The easiest thing to do is simply write Mark Sanford off as a bad egg who fooled us into thinking him one of the good guys.
First, conservative leaders should pause to consider themselves. Recently, I heard a candidate for Congress boast that, at 40, he could spend two or more decades in Congress. He hastened to add that he would support term limits if they were introduced. Basically, “power corrupts, but not me.”
What happened to Governor Sanford could happen to any of us if we’re not careful. This doesn’t excuse Sanford, but it should cause our political leaders to rethink their approach.
Leaders need to take a look at how they connect with their families. It’s common among political leaders to leave their spouse and children behind while traveling across the country on business. The thought seems to be that this creates “normalcy” for the kids and frees the non-political spouse from the burden of constant trips back and forth.
However, this “normalcy” has a price: being disconnected from family. How many nights does your average state-level politician spend in hotel rooms completely and totally alone, separated from their family and from reality itself in the haze of politics?
Political leaders, as well as those thinking of entering the arena, should consider how they’re going to stay in touch with their family, and cleave to them as a stabilizing anchor in the political storms rather than drifting without a plan. Officeholders need to know themselves and their weaknesses, not do things that are going to put them at risk.
In his 2000 presidential campaign, two of Gary Bauer’s chief campaign advisers resigned because Bauer was spending hours behind closed doors with a 27-year-old female campaign aide. There was no proof Bauer and the aide had done anything improper, only that it created the appearance of sexual impropriety.
Bauer’s campaign advisers were shown to be wiser than they were given credit for during the last campaign, when unproven allegations against Senator John McCain were given voice in the New York Times based on the amount of time he spent with a female lobbyist.
The previous generation’s efforts to avoid the appearance of impropriety with the opposite sex may seem outdated, but it is time to revisit them. Maybe we don’t have to go as far as Billy Graham, who won’t drive a woman to the airport unescorted, but I’d rather political leaders follow Billy Graham’s example than Bauer, McCain, and Sanford.
Political leaders need to surround themselves with friends and moral supports. And those who work with political leaders need to understand they’re dealing with a human being and that family issues are going to have a lot to do with how well a political leader does in public life. Supporting them in their family life is critical.
A lot of conservative energy went into Mark Sanford and has been completely wasted. If conservatives want to avoid a repeat, they’ll need to focus on the families of their political leaders.