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Move over, Sarah Palin? Jenny Sanford, the wife of Republican South Carolina governor Mark Sanford, is attracting her own constituency. The attraction is easy to see.
Her cheating husband explains that he “crossed lines” multiple times in his marriage but only really cheated with one other woman he shared a “love story” with. But Mrs. Sanford has become something of a “hero,” according to press reports. One friend told the Washington Post: “I think Jenny has not had these types of ambitions, but I think every woman in South Carolina would vote for Jenny Sanford for governor right now.”
In the public statements of Mark and Jenny Sanford, there’s been one clear difference: One seems to have her eye on the ball of responsibility. The first lady of South Carolina, upon her husband’s confession that he had had an extramarital affair — and run off to Argentina to be with the woman — looked at hers clearly: She loves her husband and she has children to protect. Mark Sanford, on the other hand, put power as his priority.
He, clearly, is a broken man. He’s making excuses for his infidelity in his marriage and dereliction of duty as governor and misuse of power (state funds for trysts with his mistress). Maybe it’s all desperation. I don’t envy the man whose mistakes are exposed for all the world to see. But he’s made some choices — to get married, to father children, to run for governor. And now, instead of The Sanford Family and State of South Carolina Show, it’s The Mark Show. All Mark All the Time. Watch the Tragedy Unfold, the Man Who Could Have Been the Great Right Hope. It’s as if he’s taken lessons from Blago, the criminally corrupt and impeached former governor of Illinois turned media monster.
Across the political spectrum, Mrs. Sanford seemed to garner respect for not appearing at her husband’s press conference and for taking the opportunity to reaffirm basic, unimpeachable values. Presumably she knew more about the story than we would that day — as more details would later be revealed — and had reason not to trust him enough to buy in.
She would later tell reporters camped out at the end of her driveway that “his career is not a concern of mine. . . . He’s going to have to worry about that. I’m worried about my family and the character of my children.”
You’d think statements like these would make Mrs. Sanford a feminist icon. Alas, she may have the right reproductive organs but she’s lacking the ideology that brands one a real woman for the Left’s political purposes. She’s a Christian Republican, after all. And she’s one who embraces her role as wife — refusing to throw these responsibilities under the bus after her husband’s adultery — and mother. In her original statement, she said: “I personally believe that the greatest legacy I will leave behind in this world is not the job I held on Wall Street, or the campaigns I managed for Mark, or the work I have done as First Lady or even the philanthropic activities in which I have been routinely engaged. Instead, the greatest legacy I will leave in this world is the character of the children I, or we, leave behind. It is for that reason that I deeply regret the recent actions of my husband Mark, and their potential damage to our children.”
Tina Brown, writing on her Daily Beast website, spared some praise for Sanford before she went in for the dismissal shot. The author of The Diana Chronicles wrote of Jenny Sanford: “Just when she set the table for a big-ticket matrimonial lawyer to have a payday on behalf of all the humiliated political wives — ashen Mrs. Eliot Spitzer; pulverized Dina Matos McGreevey; quietly imploding Mrs. Larry Craig; fuming deity Elizabeth Edwards — the first lady of South Carolina blew it. She chose instead a pious manifesto that lets the governor off the hook.”
Or maybe, Tina, she believes in permanent things. Some of us do.
Brown quoted Mrs. Sanford: “I remain willing to forgive Mark completely for his indiscretions and to welcome him back, in time, if he continues to work toward reconciliation with a true spirit of humility and repentance.” And concluded: “God is great. Roll on the book deal about Resilience, and the date with Oprah.”
Sanford did cite God in her statement — perhaps because she takes the Bible seriously, something you don’t have to be a fundamentalist to do. “Fill the earth and subdue it,” God says in Genesis. The command is not only about procreating, as the Sanfords did, but about being responsible for that which you’re given.
“I believe enduring love is primarily a commitment and an act of will, and for a marriage to be successful, that commitment must be reciprocal,” Mrs. Sanford wrote. (She’s right, and the idea must have some fans, as she does.) Being governor of a state is also a commitment and an act of will. One involves a vow, the other an oath. Mark Sanford has kept neither. And his rambling interviews and appearances (and disappearances) provide ample reason to wonder if he’s up for either job right now. His wife clearly doesn’t think he’s up to the husband and father part right now, having asked him to leave in the hopes of eventual reconciliation.
It was because of her respect for marriage — and his confusion on the matter — that she asked him to go. Jenny Sanford deserves credit for standing by principles instead of her man, all the while leaving room for his redemption. She did, after all, say “for better or for worse” in front of God and man. Governor Sanford ought to take a page from his wife: Decide what’s important and go for it. Maybe, though, that’s exactly what he’s done? Or maybe he already has — but he decided for adultery, abandonment, and dereliction of duty.