Sympathy For Sanford

I know I’m a week late on this, but whatever.

Last week, I found Mark Sanford’s press conference oddly touching. Yes, there was a certain amount of schadenfreude in me as well, as he is, in fact, a Republican and called for Bill Clinton’s resignation during the whole Lewinsky thing. But, he was obviously flustered, obviously unscripted, and obviously falling apart emotionally in a very public setting. The cameras were on him, the ticker underneath him was summarizing his words, and he seemed to constantly have a look on his face that said “Um… What do I say next?”

The whole “politician has affair” story is rather tiring. It’s commonplace and trite, and I don’t think it’s really all that newsworthy most of the time. Seeing Sanford, though, brought a few things to mind:

1: The personality of a successful politician and the personality of a successful monogamist do not overlap.

Politicians are generally outgoing, charismatic people with powerful personalities who know how to talk to people. They are also, almost by definition, ambitious. They are generally exactly the sort of people who attract others (they have to be, really) and exactly the sort of person who seek others out. We demand monogamy of our most driven, most well-spoken, most socially skilled people. It’s almost like expecting vegetarianism from orcas. Which makes me wonder…

2: How many of them are actually swingers?

No, really. It seems like there would be way more political fallout if a politician admitted to being in an open relationship than cheating on their spouse. Cheating, after all, is an indiscretion performed by red-blooded testosterone-charged Americans. Open relationships, though, are for perverts who live in filthy hippy holes like Eugene, Oregon. Better to just cop to the cheating, rather than admit being involved with weird, pervy sexual practices. Which brings me to my third point…

3: Monogamy isn’t for everybody.

But we expect it to be. As far as I’m concerned, if everyone’s on the same page and no one is emotionally maltreated, consenting adults can do whatever they wish with their anatomy. I don’t think that what Mark Sanford did was right because he obviously lied to his wife and it sounds like he was also stringing his girlfriend along. However, I think that in a more permissive culture, he could have done right by both of them. Having multiple partners, I think, is utterly possible. However, one can’t be fair about it unless they are open and honest about it. That can’t happen when you’re strutting about as a public figure pretending to have a vanilla marriage. Also…

4: Your favorite politician is a probably a cheater, so just get used to it.

Like I said, their personalities make it more likely. Better to just expect them to be boning half their staff, while the other half watches. (And who knows, maybe their wives are in the cheering section.) Barack Obama, messiah that he seems to be, is probably sleeping with someone who is not Michelle. G. W. probably had a few girls on the side. Reagan probably forgot more sex than you’ll ever have.

But you know what? I don’t care. I don’t think any less of, say, FDR for having a mistress. I don’t think any less of Bill Clinton, John Ensign, John Edwards, or Mark Sanford. If I was in their position, I would have probably succumbed as well. You probably would, too.

The idea that Sanford should resign because he cheated on his wife is utterly ridiculous. Politicians should resign because they break the law or are incompetent. Sanford was a dick to his wife, yes, and also a dick to his girlfriend, but that has nothing to do with the execution of his office. He should fill out the duration of his term according to the law, and doesn’t deserve the abuse he’s gotten in the press.

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