Mind you, I am not defending Governor Sanford, not really. But I have to admit to be pleasantly surprised at his current stance, vis a vis his affair.
“I will be able to die knowing that I had met my soul mate,” he said in an interview.
So many public figures indulge in affairs, get caught, and then drag the whole thing out in a back yard lot, pour gasoline on it, and set it ablaze in a spasm of self-loathing apologetics. I suppose the most dramatic was Jimmy Swaggart, weeping openly on television, going through a self-flagellation of Medieval proportions, at least psychologically.
And he was “forgiven” by his followers.
It seemed for a time that Sanford’s supporters were getting set to forgive him. “Okay,” they seemed to say, “you have a fling, it could happen to anybody, but now you’re back, you’ve abased yourself, your wife is going to forgive you, we can go on.”
But wait. Now he has come out a gone off-script. He was in love with Maria Belen Chapur, and still is. They met in 2001, at the onset of our eight-year-long Republican convulsion over public morality and national meltdown in global politics. The Republican Party named for itself the “high ground” of moral probity, condemning liberalism as somehow not only fiscal irresponbsible but the ideology of license and promiscuity.
Democrats have been caught in extramarital affairs, no question. But most of them did not sign on to any puritanical anti-sex purgation program. The Republicans, who stand foursquare in opposition to gay marriage, sex education, pre-marital sex, contraception, divorce, pornography, and just about anything that suggests an embrace of physical pleasure outside the narrow parameters of a biblical prescription for wedded bliss (all without obviously understanding just what biblical standards actually are) seem to be having more than their share of revelatory faux pas in this area. They are the party now of “Do What I Say Not What I Do”—a parenting stance that has long since lost any credibility.
Polls and surveys and studies suggest that conservatives generally have a bigger problem with pornography than do liberals. Likewise, it seems conservative men of power screw around a lot more than do liberals in similar positions.
I think this is because there is an unspoken assumption among conservatives in power having to do with “perks.” You can see this extending all the way back in history. The man with the power gets to play more. In fact, they might suggest to colleagues in the know that a little “extracurricular action” is necessary to keep things sane.
John Edwards, for all his faults, is more typical of liberals/democrats. He screwed up. But he didn’t go out in public crying his eyes out about how he’d lost his way. He said he intended to try to patch things up with his wife, sorry if the public is disappointed, and I’m outta here. Crass as it seems, his wife has been very ill. Say what you want about marital commitment, the stress cancer puts on a relationship is not something most people understand and if the man indulged inadvisedly in sex outside his marriage, well, that’s between him and his wife. End of story. We can condemn, understand, forget, forgive, or deal with it as we will, it is no longer any of our business.
It’s not like Newt Gingrich, who (planned or not) had his sick wife served with divorce papers in the hospital so he could marry his mistress.
But Sanford now…he’s gone off-script as I say. He’s owning up. He’s not really apologizing for the affair. He’s sorry it came out, he’s sorry the situation is what it is, but frankly, he isn’t sorry it happened.
And honestly? That’s a bit refreshing.
We indulge a myth in this culture about True Love that’s pretty unsupportable in real life. It happens. But it’s almost never—almost—the way we tell ourselves it’s supposed to be. Falling in love with your high school sweetheart, marrying, and being happy in that relationship till we die…it does happen. But it is not the norm and it’s not fair to hold it up as the Gold Standard, because you just can’t know where life will sometimes take you.
Besides, a big part of that myth is that we can only ever fall in love with one other person. An ancillary part of that is that we can only ever be in love with one person at a time. It’s not true. Maybe it would be better if it were.
But standing up acting like a victim—which is what most of these people like Sanford and Swaggert and the rest do—and throwing themselves on the mercy of the public, a public that can have no real idea what was going on in these people’s lives, is worse in my opinion than the initial indiscretion. Because when you do that, you throw your lover on a bonfire and make him or her out to be a terrible thing.
Sanford’s not doing that. Sanford is basically saying “You know, I don’t like it that my life is about to explode over this, but I met someone and we have a connection, and I’m not sorry about it.”
What?!? How can you say that?
Because—out of everything else he might have said or done—it’s the truth. And for that, I applaud the man.
The dirty secret about the Republican mindset regarding this, with a few exceptions, is that they’re not nearly so angry with him for having done it as they are for getting caught.
And he didn’t actually get caught. He took a week off to go see someone he loves. Very publicly. Maybe the press was sniffing around, maybe not, but if so he stole their thunder.
Molly Ivans,who was such a breath of fresh air and common sense in a realm where neither is in any great supply, once responded to a question about sexual misconduct and the performance of civic duty more or less this way. I’m paraphrasing.
“It would be nice to think there’s a connection between private sexual conduct and the ability to do your duty in public office, but there just isn’t. Some of the most lecherous men have been great politicians.”
Should Sanford resign over this? If it were me, I’d fight it. I’d look at my detractors and say “How dare you judge me for something a significant number of you would either like to do, have done, or are doing.” But it seems unlikely he’ll be allowed to be effective now.
It’s a small thing, perhaps, this one spot of honesty in all this mess, but I think it’s an important one because for once it’s not feeding into the self-deceptive self righteousness that is our national myth about True Love.
There is True Love. But it doesn’t always come along at a convenient time and it doesn’t only happen just once. And—this is the most important thing—it is not reducable to a consumer package to be paraded and auctioned for Air Time and Ratings.
Just sayin’, you know?