South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford has tumbled off the wall of moral righteousness and not even all the king's men, or his fellow conservatives, may be able to put him back together again.
Sanford is merely the latest in a long line of those who have been felled by sexual scandal. Coming just one week after Senator John Ensign admitted to an extramarital affair (and let's not forget former Senator Larry Craig, former Rep. Mark Foley, former presidential contender John Edwards, former Gov. Eliot Spitzer, and former President Bill Clinton), our political parties seem to be having a hard time finding suitable role models in an era when no deed goes unnoticed by the media.
But what do we expect? We are all human, mixtures of high aspirations and fundamental desires. We may strive to live "good," but our shadows will come out. If we try to stay rigidly atop a white horse, if we pretend to be paragons of virtue while demanding moral rectitude from everyone else, we're a disaster waiting to happen. Our integrity and trustworthiness stem from honesty--our ability to be truthful with others but, more importantly, truthful with ourselves, acknowledging that we are far from perfect.
And Sanford is clearly not perfect. Not only has he tearily confessed to an affair with an Argentine "erotic beauty" (queue up Madonna singing "Evita"), but he also got sloppy with his governance. He slipped away from his security detail and disappeared from governing a whole state for a week without letting his staff know where he was or transferring executive power to the lieutenant governor. It's no coincidence that this all happened on the tail of his stressful defeat in his battle to reject federal stimulus money for his state. Sanford has rapidly lost the leadership of the Republican Governors Association and was dropped by the Value Voters Summit for its September roundup of GOP notables. Now there are calls for his resignation as governor.
Why all the dishonesty and evasion from a man who voted to impeach President Bill Clinton over Monica Lewinsky by citing "moral legitimacy?" When we're not in touch with our own temptations and frustrations we're likely to come down hard on others for the behavior we reject in ourselves. It seems there's a wide gap between "God's law" and man's ability to hold fast. So Sanford, who has been highly judgmental about others' sex scandals, lied to his wife, to his staff, to his constituents and, most significantly, to himself. Anyone who stands on top of such a lofty wall of moral certitude was bound to trip and fall at some point.
When will our political parties and "public servants," waving the flag for "moral values," learn that no matter how high-sounding their moral platitudes, their standard bearers have feet of clay? Sanford had been seen as a potential presidential contender. No longer.
Isn't it time we grew up and stopped accusing others of sexual "wrongdoing" to cover our own misguided behavior? Europeans are much more honest with themselves about the behavior of their politicians, but we Americans are still heirs to a Puritanical background. When we kid ourselves about who we are, like Governor Sanford has obviously done, we wind up miserably trying to cover our own blemishes and failings. Or like Humpty Dumpty, falling so hard that we're unable to mend the deep cracks in our public and personal life.
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