Governor Mark Sanford of South Carolina had some explaining to do when he faced the press Wednesday afternoon. He had been absent from the state capitol in Columbia for several days and there was much confusion about where exactly he had been.
What followed was one of the most disjointed, emotional, bizarre confessions of infidelity you are ever likely to see.
It started innocently enough. Sanford began to wax lyrical about the Appalachian Trail and other “adventure trips” he had taken. He talked about the pressures of the “bubble” of being constantly in the public eye. He talked about the strains of the latest legislative session and how he needed a break.
Then he began to apologize. The list was long — wife, kids, friends, relatives, in-laws, and constituents. He asked forgiveness from his family, friends, and God.
And then we discovered that this wasn’t “the whole story.”
Mark Sanford had developed an eight year internet relationship with a woman from Argentina that turned into an extramarital affair in the last year.
“I developed a relationship with what started as a dear dear friend from Argentina,” Gov. Sanford said. “It began very innocently, as I suspect these things do, in just a casual e-mail back and forth. But here, recently, over this last year, developed into something much more than that. And as a consequence, I hurt her. I hurt you all, I hurt my wife. I hurt my boys. I hurt friends like Tom Davis. I hurt a lot of different folks.”
Sanford also announced that he was stepping down as chairman of the Republican Governors Association. And it is probable that his long shot hopes at securing the Republican nomination for president in 2012 also ended with his public confession.
His wife Jenny was nowhere to be seen. He didn’t answer a reporter’s query about whether he was separated but he did acknowledge that his wife had been aware of the relationship for about five months.
Sanford rambled quite a lot and was obviously under a terrible strain. But he tried to say something profound about moral choices and forgiveness. Self-serving in that context, perhaps, but striking to hear a politician discuss such weighty subjects so passionately. I found it refreshing in that regard, although the backdrop made much of it seem surreal at times.
Michelle Malkin speaks for a lot of conservatives I’m sure:
It’s the only fitting word for a man who abandons his wife and four sons on Father’s Day weekend to indulge his “overdrive” on an Argentinian fling.
Mark Sanford: Bastard.
If you missed Sanford’s rambling, surreal disaster of a press conference, consider yourself lucky.
He had a hell of a lot more passion and pathos for his mistress than his own wife. He referred wistfully to the “great friendship” and “that sparking thing” he had with the mistress for eight years — during which his wife was raising his four children.
Malkin adds, “If you can’t honor your marriage vows, how can you expect voters to trust you to honor your damned oath of office?”
Philip Klein, writing in the AmSpec blog:
Sanford was one of the only Republicans who has been a consistent defender of limited government. During his time in Congress in 1995-2001, he racked up a solid economically conservative — even libertarian — voting record, slept on the couch in his Washington office to save money on housing, and kept his pledge to only serve three terms. As governor, he’s been at war with the Republican-controlled legislature, vetoing one spending bill after another, in a battle that culminated with his valiant fight to reject the stimulus money. During an era when most Republicans talked a big game, he repeatedly put his career on the line to fight for smaller government. Today, conservatives everywhere should be mourning, because we lost the man who was in the best position to run for president in 2012 articulating limited-government philosophy.
Sanford’s weeklong absence had the state capitol in a tizzy and his disappearance from view became a national story. His staff eventually let on that he was hiking along the Appalachian Trail. That story fell apart when he was spotted at an airport in Atlanta. His return this morning and a subsequent interview with a local paper revealed that he had gone to Argentina to “drive along the coast.”
And now this draining press conference and news that another politician has cheated on his wife. We should be used to it by now. It has become so much a part of our narcissistic culture that we know the staging of these events by heart. The principle, voice shaking with emotion; the press, standing by to record the event for posterity; the tableau behind the sinner of family and friends; and the cable news channels, desperate to fill time and congratulating themselves for having a story that they can milk for a few hours, lining up experts who can tell us what it means to the family, the political party, and the nation.
These public therapy sessions probably contributed to the slow demise of afternoon soap operas. Why watch fiction when the real thing is playing out right before your eyes? It makes one ask — is the fascination we have with these little dramas a product of prurient interest in the private lives of the rich and famous or does watching these personal disasters comfort us that it is happening to someone else and not to us?