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June 29, 2009

President Mark Sanford Is Still Possible in 2012


“No one’s going to save us dude. It’s up to us and us alone.”


These are the words of a text message I received from a fellow conservative upon the revelation that South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford had disappeared for a few days to spend time with his mistress in Argentina. After the cumulative disaster that were the 2008 GOP primaries, conservatives desperately thought that, for once, we might have an ardent conservative – particularly a fiscal conservative – run and actually capture the White House in 2012.


And this was not your garden-variety, self-proclaimed “conservative” Republican who interpreted conservatism as an ideology of merely slower government growth. No, this guy was the real deal. He fought to keep his state from accepting dirty “stimulus” funds from the federal government while other governors gobbled up the money in complete disregard for their supposed principles and for the well-being of the younger generations that must repay the debt. He has attended legislative sessions with piglets under his arms in demonstration of his ardent opposition to pork. He has walked the walk, and is still doing it.


Indeed, media personalities couldn’t be more frustrating when they proclaim that Sanford’s blunder is yet another blow to an already-aching GOP. The fact is that many conservatives didn’t regard Sanford’s affiliation with the GOP as anything beyond an annoying necessity. They viewed Sanford as being in the mold of Pat Toomey, Jim DeMint, Tom Coburn and Jeff Flake – you know, the guys who spend much of their time combating the Republican establishment. They are the guys who never see a scandal in their voracious hunt for smaller government and against politicians’ abuse of public office. The fact that Sanford made conservatives doubt even this already tiny group of political stars is beyond infuriating.


Sanford’s sin, like that of any adulterer, is absolutely nauseating – and, absent repentance, is deserving of a deeper circle of hell than Dante would ever ascribe to it. This is why only a few conservatives would trust Sanford again unless he cuts off all relations with his mistress, demonstrates genuine contrition, works fervently to rebuild his family and earns the forgiveness of his wife and kids.


And indeed if Sanford’s conversion is accepted as sincere even by his most wounded wife, who are we to deny him our support for any political pursuit based on this sin – especially when he has excelled more than most at his job as governor? Democrats never asked Bill Clinton to step down when he cheated on his wife, even when he explicitly lied under oath and to the entire country. Likewise, few if any Republicans withheld their vote from “heroic” John McCain in 2008 for cheating on his wife – and proceeding to marry another woman.


As far as affairs go, Sanford’s story is not among the worst – which does not take away from its intrinsic immorality, but raises questions as to why his treatment has been worse than usual. Some credit the difference to his supposed use of state assets for personal reasons. But the best his opponents have been able to find is that, on a completely legitimate commerce trip he took to Brazil and Argentina last year, he apparently made time to see his mistress. Yet politicians use such opportunity of being in a distant location for personal reasons all the time – and it’s only logical (unlike, say, dropping up to a quarter-million dollars solely to take the First Lady on a hours-long date in NYC).


From a public-duty perspective, Sanford’s greatest lapse of judgment was disappearing without much contact, but rhetoric and attack dogs aside, it’s really not that appalling for a governor to be unavailable for a few days – at least not a big enough deal to disqualify him from the presidency. It’s not like he hung out with a terrorist, or for 20 years espoused a church run by a conspiratorial bigot.


But it’s not really all about cheating and disappearing, of course. By sticking to the laws of economics and fiscal integrity, Sanford has managed to build enemies on both sides of the aisle. Since Obama’s election, but especially since Sanford’s rejection of porkulus funds, Democrats have feared Sanford as a definitively non-McCainiac presidential candidate who could energize conservatives against President Obama in 2012. They have been running ads against him. The third-ranking Democrat in the House played the racism card in response to Sanford’s statement that printing a lot of money could lead to hyper-inflation à la Zimbabwe.


The New York Times wildly sensationalized an article about Sanford by titling it “Governor Used State’s Money to Visit Lover,” while it went on to explain that he merely met up with his mistress while on a legitimate business development trip to Argentina.


And, a bit surprisingly, it seems that some simply have not overcome the embarrassment dealt to them by President Clinton. Also in the New York Times, Gail Collins wrote about a “lesson” to be learned from the Sanford story: “I’m thinking it’s time for the Republicans to apologize for putting us through the Clinton impeachment. We seem to have pretty well established that sexual stone-throwing is a dangerous sport.”


Wow. Never mind that Clinton was impeached on grounds of perjury and obstruction of justice. What is most disturbing is the apparent admission that the heat launched at Sanford is a form of revenge for what Clinton brought unto himself. This behavior makes even more sense in light of a recent Gallup poll showing that Democrats are five times as likely as Republicans to believe that marital infidelity is morally acceptable.


The fact is that even if Sanford was the only politician who has cheated on his spouse (which he most certainly is not), he still would not rank anywhere near the bottom of politicians’ ethical scale. Not because he is a moral giant, mind you, but because all the others are so, so far from being one.


A great majority of politicians, from both parties, continuously engage in wasteful spending, pork and other abuses of taxpayer money. They subsidize the businesses of their campaign donors and choke the rest. They take actions that they affirmatively believe will harm the economy if it will help their re-election. They are dirty.


Putting Sanford’s marital infidelity aside, the governor has been a hero to anyone who has ever paid taxes, and more importantly, anyone who wishes to live in a prosperous country. It may be for this reason that only 18 percent of South Carolina voters, even after the recent hullabaloo, say that Sanford’s ethical standards are lower than most politicians’. It is incredible then that so many seem to care more about Sanford’s sin in Argentina than about the hundreds of remaining politicians putting every American into debt for decades to come. Our priorities are more than skewed.


If a Mark Sanford presidency would look anything like the Mark Sanford governorship, and if Sanford would respect the small-government roots of the U.S. Constitution like he respected small-government principles in South Carolina, America would be better off than it would be under nearly any figure in the American political scene. Much, much better off.


And it is still possible. Following the debacle, Sanford said: “What I find interesting is the story of David, and the way in which he fell mightily, he fell in very very significant ways. But then picked up the pieces and built from there.” Any Christian, and most Americans must believe that aside from whether or not he will actually do so, Sanford is capable of picking up the pieces and rebuilding. He might never again be regarded as highly as he once was. But he could unquestionably be regarded higher than most in his league.

© 2009 North Star Writers Group. May not be republished without permission.


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