Governor Sanford and the Adultery Problem

Sitting in Reno, Nevada, at the Conservative Leadership Conference (CLC) two years ago, I was awed by the governor of South Carolina. Here, at last, was someone who got it. Someone who understood the danger of big government and big spending, and that, yes, our civilization was on the line.

Chuck Muth of Citizen Outreach, who hoped to turn the CLC into CPAC West, reminded us that at the first CPAC a future president (Ronald Reagan) spoke and suggested perhaps we'd heard one at CLC. He then gave Governor Mark Sanford the Barry Goldwater Award. After the event, I walked over to Governor Sanford, gave him my card, and told him to call if he ever decided to run for president.

After recent events, I don't expect to hear from Governor Sanford. The revelation of his affair with a woman in Argentina is gravely disappointing. Coming as it does on the heels of revelations about Senator John Ensign (R-NV) having an affair, it raises a whole spate of questions.

For years many have insisted these issues of personal character don't matter. We heard that repeatedly during the presidential campaign of Rudy Giuliani. His supporters insisted that the issues in Giuliani's life were private.

Of course, it's more than a family matter. Fairly or unfairly, the policy agenda that Governor Sanford advocated will be set back. And Americans hearing him speak about how the government is bankrupting our kids will be unable to avoid thinking of how Sanford spent Father's Day in the arms of another woman.

In the post-Clinton era, some pundits suggested the American people had become more accepting of adultery by public figures. Yet we've seen a number of political figures brought down by sex scandals: Elliot Spitzer, Jim McGreevey, Larry Craig, and now Mark Sanford. The approval rating of Governor Jim Gibbons (R-NV) has been battered by his messy divorce. Likewise, Senator David Vitter (R-LA) should be safe for the rest of his political life, but Democrats smell blood and are trying to recruit the state's sole Democratic congressman to run against him. Ensign represents Sin City, but that hasn't stopped his approval rating from dropping fourteen points.

America's reaction to the Clintons was an aberration, because the Clintons themselves were aberrant. A wife willing to tolerate a husband cheating on her in order to advance her own career is practically inviting her husband to cheat. It was still wrong, but Americans found it hard to become outraged at Bill Clinton's affairs when they didn't believe Hillary was outraged.

Adultery is familial tragedy, but it is far more than that. It is a breach of trust with church, state, and community. When it hits at the highest levels of power, the consequences are tremendous. As the nation teeters on the brink of insolvency, Sanford's actions not only harm his family, but the agenda he advanced.