CHARLESTON, S.C. • As the reporter said to the novelist: Why bother to make stuff up?
For stories and characters, one needs only a pair of walking shoes in this city, where recent attentions have turned to two salacious stories. One concerns a murder-for-hire plot involving a banker, his wife, his lover’s ex-husband and his ex-lover’s husband’s cellmate. Not to be confused with his soul mate.
No, that designation refers to the other story making rounds on the cocktail circuit. Yes, he’s back but maybe not for long. Mark Sanford, the former governor who disappeared for five days, allegedly to hike the Appalachian Trail only to find himself in the arms of his lover (now his fiancée), is discovering that not every kid gets a comeback.
What is it about the shamed male politician that he seems unable to accept when it’s over? This is strictly rhetorical, obviously. Part of the answer is hubris. Another part is history: Voters generally are forgiving once a person confesses and repents. But key to general forgiveness is the forgiveness of the wronged spouse. If Mrs. forgives, Joe and Jane Public usually do too.
The list of those who have sinned and recovered is too long for this space, though a couple serve the point — and at least one deserves special mention: Bill Clinton.
Despite his well-known peccadilloes, the former president has become a respected global figure in the wake of his impeachment by the House of Representatives (the Senate failed to convict) on charges of perjury and obstruction of justice. His personal sins mostly forgiven, he has emerged with his popularity largely intact.
Perhaps the explanation lies in his overall likability as well as his good works through his foundation, not to mention a larger sense that he was unnecessarily persecuted for behaviors that were more or less familiar to (and ignored by) a majority of voters. At some point in the investigation, he became more sympathetic than his pursuers.
Clinton did not, moreover, seek public office again. And, significantly, Hillary, her early protestations notwithstanding, stood by her man.
Switch now to former New York Rep. Anthony Weiner, who left Congress after accidentally tweeting a photo of his assets to his Twitter followers. Despite unfathomable embarrassment, Weiner now is considering a run for mayor of New York City. A recent poll shows him in second place in a hypothetical Democratic mayoral primary at 15 percent, behind City Council Speaker Christine Quinn at 26 percent.
Again, Weiner’s wife, who was pregnant at the time of his topple, stayed with him.
Lest Democrats feel unfairly singled out, we further note that Republican Sen. David Vitter of Louisiana has held his seat despite his intersection with prostitution. His longevity no doubt is attributable to his sincere repentance, constituent satisfaction and, importantly, his wife’s forgiveness.
Which brings us back to Sanford. Not only did he abandon his state for five days during his walkabout, but he committed the unthinkable. He wept. No taking it like a man, this one. Without consideration for his wife and young sons, he referred to his paramour as his soul mate.
Sanford didn’t even have the decency to resign from office, but finished his term and vanished for a couple of years only to re-emerge in pursuit of a fresh legacy. He recently won the Republican primary for an open congressional seat and faces Elizabeth Colbert-Busch (sister of Stephen Colbert) in a special election May 7.
To many South Carolinians, especially women, Sanford’s candidacy is an embarrassment of Weineresque proportions. But if history is any guide, his candidacy is on life support. Not only did his former wife, Jenny Sanford, not stand by her man, she wrote a book, went on TV and recently took him to court for trespassing. This in the wake of his fiancée showing up at his primary victory party and appearing on stage with him and two of his sons, one of whom had not previously met their future stepmother.
Sanford’s lack of empathy for his family, not to mention his impeachable judgment, should disqualify him from further public service, an opinion apparently shared by the Republican National Committee, which recently withdrew support for his candidacy.
Where the wife goes, so go the people.
Copyright the Washington Post