Governor Sanford's Affair: Your Verdict?


On Friday, I mentioned that I wanted to spend today talking about the lesson I'd learned from my failed flirtation mission in DUMBO. But I'm going to hold off on that till tomorrow, because I'd rather talk now about something that's making headlines right now: Governor Sanford's affair.

Had you had enough of this topic? I understand — really, I do! — but I'd love it if you'll hear me out.

I myself was sick of the story almost before it even became a scandal. Sanford was missing-in-action for days before it was discovered that he'd been in Argentina, and I figured that whatever the hell he'd disappeared to do, it had to have been shady — especially after his wife publicly announced she had NO CLUE where he was. On Father's Day, no less. So when the talking heads started to scream about his adultery, I thought, Yeah, well, it figures. One more narcissistic politician who can't keep it in his pants. Those guys need to take some impulse-control seminars.

But then, last night, I was reading The Daily Beast* when I came across a story called "The Passion of Mark Sanford." The plug for the piece made an interesting claim: "The cheating governor — and his impractical, impossible love for a woman thousands of miles away — is the kind of tragic, heart-swelling tale that storybook romances are made of."

Oh, really?

That piqued my interest. So I clicked through to the story ...

Writer Kathleen Parker begins by saying:

[Sanford] doesn't fit the template of more familiar fallen men in America's political arena. He didn't hire a prostitute. He didn't send lascivious emails to underlings. He didn't behave oddly in a public restroom or solicit sex online. ... He fell madly, passionately, blindingly... in love. ... Love outside the bounds of convention is almost always a tragedy, without which there might be no literature. Thus, if I may part briefly from the required condemnation of his acts, the betrayal of his admirable, attractive wife and four sons, and his dishonest brokering of his executive role, I would like to propose that Mark Sanford is not a boor, but a tragic hero ...

Then Parker goes on to quote Sanford's affecting emails to the Argentine woman he has fallen in love with.

He writes to his inamorata:

I remember [my wife], or someone close to me, once commenting that while my mom was pleasant and warm it was sad she had never accomplished anything of significance. I replied that they [sic] were wrong because she had the ultimate of all gifts — and that was the ability to love unconditionally. The rarest of all commodities in this world is love. It is that thing that we all yearn for at some level — to be simply loved unconditionally for nothing more than who we are — not what we can get, give or become.

The implication is that Sanford finally rediscovered such unconditional love, thanks to his mistress. (It's clear, too, that he hasn't experienced a similar feeling of safety and acceptance from his wife, whom he associates with an inability to understand what made his mother so wonderful.)

In another message, the Bible-thumping Sanford talks about how he's been struggling to figure out how to handle the affair, and goes on to quote a beautiful passage from the Holy Book:

I looked to where I often look for advice and counsel, and in I Corinthians 13 it simply says that, "Love is patient and kind, love is not jealous or boastful, it is not arrogant or rude, Love does not insist on its own way, it is not irritable or resentful, it does not rejoice in the wrong, but rejoices in the right, Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things and endures all things."

Now, I'm no religious fanatic ... but I am someone who appreciates the depths of human emotion. And I have to say, I'm incredibly sympathetic to Sanford, all of a sudden. All the other political sexual scandals I can recall have smacked of sleaze, narcissism, greed, opportunism, sexism, and seemed to involve an abuse of power too. But while Sanford has done his wife wrong, and has violated the contract of their marriage, I find myself very sympathetic to him. It's hard to argue against someone who finds himself deeply attached to a woman who loves him for he is ... don't you think? What's your take on this?


*Full disclosure: I occasionally write for The Beast.

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