The Campaign Spot

Evaluating Sanford

In less than 24 hours, my coverage of Mark Sanford has been simultaneously declared lacking in Christian forgiveness and a laughable attempt to keep him in office.

If, as Fox News is reporting, he went to Argentina on the taxpayers’ dime and was possibly using the trips to see his woman on the side, his behavior is much more than a private matter between a husband and a wife.

The voters have just been informed that their governor is not the man he thought he was and the man they thought they were voting for; they have every right to rethink whether they want him in his position. Public office is a privilege, not a right. Sanford betrayed a public trust and others’ faith in him; anger in response to these revelations is natural and I don’t think it’s inherently un-Christian. Asking people to not express that anger, and to have the instant reaction of “we forgive you,” is too much to ask, I think.

Beyond that, the lieutenant governor of South Carolina cannot take over unless the governor officially transfers power or is incapacitated; had there been a crisis, the state would have effectively had no head of the executive branch. Sanford left his state without a governor for the better part of a week. A responsible governor cannot be incommunicado and not tell anyone how to reach him.
Beyond that, he lied to his staff, and had them lie to the public.

But lest John Dickerson decide that there’s “disturbing glee” in this, let’s try a bit of empathy. A thought for the happily married out there: What if you hadn’t met the love of your life when you did? What if your life had taken a different path, and you married someone else, and then, later in life, met the person who is now the spouse you adore? Would you have the strength to say, “I’ve made my commitment, I can’t leave my spouse”? Would you cheat? Would you contemplate divorce?

This clearly wasn’t some dirty old man chasing the secretary around the desk. A guy who writes kinda syrupy e-mails to a woman on the other side of the world, only meeting three times in eight years, at the very least is convinced that he’s in love. Of course, this may very well be even more hurtful to the wronged spouse than the usual Clintonian bimbo eruption. But the jokes that Sanford can’t control his you-know-what don’t quite seem accurate; from the little we know about this relationship, it seems Sanford really can’t control his heart. Perhaps that’s what made his behavior so much more reckless than that of the usual philandering politician.

But . . . Sanford has four sons, and I figure that’s the key factor here. When you’re a parent, you’ve got to put them first. There’s always an element of tragedy when a marriage ends, but the sum total of human experience suggests that sometimes the wrong people marry each other. Maybe Mark Sanford needed the love that only “Maria” could provide him, but his sons needed a stable home even more.

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