Mark Sanford makes public feel his pain

Published 4:18 am Saturday, June 27, 2009

By Staff
OK, I had my fun with my June 24 blog post about South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford’s admission of an affair with an Argentine woman.
But if you watched the video (a short version of the 20-minute press conference is included on my blog post; the longer video is even weirder) or read quotes from Sanford’s rambling monologue, you know this is more than just some quickie sexual fling.
Although Sanford did something about as stupid as any sitting governor can do (Mike Easley, make a note), the guy was truly anguished. He was tearful. He seemed to be madly in love, in a teenage kind of way.
Even hard-hearted reporters and political commentators felt sorry for the guy. And a surprising number of people commenting on the Columbia State newspaper’s Web site defended the guy and recommended that he run off to Buenos Aires to be with his True Love.
This reaction is based largely on a reading of emotional e-mails exchanged between passionate lovers Mark and Maria, which the State obtained last December and published after the governor’s apology-laden news conference Wednesday. (No one has explained to my satisfaction why the newspaper waited so long to go public with the e-mails.)
The e-mails are passionate, romantic, somewhat explicit and so filled with longing that they would fit in a Nicholas Sparks novel. They are almost painful to read.
If you’re looking for theme music to accompany them, I don’t know whether it should be “Lara’s Theme” from “Doctor Zhivago” or “Teenager in Love” by Dion and the Belmonts.
While many commenters at The State online defended Sanford and urged him to follow his one True Love (“life is too short” was the rationale), another commenter had the more mature perspective. “Love is not an emotion” this person wrote. “It’s something you DO every day, day in and day out, whether you feel like it or not. When you stop (in a marriage) is when things go awry.” (If you’re interested, the commenter is Solow, who posted 6/25 at 1:15 p.m.)
It’s easy to make comparisons to the long list of other politicians who have been felled by their lusts in recent years.
Sen. John Ensign apologized for his affair just last week. N.Y. Gov. Eliot Spitzer decapitated his political ambitions by frequenting prostitutes. John Edwards admitted to an affair with his campaign’s videographer. Long ago when I worked in Washington, Rep. Wilbur Mills lost his powerful post by falling for an “Argentine Firecracker.”
There seems to be some connection between the adulations and egotism of political life and the need or desire for sexual adventure.
Presidents FDR, JFK, LBJ and Bill Clinton all had documented affairs, but only Clinton’s was publicly known during their lifetimes. And you don’t have to be American.
Just look at the mess Italy’s Silvio Berlusconi finds himself in. Recent escapades, including Sanford’s, have been compounded by a stench of hypocrisy as the adulterous politicians have been defenders of traditional morality, marriage and fidelity.
Sanford and Ensign were known as family values types. Spitzer, as attorney general, prosecuted public figures he deemed immoral. Edwards touted himself as the perfect loving husband and father.
Sanford gets some credit for being genuinely contrite and remorseful. He stood and answered questions, he went into details.
He rambled on about the meaning of life, and he apologized to his wife, his children, his staff, legislators and everyone else he could think of. And he humbly admitted that what he had done was “wrong, period.” That’s a rare admission for any politician. I’ll give him credit for that.
But if Sanford’s political ambitions are not completely snuffed out, and he runs for another office, I suggest his theme song be “Why Must I Be a Teenager in Love?”