Tuesday, June 30, 2009

The Political Lynching of Mark Sanford

It has not been a good week for anyone famous. First Ed McMahon died. Then Farrah Fawcett and Michael Jackson died hours apart from one another. Pitchman Billy Mays died suddenly. But nothing died faster in the past week than the career of South Carolina governor Mark Sanford.

Gone for nearly a week, talking heads were practically screaming about the whereabouts of the governor, nearly wagging their fingers at him for leaving town and not saying where he was going to everyone who would later demand to know. If I didn’t know any better, I would have thought that these anchors were using television and radio to lecture Mark Sanford, who they mistook for their teenager, for staying out too late. (One unintentionally hilarious example was an anchor complaining about what would happen if a hurricane hit South Carolina without the governor present. My guess is that no one else would have been able to stop the storm either.)

Needless to say, I found all this attention excessive. Before this year, most Americans probably did not know who the three-term congressman and second term governor was. I first learned of Mark Sanford last year as a Ron Paul-type of Republican, known for fiscal sanity, vetoing excessive spending, and for opposing Real ID and the doctrine of nation-building. As a congressman, Sanford voted against H.R. 4655, the Iraq Liberation Act of 1998, and was quoted in The American Conservative saying, “I don’t believe in pre-emptive war. . . . For us to hold the moral high ground in the world, our default position must be defensive.” In short, Mark Sanford was my kind of Republican.

So how shocking was it to learn that the man who kept the promise to serve no more than three terms in Congress, could not keep the promise of fidelity to his wife?

In brutal honesty, I was crushed when I learned the news of his affair, not for the pain caused to his family, but that his chances for president in 2012 were dead.

Now some think that since Governor Sanford succumbed to perhaps the most pervasive temptation in men, he is no longer qualified to serve as governor or in any higher office. There is plenty of merit to this argument. If a man cannot keep his marriage vows, how can he keep his vow to defend the Constitution?

It has been propagandized that having a mistress as far away as Argentina was made possible by the taxpayers of South Carolina. Or as The New York Times headlined it, “Governor Used State’s Money To Visit Lover.”

Not quite. The governor was on a state business trip to South America to negotiate trade and managed to work in some time with his mistress. But this whole incident, in a bizarre way, illustrates the fiscal conservatism of Mark Sanford. It doesn’t appear that the governor hopped down to Argentina every weekend on a jet subsidized by the taxpayers. He saw his mistress, but at a time when it made business sense for him. If this wasn’t so depressing, it would be a little funny.

Despite the cacophony of calls to resign his office, Mark Sanford refuses to listen. It was my expectation that he would. But why should he? Adultery breaks a commandment, but nothing in the U.S. Constitution. He did not lie about the affair. He did not use state money with the explicit purpose of seeing his mistress. According to my count, the only crime Mark Sanford has committed was his refusal to accept stimulus money.

Then the fuss regarding his “disappearance” became clear.

Governor Mark Sanford, the scourge of big spending Republicans in his own state, was an enemy because he regularly vetoed their big spending schemes. Before this year, Mark Sanford was a little known, but rising star in the Republican Party. He became known nationally for his refusal, some say grandstand, regarding the stimulus package. Even if he was merely grandstanding, it was a more convincing show than some GOP governors like Sarah Palin, who willfully held her hand out before taking heat for her hypocritical stance of denouncing President Obama’s ridiculous spending while readily willing to accept “her share” of it.

Contrary to popular conception, Republicans as a whole are not in favor of small government nor do they favor less intervention at home and abroad. At election time they sure are, but not once they get into power.

Occasionally a Republican will cut taxes, but only on rare occasions do they cut the spending that is needed to prevent the tax cuts from becoming deficits. The problem for Republican Party establishments like the one in South Carolina is that Mark Sanford was the rare politician who kept his word on government spending and fiscal responsibility. In fact, the first South Carolinians who would reap the benefits of Sanford’s demise, Lieutenant Governor Andre Bauer and Sanford’s political rival, State Senator Jake Knotts, whose primary challenger Sanford supported, are the loudest voices calling for the governor’s resignation or at least an investigation. Maybe Republicans do believe in truth commissions!

Sanford's fellow South Carolinian, Jack “The Southern Avenger” Hunter, illustrated in January of this year just how South Carolina Republicans see the governor:

“Sanford has had one primary guiding principle his entire political career: limited government. Not just limited government rhetoric, the sort of lip service provided by milquetoast Republican to pacify their right wing base, but genuine, strict, fiscal conservatism and the guts to back it up. If you ever need a good illustration of just how duplicitous the GOP can be, just take notice of how frequently South Carolina Republicans get angry at Sanford for daring to actually represent the limited government principles they pretend to. It’s as if they’re saying, ‘Come on, Mark, you didn’t really think we meant all that conservative stuff, did you?’ . . . which to some makes him dangerous.”

Dangerous indeed.

I cannot say whether Bauer, Knotts, or anyone else knew with any certainty that Sanford was having an affair or if their agenda was the hope to stick something on Sanford, something to discredit the man and ultimately destroy him, but something smells in this fiasco besides the governor. My Campaign for Liberty co-patriot, Anna Lutz of South Carolina, related an answer she received from Knotts and State House Majority Leader Kenny Bingham that there is “more to come.”

Turns out, there was more before this even began. An anonymous Sanford staffer leaked e-mails to The State newspaper, a paper seeming to revel in Sanford’s demise, tipping them about a woman in Argentina – in December 2008. Suddenly it becomes apparent how an absent governor, neglecting no actual duties, could warrant such wall-to-wall attention, almost as if on cue. Perhaps it was the misstep Sanford’s enemies were waiting for.

Why else would Republicans be so elated to expose a private affair that had been disclosed with the family? In this, we see that Republicans, particularly in the case of South Carolina, do not care about limited government. They care about power. If they cared one lick about limiting government, they would be in front of the cameras saying exactly this, “Mark Sanford may be an adulterer, but he has been truthful, with his family and with us, about a tragic indiscretion. Importantly for our purposes, he has been a competent governor who has been loyal to his political principles. Until it can be proven that Governor Sanford’s moral failing in his private life has caused him to break a law, he deserves our support because the governor has been a steadfast supporter of the Republican Party platform and the people of South Carolina who have elected him to public office five times without defeat.”

Of course, no GOP hack in the Palmetto State is saying anything even remotely like this. That should say it all.
This diatribe notwithstanding, my own personal regard for Mark Sanford has taken a serious blow in the past week. After Ron Paul and his son Rand, Mark Sanford was probably my favorite Republican, and knowing that he has committed a serious moral failure calls his capacity to lead into question for the first time in my experience with him.

But Mark Sanford’s infidelity no more disqualifies him from the capacity to continue in office or ascend to higher office than does anyone’s perfect marital fidelity qualify anyone for high office either. After all, the only thing that is inherently different about Mark Sanford today as opposed to the beginning of June is the fact that we know about his unfaithfulness.
While he has been far from perfect politically (endorsing John McCain for president twice - ick!- he infamously deferred to also-ran warmonger Newt Gingrich earlier this year on Fox News Sunday regarding pre-emptive strikes on North Korea), but Republicans could do far worse than a so-far repentant adulterer.
(H/T: Anna Lutz)


TRUTH 101 said...

While I agree that Sanford's "indiscretions" have no bearing on his performance Carl, for the Republican Party to not call him on the carpet for them would hypocritical on it's part. It's a case of being careful what you wish for. They got their wish with Clinton and Edwards among others. Their platform of moral values is now has to be used against Sanford for the Republicans to maintain any credibility on the issue.

Carl Wicklander said...

What I find more hypocritical is their action on limited government. As you say, they are going to use the values part of the platform against him, but I say that it's only going to be a cover. As I wrote, Sanford's real enemies were the big spending Republicans who lie every election year. Now that he has confessed to an affair, the moral values issue can be used as a club against a fiscal conservative who is against pre-emptive war, which is the real Republican central issue these days. Last time around, Ron Paul was like the plague even though there isn't a hint of personal scandal against him or any deviation from traditional Republican stances. But he was against wars started by a Republican president and thus he became a pariah while well-known adulterers Rudy Giuliani and John McCain were frontrunners. To me, that says more about the current Republican platform than moral values. As you recently wrote on your blog, love means never having to say you're sorry unless you're a Republican. I would say that being a Republican means never having to say you're sorry as long as you support Bush's wars. Sanford is against much of what currently constitutes the national GOP and that has made him popular among South Carolina Republican voters. But the issue of his infidelity will be used by Republicans, not really because they need to save face on the moral values issue, but so they can discredit Sanford's fiscal responsibility and antiwar inclinations.

Steel Phoenix said...

I don't think he should be removed from office, but I'm with TRUTH 101 on this as it relates to the party response. They like to be on their high horse, full of false outrage, and make a big deal out of this crap. As long as the party leadership is still neocons, they look like giant hypocrites if they let this slide.

Sanford was one of the guys calling for Bill Clinton to step down. Failing to do so himself is going to look bad in the eyes of most. Being more Libertarian minded, he may be able to point out two differences between these two cases of infidelity: Clinton lied under oath, and his case was one of abuse of power since it was his intern. I think most will fail to see the distinction.

It is sad to see otherwise good politicians fall to such indiscretions. I knew a lot of Edwards supporters, and they all looked really quiet and haunted after his news hit. This really should just be between him and his wife. I prefer to vote for people based on their record, but I think most in his party vote on 'character'. He is likely through.

Carl Wicklander said...

Lying makes a difference for me. If it turns out that Sanford lied somewhere, I would want him to resign because that would make it perjury and a crime.

Again, I think the adultery will be all the cover the neocons and establishment hacks need to marginalize Sanford. They can look like the moral values party while ridding themselves of a libertarian-minded, apparently antiwar Republican without having to deal with those issues.

The Law said...

You know... if he had most any other job, such a transgression is something he'd have to address at home. People have relationship problems. People have mid-life crisises. But I think work and pleasure are two different things... he can sleep around by night, and be an effective governor by day. GOP false outrage, like many false outrages, only serves to make a problem way worse than it has to be. Let him air out his situation with his family, and then return to work. my $0.02

Carl Wicklander said...


Thanks for stopping by.

I'm content to support Sanford the politician until it's evident that he did something illegal, although I will admit that this incident has gotten weirder just in the time since I wrote this post.

And I agree with you that this is false outrage. As I've already said in the above comments, the GOP can use this as a way to marginalize Sanford under the guise of being the moral values party. Philanderers Newt Gingrich, Rudy Giuliani, and John McCain are still prominent Republican figures despite affairs no less odious than Sanford's. It boils down to Sanford being a potential threat to the establishment.

Just a conservative girl said...

I think he needs to resign. Even though it now seems that he did not use public funds for his trips. He made a big deal about what happen with President Clinton. You don't get to have it both ways. And he did lie. To his family, the people he loves most. If he is willing to lie to them he will lie to the people of SC. And people in the private sector do lose thier jobs for this behavior. Not nearly as often, but it does happen. He needs to be paying attention to his children right now. That needs to be his priority and it sure doesn't seem to be the first thing on his mind.

Carl Wicklander said...

Just a Conservative Girl,

Well, it would seem that resigning would be a wise move so he can tend to his family. There is plenty of merit to that. But the Sanford family's situation should just be between their family and they need to work it out themselves regardless of what anyone else with a sense of moral superiority says.

I would like to point out that Mark Sanford is still supported by South Carolinia grassroots Republicans despite his infidelity and his vote to impeach Bill Clinton for lying under oath about an affair.

That Republican hacks are so quick to try to dump Sanford, who has been loyal to the principle of limiting government, should tell us exactly how Republicans truly feel about limited government while more well-known adulterers like Rudy Giuliani, McCain, and Newt Gingrich still get to have plenty of sway within the party.

TRUTH 101 said...

I guess in the name of intellectual honesty I should make sport of "Bush, Cheney, or Rove" Republicans rather than generalize. I'll work on that Carl. Thanks for pointing it out.