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Posted by on Jul 2, 2009 in Politics | 12 comments

The Tragedy and Narcissism of Mark Sanford

Simply, the tide is rising against him.

His Argentine mistress was his “soul mate,” he claims, but he wants to reconcile with his wife? Okay, but what does his wife think of that? “This was a whole lot more than a simple affair, this was a love story. A forbidden one, a tragic one, but a love story at the end of the day.” Sure, I get that. And, in a way, I feel for him — and I feel sorry for him. It must be difficult to have all this out in the open.

He admits that there were others during his 20 years of marriage: “There were a handful of instances wherein I crossed the lines I shouldn’t have crossed as a married man, but never crossed the ultimate line.” This reminds me of the Seinfeld episode in which Jerry, George, and Elaine talk about when sex happens. Jerry says it’s when the nipple makes its first appearance. That’s obviously meant to be humorous, but it does seem that Sanford is pulling out a variation of the Newt defence. If “the ultimate line” is — what? — vaginal intercourse, is everything else pretty much fair game?

Well, that’s his business, I suppose — his private life should remain private, and he should only be judged by what he did in his capacity as an elected official (like being a moralistic hypocrite), but it does seem that his resignation is imminent. With South Carolina Republicans turning against him, his position may be untenable.

“For the past two days, I have been speaking with Republican leaders across South Carolina,” said state GOP chair Karen Floyd. “There is clearly a growing view that the time may have come for Governor Sanford to remove himself and his family from the limelight, so that he can devote his efforts full-time to repairing the damage in his personal life.”

That sounds like the right thing to do. There is much damage to be repaired, if it is repairable at all. Sanford has no political future left, but perhaps, just perhaps, he can find happiness again in his personal life.


My feeling somewhat sorry for him aside, Sanford is hardly the Shakespearean tragic figure he is making himself out to be. If anything, he is proving himself to be a shameless narcissist caught up in the delusions of romantic love. As Michelle Cottle put it so well at The Plank yesterday:

It’s not simply that he couldn’t choose between Jenny and Maria. We’re talking about a guy who repeatedly asked his wife’s permission to run off for a quick visit with her competition. Sanford not only wanted to have his cake and eat it too–he wanted his legally wed cake to tell him that it’s ok to keep dipping his fork into his extramarital cake–excuse me, extramarital Soul Cake. In theory, of course, he was struggling to gently disentangle everyone from the ridiculous web he had woven. But he didn’t disentangle. He just kept tangling and tangling and tangling. Until he tangled so completely that the entire world found out about his situation–which, in turn, only prompted him to spin more stories on national TV about himself as the tragic slave to love. And then a few days later–even more stories, with more talk about his commitment to his family even as his poor heart is shattered. Oh, boo hoo hoo.


Now, of course, Sanford wants to be cheered, or at least pitied, for buckling down and committing to “falling back in love with” his wife — despite having announced to the entire globe that Maria is his true love. What nobility. What self-sacrifice. What moral fortitude. What utter nonsense. What now happens within the Sanford family should be an entirely private matter (as, indeed, this entire Love Story should have remained, if only the governor could have handled it less absurdly — and without taxpayer funding.) But however it ends, let’s not kid ourselves: Mark Sanford isn’t remotely special. He isn’t even particularly tragic, at least not in the romantic sense. The man isn’t a fool for love so much as he’s just a fool. And his political future now largely depends on how gladly the voters of South Carolina will suffer having a fool as their leader.

Pity this fool as you see fit.

(Cross-posted from The Reaction.)