Time to go, Gov. Sanford
Religion & Liberty Online

Time to go, Gov. Sanford

A reader makes a request:

My purpose for writing is simply to request the Acton Institute make a public statement on its website to repudiate Mr. Sanford’s actions, in large measure because he was prominently featured in Volume 18, Number 3 of Religion & Liberty journal. Of course your organization is not expected to guarantee moral behavior of its featured contributors simply because none of us knows what is really in the hearts and minds of our neighbor. Governor Sanford previously demonstrated he was a man of character and integrity, but even the most upright man is in danger of falling. My request is for the Institute to denounce Mr. Sanford’s actions in the same public manner it praised his approach to politics last summer, in order to assure its viewers that it is not complicit with his actions.

If not exactly a denunciation, here’s an explanation for why we interviewed Gov. Mark Sanford. We opened the pages of R&L to the governor because of his record as a fiscal conservative and his willingness to talk about the way faith guided his public life. Here’s a sample of the interview:

R&L The religious views of candidates and their support among various faith traditions played a big role in the 2008 presidential race. Is this a good thing?

Sanford It is. But I don’t know if it was more window dressing than not. Obama had Rick Warren speak at the inauguration, and then got some guy of another persuasion to give the benediction. I don’t think you want it as an accoutrement. I think that you want it to show up in policy. In other words, conversation is certainly an important starting point. It can’t be the ending point.

Somewhere, that “deeds, not words” philosophy fell by the wayside. Yes, Gov. Sanford fell and fell hard. But he was lying to many people about his public life and private conduct. And we got taken in, too.

Now, we watch the sad spectacle of a politician clinging to power after he has obliterated any moral claim to continuing in office. He is refusing to go, and absurdly compares himself to Biblical figures.

About an hour after Mrs. Sanford talked of her pain and feelings of betrayal, her husband brushed aside any suggestion he might immediately resign, citing the Bible and the story of King David, who continued to lead after sleeping with another man’s wife, Bathsheba, having the husband slain, then marrying the widow.

“What I find interesting is the story of David, and the way in which he fell mightily — fell in very, very significant ways – but then picked up the pieces and built from there,” Mr. Sanford told members of his Cabinet in a session called so he could apologize to them in person and tell them the business of government must continue.

As a friend said about Sanford’s David and Bathsheba analogy: Doesn’t he realize it belongs to someone else to offer that kind of assessment?

Actually, the most enlightened, faith-inspired interpretation of this sad affair comes from Jenny Sanford, the governor’s wife, who has shown admirable forthrightness in dealing with her husband’s very public meltdown:

I believe enduring love is primarily a commitment and an act of will, and for a marriage to be successful, that commitment must be reciprocal. I believe Mark has earned a chance to resurrect our marriage.

Psalm 127 states that sons are a gift from the Lord and children a reward from him. I will continue to pour my energy into raising our sons to be honorable young men. I remain willing to forgive Mark completely for his indiscretions and to welcome him back, in time, if he continues to work toward reconciliation with a true spirit of humility and repentance.

Campaign staffers who have worked with Jenny Sanford describe her as “an Old Testament woman with a 170 IQ.”

The Argentine woman Gov. Sanford was reported to be involved with spoke up recently. “It is not for me to judge anyone,” she said. “I leave it all in the hands of God.” Yes, indeed.

While we’re at it, allow me to add this, from Matthew 10:26: For there is nothing covered that will not be revealed, and hidden that will not be known.

Political calculations are now taking over. Some, like Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) want Sanford to stay, so long as he can reconcile his marriage. Others, like Minn. Gov. Tim Pawlenty, had a more severe assessment.

“Clearly, there’s been damage,” Mr. Pawlenty said on CNN’s “State of the Union.” “Any time you have leading figures who are engaged in behavior that is sad and troubling and hypocritical, other people are going to look at that and say, ‘Hmm, they don’t walk the walk.’ And so the words and the actions don’t ring true.”

In a Washington Times column appropriately titled “Corrupt Conservatives,” Jeffrey T. Kuhner observes that Sanford’s “act of pure folly” has squandered much of the good he did as an elected official:

His extramarital affair gave his enemies the political rope they needed to hang him finally. Whether or not Mr. Sanford resigns is irrelevant. He is spent as a national political force. His erratic and bizarre behavior – the weird claims that he was hiking on an undisclosed path along the Appalachian Trail; his rambling, confused news conference announcing his infidelity; and the steamy e-mails that have been published on the correspondence between him and his Argentine mistress – have doomed his chances as a Republican presidential contender in 2012. He has become a laughingstock.

Yet conservatives, too, are in his sinking ship.

Mr. Sanford is only one in a long line of Republican politicians who, while sounding like preachers and priests, have behaved like perverts and pimps. Sen. John Ensign of Nevada recently admitted to an extramarital affair with a former female staff member. Former Sen. Larry Craig of Idaho was brought down by a gay-sex sting operation in a Minneapolis airport. Sen. David Vitter of Louisiana was identified as a client of a Washington escort service (and faces a re-election challenge from – I’m not making this up – a former porn star who claims she is running to spotlight his hypocrisy). And, of course, there was former Florida Rep. Mark Foley, who was forced to resign after revelations of improper e-mails with teenage male House pages.

Kuhner, the president of the Edmund Burke Institute, a Washington-based think tank, says that “the American right is permeated with sanctimonious hypocrites who talk like traditionalists but live like libertines. At its core, conservatism is not simply a set of beliefs; it is a way of life – one that is anchored in the natural moral order centered on faith, family and freedom. This is the conservative holy trinity. And it is now being defamed by its own high priests.”

Although the Governor is, for now, refusing to go, we hope he reconsiders. He should resign, pack up and return to private life. That’s the least he should do for the people of South Carolina who once trusted him to be the man he said he was. Maybe, in time, he can start to put his life back together. That’s the best “ending point” he could possibly hope for now.

John Couretas

is a writer and editor based in Grand Rapids, Michigan.