Mark Sanford Didn’t Cheat on You
Clucking hens and crowing roosters, go back to your coops. Unless you’re Jenny Sanford, it’s time to forgo the unseemly impulse to tar and feather South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford for his marital infidelity.
Governor Sanford engaged in what might be the most vanilla extramarital affair in recent political history. His sexual liaison did not result in a federal probe, the payment of hush money, or any of the truly illicit scandals that have surfaced among politicians lately. Barring the disclosure that his girlfriend is actually an Argentine farm animal or underage hooker, the public has no business using Sanford’s affair to oust him from office.
If there’s any truth to the gossip about Governor Sanford’s official conduct, the people of South Carolina will hold him accountable. To that end, the rumors oozing from the Columbia political grapevine should be addressed as soon as possible. But if we determine that Sanford maintained appropriate contact with his staff during his trip to Argentina and did not misappropriate state resources to fund his trips, his affair is no reason to abridge his gubernatorial term.
The governor experienced a moral lapse. But this isn’t some fable in which the king’s transgressions expose the entire kingdom to drought and famine. Mark Sanford broke vows he made to his wife Jenny, not to his supporters and not to the people of his state.
If you don’t like a guy who cheats on his wife, don’t marry one. Don’t befriend one. Go ahead and sympathize with his wife. Call him a hypocrite and a scumbag, and be grateful he’s not your spouse. But remember that point: he isn’t your husband and you’re not his jilted wife.
There’s no reason to assume infidelity in marriage is a precursor to a politician’s betrayal of his constituents. Violation of marital trust is a very different animal than violation of public trust. And personal integrity just isn’t a reliable measure of professional integrity.
Can a man act as a politically principled, trustworthy leader while betraying his wife’s trust and his own ideals? Distasteful as it might seem, the answer is yes. The pacts we make are independent of each other, and we’re capable of maintaining surprisingly rigid compartmentalization in our lives. It is entirely possible to be a loyal friend and a cheating spouse, a diligent employee and an unreliable friend, or even a successful governor and an unfaithful husband.
South Carolinians voted for Mark Sanford believing that his moral compass pointed in the same direction as their own. His compass spun out of control for a short time, but that doesn’t mean his values and vision for the state are any different than when he was elected.
Mrs. Sanford may or may not be able to forgive her husband’s affair. But for the rest of us, there’s nothing to forgive. Did citizens go to the voting booth looking for husband material or to elect a principled conservative to lead a reform movement in South Carolina?
I don’t need my politicians to lead by example, I need them to be exemplary leaders.
So let’s quibble about whether Mark Sanford is a good governor. Let’s pick apart his conservative principles and see if his achievements measure up to our expectations. And if and when he runs for office again, we can decide whether to hold Sanford’s moral failures against him.
But let’s leave these affairs of the heart to be sorted out by Mark and Jenny Sanford. They don’t need our input and scarlet letters are simply passé.