Thursday, June 25, 2009

More on Mark Sanford

I posted yesterday about Mark Sanford’s mysterious absence. It turns out there is more to the story.

At a press conference, Sanford admitted to an adulterous affair with an Argentine woman. Ironically, he says he spent the past few days “crying in Argentina.” It seems weird to get on a plane and go to a different continent just to cry. One wonders if Sanford had another purpose for his trip.

There is clearly a lot of tumult in Sanford’s personal life. At the press conference, he revealed that his wife asked him to leave two weeks ago. Fortunately, it looks as if the two will try and reconcile. I hope things turn out okay for his family.

So what does this mean for Sanford? A lot of observers are saying this means the end of Sanford’s political ambitions. I myself shared that assessment just yesterday. But now I’m not so sure. The American public can be pretty forgiving. Bill Clinton retained high approval ratings throughout the impeachment hearings. David Vitter remains in the senate. Newt Gingrich might be a credible candidate for President in 2012 despite the fact that he had an affair at the same time he led the charge to impeach Clinton. It is said that we are nation of second chances, and I think that’s true to large degree.

Also, Americans have a short attention span. This is particularly true given the dismal state of the economy. Americans are too busy worrying about their family finances. To the extent they are paying attention to politics, it’s probably the health care debate or the possibility of revolution that has them captivated. After the economic crisis is over, there will be some other important issue. So while political junkies might remember this, my bet is that the average American won’t 5 years from now. If you need proof of that, test a neighbor or work colleague by seeing if they can list the transgressions of David Vitter, Newt Gingrich or Ted Kennedy.

And if they do, then Sanford can say that this was all a very difficult time for his family. He can say that he made mistakes that he truly regrets, and that he has reconciled with his wife. Americans might respect that kind of candor. More to the point, more families than we’d care to imagine have gone through one spouse’s adultery and struggled to work through the resulting issues because they still love each other. A lot of people can relate to Sanford.

My hunch is that this might prevent Sanford from laying the groundwork to run in 2012. While he’s tainted, it would be difficult to get top talent for his campaign or be taken serious by the media. To the extent that people do remember, it might also hurt him with the evangelicals who dominate the Iowa caucus. But I do think that he might have a shot in 2016 if he can survive in office now. Almost everyone will have forgotten by then.

I also think that we should be careful about judging Sanford. What he did was surely wrong. But I’m not ready to say he should never be able to occupy office ever again. If we made moral perfection our standard for holding office, Congress would be empty. If Sanford’s wife is willing to give him another chance, then so am I.

1 comment:

  1. Marcus, when are you going to run for some political office...we need people like you.

    Mark Hiser