Political Animal


February 18, 2013 10:58 AM Sanford and the “God of Second Chances”

By Ed Kilgore

Life often imitates parody in South Carolina: former Gov. Mark Sanford has just put up his first ad in his campaign to get back his old congressional seat, recently vacated by now-Sen. Tim Scott. Seems he’s going full-tilt into the paradox of simultaneously begging for forgiveness for his sins (which include not just adultery and public idiocy but a variety of financial irregularities that might have in some jurisdictions landed him in the hoosegow), while posing as the guy that can smite Washington with demands for strict fiscal accountability and moral rectitude.

The ad’s not up at YouTube just yet, but CNN’s Ashley Killough reports:

Former Republican Gov. Mark Sanford addressed the controversy that derailed his marriage and reputation in his first television ad for the special election in South Carolina’s 1st Congressional District.
“I’ve experienced how none of us go through life without mistakes. But in their wake we can learn a lot about grace, a God of second chances and be the better for it,” Sanford says in the spot, looking directly into the camera.

“In that light,” he continued. “I humbly step forward and ask for your help in changing Washington.”

Now the sin-and-redemption theme has worked for generations of southern politicians caught in various improprieties. But it’s not always matched so tightly with a message of Prophetic Wrath against the evil moneychangers in the temples of democracy who are wasting the tax dollars of the righteous on people with a lot fewer moral failings than Mark Sanford. A plea to the God of Second Chances to get the opportunity to smite the government of second chances is psychologically interesting, to say the least.

It’s probably true that Sanford needs a relatively small number of forgiving souls to win a special election that begins with an incredibly crowded (sixteen candidates) March 19 primary; he’s almost certain to make a runoff on name identification alone, and one of his more viable potential runoff opponents, Teddy Turner, is already making some novice errors. But the former governor had better keep his Old Testament/New Testament thematics straight, and it might be wise to keep his fiancee (the “soul-mate” with whom he had the intercontinental tryst that destroyed his governorship) out of sight until the votes are counted.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.


  • Robert on February 18, 2013 11:08 AM:

    One can forgive his private transgressions...but one cannot forgive his embrace of GOP/teabagger policies..

  • c u n d gulag on February 18, 2013 11:12 AM:

    I hope the voters in his district tell him that they forgive him, and then tell him to go take another hike!

    But, this "Jesus forgave, uh-huh, yes he did so too - 'tol' me so himself" routine works really well with the suckers, rubes, marks, fools, and morons.

    And, FSM knows, SC's full of those, and hordes of secesh re-enacting wanna-be's.

  • g on February 18, 2013 11:55 AM:

    Maybe the lesson he should have learned from his mistakes was to take up a different profession.

  • Equal Opportunity Cynic on February 18, 2013 11:59 AM:

    Sanford's god of second chances -- only barely resembling the Jesus of the Bible -- believes in forgiveness for the upper classes. The poor need to suffer every last consequence of their profligacy (or whatever other sin, maybe being born poor). Besides family values, the GOP is also the party of personal responsibility, dontcha know?

  • Keith M Ellis on February 18, 2013 12:03 PM:

    Seconding what Robert wrote, but going further, I've strongly disliked from the start the left-of-center attacks on Sanford for his "hike" and you, Ed, have certainly been no slouch in beating this drum.

    I'm ambivalent about whether these sorts of things about the private lives of politicians are relevant to the public interest — they do seem to have some bearing on issues of honesty and trust. I'm far from convinced that we should hold politicians' private lives to these standards, but I'm amenable to the argument.

    What I'm more certain about is that if we're going to criticize our political enemies on this basis, we ought to be equally critical of our friends. And I'm pretty darn sure that I don't hear Ed still condemning Clinton for Lewinski or lying about it. Hell, it's hard to throw a rock in DC without hitting a politician who's known as an adulterer. But I notice that Republicans forgive Sanford or Gingrich or whomever and Democrats forgive Kennedy or Clinton or whomever but never freaking stop harping on about it with regard to their enemies.

    Yeah, I know that the Republicans lecture everyone else about family values and sexual morality. On the other hand, it's not as if the Democrats never do the same and, anyway, I feel pretty certain that this hypocrisy argument is more of a ex post facto justification than it is the real impetus. The fact is, folks just plain enjoy morally condemning their perceived enemies and are perfectly happy to for reasons and with rhetoric that they otherwise dislike.

    But I'm sick of reading about Sanford's adultery. Every time it's mentioned and used as a means to discredit him it undermines the argument that he should be discredited for his beliefs and policies and his record in office.

  • schtick on February 18, 2013 12:32 PM:

    Let's face it, when teapubs drop their pants and get caught, they don't have to resign or face impeachment. Their Jesus-freaks believe the "I found Jesus between her legs" and not only forgive, but re-elect them. I'm not even going to go into their brothers in Congress giving them a standing ovation on the floor of Congress or why.

  • JM917 on February 18, 2013 1:08 PM:

    I'd have been inclined to take seriously Sanford's talk of second chances if he'd come off the Appalachian Trail and his second marriage with a message like this: "My marriage to Maria and what she's taught me about life have shown me the error of my previous ways. I now repudiate all the Tea-Party bunkum I used to spout. I've turned liberal and want to work to put South Carolina back on the road to progress, prosperity, and racial peace."

    Something as utterly improbable as that would have made me take Sanford seriously. It's apparent, however, that the philandering jerk has learned nothing and grown not an inch. And South Carolina remains what became in the generation before the Civil War: too small for a nation and too big for an insane asylum.

  • boatboy_srq on February 18, 2013 1:53 PM:

    @Keith M Ellis: there's a universe of difference between a pol who has a private life (in the absolute) and a pol whose private life is the complete converse from the private lives he demands of his citizens. Sanford has been anti-woman, anti-choice, anti-LGBT, anti-sex (safe or not) and anti-sex-ed, anti-labor (especially anti-unemployed) and anti-public-assistance, the entirety of his career as visible on the national stage, yet he engaged in a resoundingly ill-carried affair while still married, and let it interfere with his duties, yet still expected his public not only not to be troubled by it but not even to notice. He treated his wife and mistress worse than the fathers he denounced for leaving their kids' mothers, and he treated his office more like a hobby than an obligation.

    It's quite true that infidelity, "passing" and various corrupt/improper behaviors are hardly exclusive to the GOTea. But few outside the GOTea are so ardent in their efforts to disenfranchise/suppress/shame/whatever others who engage in the same behavior - especially if they expect that their constituents will forgive them and retain them in office for the price of a public mea culpa. And in cases like Sanford's, it does nothing to dispel the impression of the GOTea as the party of entitled self-serving hetero white males, who think that sneaking off to get some - and leaving your office door swinging in the wind - is perfectly OK as long as you don't get caught, and if you DO get caught then all that's required to win back the voters is a little prayer and a few tears in public.

    I have no problem leaving most people's private business as just that - private. But people like Sanford, whose unthinking and uncaring hypocrisy cry out for media attention, deserve all the public scorn we can heap on them.

    You may be comfortable with a) the gay pol who marries for respectability and enacts anti-LGBT policies; b) the married philanderer who pushes for "traditional marriage" as a solution to social ills; c) the pol who has his mistresses abort his "accidents" whilst closing off choice to the women of his jurisdiction; etc etc. At least some of the rest of us are not.

  • AndThenThere'sThat on February 18, 2013 1:54 PM:

    Will he and his new wife be having anchor babies?

  • AndThenThere'sThat on February 18, 2013 1:57 PM:

    You may be comfortable with a) the gay pol who marries for respectability and enacts anti-LGBT policies; b) the married philanderer who pushes for "traditional marriage" as a solution to social ills; c) the pol who has his mistresses abort his "accidents" whilst closing off choice to the women of his jurisdiction; etc etc. At least some of the rest of us are not.

    X 10

  • N.Wells on February 18, 2013 2:25 PM:

    Keith, the standard of not being a hypocrite is a perfectly legitimate concern that is not being differentially applied. The question is simply does the politician live up to the standards that he or she wishes to impose on everyone else? If they want to inflict standards on us that they won't live by themselves, then it's no longer just their business.

  • Keith M Ellis on February 18, 2013 3:01 PM:

    Yeah, I'm not convinced.

    What I'm not comfortable with are misogynist and homophobic rhetoric and policies — what the politician does in his/her private life is about a thousand times less important. If some "family values" sexist or homophobe is hypocritical, I find that this makes me just a little bit angrier at and disgusted with them than I already am, which is a lot.

    Meanwhile, when folk like you go on and on about some pol's adultery or that he's a closeted gay or he wanted his wife to have an abortion, the implicit message is that you're agreeing with the conservative framing that adultery is a really bad thing, that being gay is a really bad thing, or that having an abortion is a really bad thing. And that being a hypocrite is a really, really bad thing ... and all more so than the bigoted views and policies themselves.

    The way in which "philanderers" and adulterers and closeted gays are criticized in our society contains a lot of implicit sexism and homophobia and very often — much more often than not — when left-wing commentators criticize right-wing hypocrites about these things they use this rhetoric containing this regressive subtext. I think it's bad to reinforce these messages and I think it's bad to imply that these things are actually morally wrong when we progressives believe they're not and I think it's bad to imply that somehow the hypocrisy is more important than the regressive and bigoted views and policies.

    If you're spending a minute decrying these hypocrites for their hypocrisy, you should be spending a corresponding hour or more decrying them for their views and policies themselves.

  • boatboy_srq on February 18, 2013 3:30 PM:

    the implicit message is that you're agreeing with the conservative framing that adultery is a really bad thing, that being gay is a really bad thing, or that having an abortion is a really bad thing.

    You're missing the point. They keep insisting these are bad things, and go out of their way to make them difficult/shameful/illegal for their constituents - and then go quietly and do those very things they've made difficult/shameful/illegal for the people who put them in office. It's only "bad", as you put it, if you make it a bad thing for everyone except yourself - because you're saying you're above the law, and because you think you alone are entitled to your own behavior, and because you make other people's lives miserable for doing things you expect to get away with.

    I for one have lived and worked as a (quietly) out professional, and had screaming queens whose only professional saving grace was a compliant "spouse" make my life miserable in the office for being comfortable with myself, and I've had pols making decisions that infringe my rights as a citizen and imperil my health as a resident while playing with their same-sex sex partners OTDL away from their wives, and I've had enough of that. One's choices are one's own, but denying others the right to make that same choice is flat-out wrong, and that's what's being called out here. Do what you like behind closed doors, but do not tell me that what's ok for you is not for me.

    And if you think for a minute that there's not enough denouncement of moralizing, hypocritical, self-centred, entitled wingnuts here at WM, then you aren't paying the least attention, and you certainly aren't reading Kilgore or Stan or following c u n d gulag's comments.

  • Julemry on February 19, 2013 8:56 AM:

    Mark Sanford lived a lie for a long time. He humiliated his wife and family solely for sex. His lie was painful to his family. Clearly, his morals are pretty low. What are the odds that sooner or later he will cook up another big lie to cover up yet another transgression? Pretty good, I'd say. But South Carolina.... Meh. Idiots.