Now that the sheer bizarreness of it all is wearing off, I’m starting to register how sad the Mark Sanford saga is. For his wife and chidren, obviously—but also for Sanford himself: The e-mails between Sanford and the Other Woman published yesterday don’t suggest some sleazy lothario so much as a man who, to his own seeming surprise, found himself genuinely in love with another person. Also, looking at Reihan Salam’s career obit and Michael Brendan Dougherty’s profile from a few months back, Sanford sounds like precisely the sort of Republican I’d want to see defining the party going forward—and one of very, very few such people who seemed like he might actually be a viable GOP standard bearer. A small-government, free-market conservative who actually appeared to mean it—and one of only three governors to score an “A” on Cato’s fiscal report card—Sanford showed more courage in opposing preventative war than many Democrats. He had the predictable unappealing Southern convservative views on a variety of cultural issues—his old vote to ban gay adoption in Washington D.C. is especially unconscionable—but he also wasn’t much of a culture warrior, somewhat to the chagrin of his base:
“It doesn’t mean that I don’t have strong opinions on abortion,” Sanford maintained, “You look at my votes, I think I had 100% scorecard in all those different things during my time in Congress and in the governorship. But it doesn’t wake me up in the morning. That is the position that I hold as a conservative, but I would stand up and say ‘look, what really gets me fired up is these fiscal issues. And people have come to understand that as they’ve gotten to know me. And in South Carolina, initially, it caused some great alarm; that wasn’t what got me up in the morning, which was, I think, telling the truth.”
So too bad. The GOP remains in thrall to the Palins, I suppose.
I’ve also found myself rethinking my instinctive reaction to the scandal. My default view was that it’s a problem if he was using state funds to make pretextual trips to Argentina to visit his girlfriend, and it’s obviously a problem that he went incommunicado and bugged out on his responsibilities for a week, but that his personal or marital failings were otherwise of fairly scant relevance to his fitness for office. But David Corn asks some apt questions:
Whoever had those emails had been in a position for six months to pressure–or blackmail–Sanford. An enquiring newspaper person might want to know more about that. Had Sanford even been aware that someone possessed these emails? If so, did he take any actions based on that realization?
There’s acutally a weird circularity here. Because a lot of people think a politicans failings as a husband are relevant, the disclosure of an affair threatens to torpedo someone’s national political career—which potentially gives anyone who’s got that information serious leverage over an office holder. I’m not sure how far we want to take this, but it’s easy enough to make the argument that a public official who leaves himself open to blackmail that way is irresponsible.