I spoke with Curtis Bostic last night. The decorated Marine Corps veteran and current South Carolina congressional candidate wouldn’t take a shot at the opposition. He wouldn’t. I ribbed him. I cajoled him. I grilled and goaded him to give me a devastating one-liner concerning his primary opponent and South Carolina’s adulterous ex-governor Mark Sanford. I even suggested a few. Bostic wouldn’t budge.
Just in case anyone has forgotten, Mark Sanford was being appraised for his presidential timber by Republican heavyweights as recently as 2009. His name was mentioned in the same breath as Mitt Romney and Jeb Bush as possible contenders in 2012. Then Sanford went hiking on the Appalachian Trail. At least, that’s what he told his office, his wife Jenny and his four sons. In truth, he used taxpayer dollars to fly to Argentina so that he could simultaneously cheat on his wife and his state. But that’s not the worst of it.
The story of Sanford’s cheating had broken before his plane landed in Charleston. The press even got their hands on a few of his love letters. Excerpts were being giddily read on MSNBC. In short, Sanford disgraced his office and his party and humiliated his wife and sons on national television. So what does Sanford do? He inexplicably approaches a bank of microphones.
Let’s pause here and assess.
At this point, America has been inundated with the intimate details of Sanford’s affair and seen pictures of his mistress and his poor wife and family. Mark Sanford is a national villain. There are no words in the English language that can ameliorate the situation, shield his victims or defend his actions. From a public relations front, there is nothing to be said. From a political perspective, there is nothing to be said. From a purely human standpoint, there is nothing that needs to be said to the public. At this horrifying moment, whatever words the governor can muster need to be said to God, Jenny Sanford and the Sanford children, apologizing and begging forgiveness.
Yet Mark Sanford approaches a bank of microphones.
As the train wreck enters slow motion, Sanford commits the most revealing and, perhaps, the worst of his sins with the world watching. Over an excruciating 19 minutes, Sanford dryly admits his affair. Though he insists that the admission is painful, he explains the genesis and evolution of his adultery with a near-Vulcan detachment. He even takes questions from the press. And in possibly the most sociopathic moment ever captured on live television, Sanford asserts that he fell in love with his mistress, that she is his “soul mate.” But now that he’s been caught, he will “try to fall back in love” with his wife.
Adultery, as destructive and hurtful as it is, is pretty standard fare in post-Clinton American politics. The same goes for hypocrisy. But what Mark Sanford did in front of that bank of microphones in 2009 is a singularity in the history of American politics. He wasn’t facing the music. By telling the world that his mistress was his “soul mate,” Sanford was asking the world to understand. (He was also permanently scarring his wife and dashing any of his sons’ hopes that their family might be whole again, but that’s another matter.) In the face of political demise and familial devastation, Sanford was trying to impart a sense of romance to his adultery. He wanted the American public to look past his broken vows and shattered family and see his pure heart, his true love, his “soul mate.” Thinking those thoughts is bad enough. Expressing them aloud is worse. But broadcasting them to the world is an entirely different species of demonic. With that unique expression of values, Sanford elevated caprice over civilization’s bedrock institution. (Footnote: Sanford failed in his magnanimous effort to “fall back in love” with his wife. He’s presently engaged to the Argentine home wrecker.)