The former Governor and United States Congressman from the great state of South Carolina, Mark Sanford, re-emerged from a self-imposed exile last month to test the political waters for a potential run against Donald J. Trump in the Republican presidential primary in 2020. Never mind that Mr. Sanford’s tone-deaf never-Trumper stance — coupled with how he held back his campaign funds in his typical form — landed the seasoned politician in the unemployment line when he lost the primary for his congressional seat to state representative Katie Arrington in June 2018, opening the door for the Dems to purloin what was once considered a safe conservative seat in one of the nation’s top 10 conservative states.
Dragging his baggage and the ghost of Nostradamus along behind him, Mr. Sanford recently returned to the political limelight to deliver a dire economic forecast for America’s future.
Before the conservative voters in the state’s first district lost that loving feeling for Mr. Sanford, we knew one thing about him for sure … he understands that the federal government is penniless, but for the rolls of cash they pick from the pockets of America’s citizens. So it was no surprise that the tight-fisted (I always liked that about him) Mr. Sanford was talking, in part, about the proposed $2 trillion infrastructure bill President Trump recently penned with the Dem leadership that would add yet another sizeable chunk of change to the country’s already staggering debt tab, a tab many of us expect our children and grandchildren to pick up.
“The fastest growing area of the federal government that you and I owe is interest payments,” stated Mr. Sanford in a conversation with a Greenville-based reporter in July. “Those numbers are going to more than triple over the next 10 years.” He added, “This thing is spiraling out of control.”
Despite still being mightily peeved with Mr. Sanford regarding certain matters, all of which I’m sure he’s acutely aware, I agree that a hard discussion about the gargantuan growth of our national debt and deficit and the long-term implications of what that means to the future of our nation is definitely in order. [Whether or not challenging an incumbent president — with a rabidly loyal constituency, no less — in a primary election is the proper venue for such a discussion has yet to be determined.] Clearly, debt has a positive role to play in growing an economy, but where’s the tipping point? Specifically, which dollar tipped the scales from a positive to a negative economic impact?
One of the freshly minted bills tucked among its 1.7 billion other little friends on a plane to Iran, perhaps?
It just so happened that in the days preceding Mr. Sanford’s public prognostication about the growth of our nation’s debt and deficit, I had been giving the concept of “growth” a long, hard mulling over, though my mulling was more in the “all politics are local” category. If you’ve been stuck in traffic lately (what am I saying, of course you’ve been stuck in traffic lately) it’s difficult NOT to think about the quantum growth of the Lowcountry during that last decade or two. Amid the exhaust fumes, the blaring car horns and displays of obscene hand gestures among neighbors, the “traffic jam” seems the quintessential symbol of growth gone awry. I keep wondering, which tree ripped from the ground while most of us slept became the tipping point between positive growth and negative growth for our local community? Which new storage facility? Which multi-family apartment complex? In the spirit of U.S. Representative Hank Johnson’s fear that stationing 8,000 Marines on Guam might cause the island to tip over and capsize, I wonder which additional hotel room (no doubt in my mind it will be a hotel room) will cause the Charleston peninsula to snap off into Charleston Harbor (recall Charlie Geer’s novel, “Outbound”), permanently closing the history book on the Holy City?
As I’m driving along the Lowcountry’s highways, getting nowhere fast, I often crank up WEZL, “the Weasel,” listening for the soothing voice of Darius Rucker and contemplating the tipping point in the brand of growth in which the well-being of citizens is sacrificed for growth’s own sake. Author Malcolm Gladwell, in his best-selling book entitled, “The Tipping Point,” defines the tipping point as “the moment of critical mass, the threshold, the boiling point.” I’m not exactly sure when we got there, but we’re definitely there. The livability of the entire area is now at stake.
When I’m stuck in traffic, occasionally I get lucky and spot my favorite bumper sticker that reads, “We Full.” Kudos to the genius who so cleverly summarized the frustrations of an entire region that’s quickly losing that loving feeling for our elected officials who justify “just one more” for the sake of growth. I checked out the “We Full” Facebook page and discovered their delightful tagline that reads, “We need to go back to being empty.” Makes me giggle every time I read it.
“We Full” is not only the slogan of a growing movement gaining momentum across the Charleston Lowcountry, it may one day serve as the rallying cry of the next rebellion. It could also be adapted to many other regions across the country, such as the cities along our southern border with Mexico. The creators of the “We Full” movement should also be looking at marketing their wares in San Francisco, as I’m hearing the Golden Gate City is definitely full of something.
Allow me a closing point of clarity. Growth isn’t a bad thing. In many communities, growth actually has a positive impact of the quality of life of a citizenry. On the other hand, growth for growth’s sake can devastate a community. I fear we’ve long past the tipping point between the two here in the Lowcountry.
As for Mr. Sanford’s efforts to start a dialogue about the size of our national debt and the long-term implications of that debt, I say that conversation is long overdue. Although the slogan, “We Full” is taken, the last I looked, “We Empty” was still available. I suggest Mr. Sanford grabs it and uses it to bolster his effort. He’s going to need all the help he can get.
Patra Taylor has been a columnist and features correspondent for the Charleston Mercury since 2002. Please visit her website at patrataylor.com.