Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Sanford and political cynicism

Did anyone out there hear about Gov. Sanford's disappearance earlier this week and not think immediately, "Great. Another politician who is having an extramarital affair."

If you did not think that, you're a better person than I am. I freely admit to hearing about the Governor's unprecedented vanishing act and wondering vaguely how long he'd been cheating on his wife, and how long it would be before we learned the identity of the Other Woman.

But if my political cynicism is high, I wonder about Governor Sanford's:
After going AWOL for seven days, Gov. Mark Sanford admitted Wednesday that he had secretly flown to Argentina to visit a woman with whom he was having an affair. Wiping away tears, he apologized to his wife and four sons and said he will resign as head of the Republican Governors Association.

"I've been unfaithful to my wife," he said in a bombshell news conference in which the 49-year-old governor ruminated aloud with remarkable frankness on God's law, moral absolutes and following one's heart. [Emphasis added--EM.] He said he spent the last five days "crying in Argentina."

Sanford, who in recent months had been mentioned as a possible presidential candidate in 2012, ignored questions about whether he would step down as governor.

I'm not going to try to judge Gov. Sanford's heart. But I can judge the propriety of appearing at a press conference and stressing one's Christianity instead of making a humble apology and leaving it at that:

Sanford also said he's been working with a Washington group called C Street, which he describes as "a Christian Bible study of folks that asked members of Congress hard questions."

He apologized specifically to "people of faith across South Carolina" and the nation, calling such situations "big disappointments."

"If somebody falls within the fellowship of believers," he said, "It makes it that much harder for believers to say 'where was that person coming from?'"
Now, I know this gets complicated. Should a person of faith be silent about his faith when he's been caught in a particularly ugly situation of his own making, like Sanford's? Ultimately, I think the answer has to do with the perception, however unfair, that the person is using his faith, and his fellow believers, to diffuse the situation. Let's put it this way: Sanford may be sincere, but it's also rather convenient to claim that one is praying hard and working through the aftermath of adultery (if, indeed, he is at an "aftermath" stage, something not yet known) when one has only just been caught.

To put it another way--the child who, after being punished for sneaking cookies out of the cookie jar, creeps out of bed and tearfully apologizes because he's remorseful for the act, not for being caught or punished, is in a different position from the child who, upon being caught, loudly proclaims himself to be the worst of sinners and theatrically begs his parents to remember God's mercy and their own transgressions in meting out his punishment to him. The first child is wrestling with the throes of conscience; the second is being a little stinker.

Maybe it's cynical to see Sanford as being a little stinker for thumping the Bible and raising philosophical talk about moral absolutes before he's really had to endure any consequences of his adultery. But then again, maybe it's just realistic.

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