By Katharhynn Heidelberg
Dear South Carolina: Had an awesome time down in Argentina in my love nest with my mistress; the one my decidedly better half told me to dump. I know y'all didn't know about that, or that I was even in Argentina, on account of me not being real direct about it. I know it panicked some folks, not knowing where I was, seeing as I didn't bother to first transfer power to the lieutenant governor. Then there were those fears that some of your money might have funded my dirty weekend, but that's not true, so don't worry. Did I mention my lover is my soul mate? But I promise to fall back in love with my wife, because I am a good Christian; my marriage counselor told me to, and obviously, bad things happen when I think for myself. Besides, I'M SORRY! We're still cool, right? — XOXO, Gov. Mark Sanford
Ugh. I can't take any more. It's not political sex scandals per se — those have been common since at least the days of ancient Rome, plus politics and adultery often involve the same basic types of moral failure (lies, betrayal, hypocrisy).
What I can't stand are the excuses, and, just as Sanford has taken the political sex scandal to one of the lowest points since a merry troupe of Republican adulterers busted Bill Clinton for lying about a blow job, he's also taken the excuses/apology cycle from tiresome to offensive. Sanford and his camp are invoking his faith. That's right. Faith.
There's the supposed tough love stance of obviously failed Sanford marriage counselor Warren Culbertson, who has confused love with staid, wearing “duty.” Now, I don't dispute that Culbertson is probably a good and well-meaning man, but his belief — that the best things couples can do is stay married, even if they live in soul-crushing misery and their relationship is destroying everything and everyone around them — is misguided and potentially dangerous.
“... you do it because that's what we're called to do — out of obedience instead of passion," Culbertson told the Associated Press, in explaining why spouses should stay together. But though Culbertson was busy indoctrinating people to “stay married or else,” Sanford was busy e-mailing his Argentine mistress Bible verses about love's staying power. He referred, in other communications, to Maria Belen Chapur as his “soul mate.” Yet, when he got caught, he came running to his wife, and had the nerve to invoke the importance of being there for his children. (Memo to Sanford: Spare us! OK?)
Yet despite overwhelming evidence that he shouldn't, Culbertson has little trouble trusting Mark Sanford, and he excused Sanford's months-long affair with Chapur as the governor being surprised by "the power of darkness."
If that excuse were tenable, though, why don't conservative Christians apply it to every politician who is caught with his pants down, instead of reserving the “hate the sin, love the sinner” rationale only for those likely to support the conservative agenda? On the flip side, detractors who don't believe Sanford is fit for office should be talking more about his record and less about his sex life. (Again, it's his self-serving excuses I take issue with; I have no opinion about him remaining the governor of South Carolina).
Culbertson and Sanford both need to understand that relationships aren't about concepts or “duty.” They are about people, and people are flawed. Truly moral people (of whom there are few) own up to the flaws, sans excuses, and not just when it is expedient. They accept the consequences without trying to diminish the impact. And they change.
Mark Sanford cries, talks about the Lord and King David, makes crappy attempts at poetry and, in essence, tries to have both his soul mate and his wife. Sanford's party, which on a national level once tried to impeach a president for less, voted to merely censure him. Meanwhile, his Christian pals talk about sin, about love, and about duty, but they seem more concerned with keeping the Far Right sweet, no matter how blatantly he spits in the face of those voters' values.
And Sanford's excuses are truly vomit-inducing. To wit, the way he described his adultery: “It's a love story. A forbidden love, a tragic one.” Add to that mainstream media stories yammering on about Sanford's emotional struggle between his “heart and his value system” as though the struggle was heroic. (Can a movie deal be long in coming?)
The truth is, Sanford could have made many other choices than to carry on an affair after both his wife and Culbertson told him to end it, but he made none of the choices that require courage, or even chutzpah. This is not a helpless, naive modern-day Romeo who was overcome by “darkness.” This is a man who, having made his choice, seeks to escape the consequences.
That's no love story — just the oldest story in the book.
Katharhynn Heidelberg is a journalist in Montrose, Colo.