's not as implausible a choice as it might seem. But given that the Republican Party's intellectual establishment has wedded itself to a theory of untrammeled executive power as a response to the ongoing war on terror, one wonders if the fiscal conservatives championing Sanford realize that in many respects, when it comes to the role of the state, he's a quasi–civil libertarian who's closer to Ron Paul and Bob Barr than to any other major figure in the party.