Jenny Sanford, Feminist Icon
Like most Americans, I have heard enough from the adulterers.
John Ensign's press conference was blissfully short. Mark Sanford's is interminable. Every day brings a cringe-inducing new update. The bottom line is the same: men who should know better, out of an inflated sense of ego, blow up their careers and their families for transitory pleasures.
We can't learn much from them. But their spouses and the reaction to their spouses tell us something about where we are and where we are heading in the culture wars.
Jenny Sanford is the new feminist icon. Defiant, brave, principled, and funny. When the New York Times praised her I wondered how long it would be until the media elites had second thoughts. After all -- she is, you know, a conservative. And, psst -- she's a also a devout Christian. How can she be an icon with all that politically incorrect baggage?
Ruth Marcus is at least honest, acknowleding:
I have to confess to, and apologize for, having preconceived notions about Jenny Sanford that turned out to have nothing to do with who she actually is. I heard "wife of conservative Christian governor," saw the picture of her with those four well-groomed boys and figured her for someone who wouldn't have the spine to stick up for herself.
Boy, was I wrong. She is as smart as Elizabeth or Hillary -- trade the law degree for an investment banking vice presidency (Lazard Freres) -- and may be tougher, too, at least when it comes to husbands.
Yes, quite shocking that a knuckle-dragging Christian wife can show more moxie and class than Elliot Spitzer's wife or Jim McGreevey's spouse, who were dragged to pressers and to one degree or another were involved in the cover-up and excuse mongering that accompanied their husbands' political downfall.
This is more than a little reminiscent of the Sarah Palin feeding frenzy (which seems never to die). The sight of a non-liberal, overtly religious, self-possessed woman sends the mainstream media into convulsions. It simply doesn't compute. Conservative and Christian, but also so smart? It is as if the laws of physics have been suspended.
Or as Camile Paglia put it during the campaign:
A shocking level of irrational emotionalism and at times infantile rage was exposed at the heart of current Democratic ideology -- contradicting Democratic core principles of compassion, tolerance and independent thought. One would have to look back to the Eisenhower 1950s for parallels to this grotesque lock-step parade of bourgeois provincialism, shallow groupthink and blind prejudice. ... Palin as a pro-life wife, mother and ambitious professional represents the next big shift in feminism. Pro-life women will save feminism by expanding it, particularly into the more traditional Third World.
One needn't think that Palin is the future of the GOP to recognize that she and the Jenny Sanfords around the country pose a dilemma for the feminist set which can't imagine that any self-respecting independent woman wouldn't share their political agenda.
As for Jenny Sanford, she might have her own political career. For now she has at least set a new standard for political wives. No, they need not show up at the confessional press conference. No, they need not urge their husband to remain in office and grant them absolution which they can wave about to the voters. They can retain their dignity.
And as for the rest of the gawking set, perhaps they can learn something from Jenny Sanford as well. When Sanford first emerged, burbling on about his exotic girlfriend, a good portion of the chattering class waxed poetic. He was in love, the poor dear! What sweet love letters he penned! (Well, it turns out he had lots of "friends" and he wasn't honest about all the details. I know, you're stunned that an adulterer would lie so.)
Jenny Sanford's pithy comments were a swift and brusque reminder that there is nothing admirable or dreamy about married men with children who run off to foreign countries, abandoning their professional and personal responsibilities. Before the mainstream media pundits -- largely male and invariably foolish -- start waxing poetical next time, perhaps Jenny Sanford's image will pop up.
As for the dilemma (should he go or should he stay?), one is left to conclude that the governor, who continues to blather on a daily basis, is in no condition to carry out his duties. Even those who think the "chief executive" of a modestly sized state is not the demanding endeavor it is sometimes made out to be suspect he's no longer up to the task. He plainly has lost his bearings, his self-control, and his judgment. And cavorting on the taxpayers' dime is reason enough to leave office immediately.
Unfortunately for his political party (which is low on self-esteem and short on positive media images), he serves only to further embarrass his fellow Republicans and distract from the real stories of the day. (Oh yes, there is a near-revolution going on in Iran! Hmmm, did the Supreme Court nominee just get slapped down by the Supreme Court for trying to shovel a hot button race case under the rug?)
Jenny Sanford rightly declared herself uninterested in the course of her husband's career. Republicans yearning to get back to the business of stopping the Obama freight train before it runs down what is left of free market capitalism may hope he exits promptly.
And if he won't?
Again, Jenny Sanford has it right -- we will survive and indeed thrive.