Monday, July 13, 2009

Misjudging Mark Sanford?

Nicole Hemmer and Neil J. Young offer an opinion piece in the Christian Science Monitor regarding Mark Sanford. They examine past instances of affairs carried out by those on the right, and the subsequent political recoveries. They cite Newt Gingrich. They cite David Vitter. Convolutedly, they also cite Sarah Palin's handling of her daughter's pregnancy. To Hemmer and Young, it all comes down to repentance and faith:

Their survival isn't in spite of the GOP's evangelical base, but rather because of it. And while liberals tend to see continued support as hypocrisy from both the politician and his supporters, what matters to conservative Republicans is not so much the behavior of their leaders as the repentance they show after their fall from grace.

In the rambling announcement of his affair, Mr. Sanford said little about politics and a lot about his faith. At times he sounded like a preacher expounding on the nature of God's law, of self, and of sin.

Sanford's remarks drew little praise, categorized even by sympathetic sources as "disjointed" and "just plain bizarre." Kathleen Parker, a conservative columnist with little affection for the politics of the Christian right, evaluated his statement this way: "Spiritually, Sanford may have succeeded in checking off several acts of contrition. But politically he did everything wrong...."

But Ms. Parker, like Sanford's critics on the left, fails to understand the mechanics of Christian conservatism: By getting it spiritually right, Sanford is well on his way to getting it politically right.


Unfortunately for Hemmer and Young, they have completely missed the political reality of the situation (not to mention having completely glossed over the facts). Those of us who actually paid attention to the Sanford situation grasped this as the political demise of a once promising talent.

The man cheated on his wife with a long-time friend turned mistress. This may be a redeemable offense in the public eye, and it is the only issue Hemmer and Young focus on. What they conveniently leave out of their essay on forgiveness and political recovery, however, is the fact that Mark Sanford flew to Argentina to nail his piece on the side...leaving his family at home...on Father's Day...and oh yeah, on public money. They also mention nothing of the fact that Sanford allowed himself apparently to fall in love with a woman outside of his marriage. One may expound all one likes about how "the heart wants what the heart wants," but it's not as if this was a woman on the other side of the office he couldn't avoid. It's a long distance relationship with a woman halfway around the world that he was so determined to be with, that he eschewed any sense of obligation, not only to his family, but to the public to whom he was supposed to have been beholden. This goes so far beyond David Vitter in a whorehouse, or Sarah Palin's unwed teenage daughter's pregnancy (who knew teen girls in small towns with nothing to do might get knocked up?) that it's ridiculous.

Is it a forgivable offense? Only Jenny Sanford can make that decision. If Jenny Sanford, and by extension, her children, can forgive Mark Sanford, his spiritual salvation will indeed be underway. Allowing that, however, let us remember that neither Newt Gingrich or David Vitter has ever had as realistic an opportunity to be considered in a presidential race as Mark Sanford seemed to have brewing up until this scandal. Here was a man many of us considered a "true conservative" both in word and in deed. Hell, the man even slept on the couch in his office when he was in the House to save money. Apparently he was saving it for those trips to Argentina.

Sanford may redeem himself personally. He may even find a future in politics at some level. But it will never be the Presidency.

With the highest office in the land waiting in the endzone, Mark Sanford didn't even get a chance to fumble the kickoff. He simply got demoted to the practice squad. Perhaps someday he'll find himself back in the game again...but only on special teams.

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