“Mark Sanford is no longer missing, but he’s obviously lost.” So writes Slate‘s John Dickerson to open an article on the Mark Sanford saga that, in light of what we learned yesterday, adds some much-needed humanity, largely out of respect to Sanford’s own humanity, to what has been, in some circles, a case of gleeful Schadenfreude.
It’s an article that really got me thinking last night. Hopefully this makes sense.
I and many other bloggers and political commentators were making a big deal out of the Sanford saga. At first, though, it was rather easy to. The man upped and disappeared, ditching his security detail and not even telling his family where he was going over Father’s Day weekend. Plus, it seemed like his office was lying, or that he’d been lying to his staff. (His wife said he was off writing. His staff said he was hiking. Surely there was inconsistency there.) And then there was the not-so-small matter of a sitting governor just leaving. It all seemed rather weird, and I think it was only proper to ask questions.
Which is the point that many observers were making, myself included: There were more questions than answers. What was needed was answers.
Well, the answers came yesterday, in an awkward and uncomfortable press conference, a confession in front of the press, and, yes, Sanford revealed himself to be… a human being — deeply flawed, perhaps, or perhaps even broken, but much like the rest of us all-too-human human beings.
And, yes, I do feel sorry for him. (He and his wife, Jenny, have separated. Read her statement here. I have been through too many personal difficulties of my own over the years not to be sympathetic. I do not envy them.)
The saga remains a huge story, though, and so we continue to cover it, but, now that we know what happened, more or less, we can acknowledge that it’s really none of our business. Sanford’s personal troubles, I mean. He will have to live with what he has done, and his family will have to try to recover. It doesn’t seem quite as funny, though it remains rather disturbing, that he took off for Argentina while his staff, clueless or covering up, put him somewhere on the Appalachian Trail.
Where there is an issue, though, is with the hypocrisy of conservative Republicans who talk family values but don’t live up to the talk. It’s an old story, yes, and there are many of them: Vitter, Foley, Ensign, Gingrich, etc.
To me, that is the story, or a big part of it, and it is what separates liberals from conservatives. Liberals and Democrats have, to be sure, found themselves at the center of media storms over their philandering: Clinton, Edwards, etc. But neither Clinton nor Edwards was a moralist or a theocrat. They revealed themselves to be flawed human beings, but they didn’t promote conservative “family values.” There was no hypocrisy.
“The State has no place in the bedroom of the nation,” said Pierre Trudeau, one of Canada’s greatest prime ministers, and, to me, that applies to all of us. The nation — the people — has no place in anyone’s bedroom, unless there is harm being done, unless there is just cause to intervene.
In this case, we have no place in Sanford’s bedroom, or in the middle of his family. What he did in private, in Argentina or elsewhere, is his business — and his family’s. But what he did in public — the executive of a state using state property, and temporarily leaving the state on personal business without, it would seem, informing all those who needed to know, as well as what he has said and the policies he has supported as an elected official, namely, the moralism of the right — well, that’s the people’s business, too, especially so in a democracy.
Liberals, in particular, should respect the public/private divide and give Sanford space. It makes no sense, and it is just plain ugly, to gloat over the very human failings of another human being. But I think we are right to point to the hypocrisy, and to marvel at the arrogance of one who forces his morality on everyone but himself.
(Cross-posted from The Reaction.)