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March 04, 2013 10:49 AM Empathy For the Devil

By Ed Kilgore

At New York Magazine, Jason Zengerle’s got a long article on Mark Sanford’s fall and rise, focusing on his very touchy relationship with his ex-wife Jenny, who could have easily preempted his comeback congressional campaign with one of her own, and could sink his today with a few tart words.

Reading the piece, I couldn’t help but marvel at what a relatively easy time Sanford has had recovering from such a spectacular implosion, spending his post-gubernatorial days “almost Thoreau-ing” on his family’s plantation, building a cottage to house his political memoranda, mulling life in the big picture and occasionally jetting off to New York or Miami or Buenos Aires to spend time with his lover (and eventually fiancee). If Sanford hit bottom or struggled through a Dark Night of the Soul, it was in considerable comfort. Nor did his first steps back involve community service or anything selfless at all:

After a year and a half, he left Coosaw [the plantation] and moved to an apartment in Charleston. He did some commercial-real-estate deals and joined a couple of corporate boards. He popped up on Fox News to offer some political analysis. Then last summer, he took the plunge and traveled to Tampa for the Republican National Convention.

But here’s the most revealing part of the story:

Empathy is a dominant theme of Sanford’s campaign, and it came up in my own conversations with him. “I would argue, and again I’m not recommending the curriculum to my worst enemy, but if one fails publicly at something, there’s a new level of empathy toward others that could not have been there before,” he told me.
When I asked Sanford how that new empathy had changed his views on public policy—whether it had made him, for instance, more inclined to support public-assistance programs he’s long denounced as unnecessary—he said it had not. “Convictions are convictions,” he explained. His empathy is for other public figures recovering from sex scandals and personal humiliations. “I used to open the paper and think, How did this person do that? Now it’s all, But by the grace of God go I.”

Unbelievable. Here’s this man who grew up on a plantation and married an heiress, and then presided over a state that is a living monument to inequality, proudly championing the most churlish and self-righteous instincts of its privileged classes. But his new empathy still extends no further than people just like him. And odds are he’s going to go back to Congress, where I suspect he will declare his rehabilitation complete.

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.

Comments

  • c u n d gulag on March 04, 2013 11:04 AM:

    Nice title, Ed.

    Well, you know, since God and Jesus forgave him, why can't the people of SC?

    And of course he's learned nothing from this experience - except to have greater empathy for other powerful people who got caught with their zipper down, or their skirt up.
    After all, he's a Conservative. Learnin's for saps!

    And I'm sure that he feels more empathy for David Vitter, who kept his job after "whorin' 'round" two states, than Eliot Spitzer, who lost his job, after seeing only one prostitute.

    And any Conservative can tell you, less powerful people don't deserve any empathy.
    Why, they're hardly people at all, now are they?

  • Josef K on March 04, 2013 11:21 AM:

    What a shameless git. I suspect he'll be in for a rude shock when he's standing before St. Peter (or whoever is manning the pearly gates).

  • Gandalf on March 04, 2013 11:22 AM:

    Ya know gulag that's exactly what I got out of this article. Sanford and his ilk preetty much don't consider anyone a person unless it's one of their class. Sort of Roman like isn't it?

  • Mimikatz on March 04, 2013 11:24 AM:

    I wouldn't count the ex-wife out completely. She was apparently pretty smart and ambitious. It must gall her to see him skate by on (white) male privilege. What a depressed and ignorant place South Carolina must be to re-elect a scum like him.

  • Gene O'Grady on March 04, 2013 11:30 AM:

    Gandalf, Don't drag the Romans into it. When they said homo sum nil humanum alienum a me puto they really did mean all humans and not just their class.

  • boatboy_srq on March 04, 2013 11:30 AM:

    Sanford is a reminder to us all that, to the GOTea, those Others aren't really people, and merit consideration only when a Conservatist person's vote should be counted as many times as he has slaves - um, employees. The flipside of Sanford's "empathy" is Three-Fifths Compromise Redux.

    ... and I see that Gandalf had exactly the same take - though I'd use Confederate rather than Roman to describe the attitude.

  • Citizen Alan on March 04, 2013 11:31 AM:

    If he wins, I wonder if he'll move back into that frat house mansion where the C Street Project houses the members of its little sex cult.

  • Al on March 04, 2013 11:40 AM:

    Mark Sanford has been crucified in the harshest court there is - the court of public opinion. Enough is enough. Let the man get on with his life.

  • Celui on March 04, 2013 11:46 AM:

    In what universe would a South Carolina voter elect Sanford to national office? His very demeanor in this interview dissociates him from the real electorate, save those whose money buys others' votes. Hat in hand, head bowed, he reappears (election safely purchased and in his back pocket); "empathy", my behind!

  • Ken Houghton on March 04, 2013 12:03 PM:

    Mimikatz said: "What a depressed and ignorant place South Carolina must be to re-elect a scum like him."

    Someone send that line to Stephen Colbert's writers. They should get a Word out of it for tonight's show.

  • ottercliff on March 04, 2013 12:15 PM:

    I'm sure Sanford's empathy extends to fellow "plantation owners" as well. Particularly those who find themselves with no out buildings suitable to memorabilia housing.

    He is a proven liar and con man and if the good people of SC re-elect him, the deserve the BS he will cheerfully sling at them.

  • Anonymous on March 04, 2013 12:26 PM:

    Mark Sanford has been crucified in the harshest court there is - the court of public opinion. Enough is enough. Let the man get on with his life.

    Fuck no! As a politician he should've realized that once he lied to his constituents he was cutting his own throat.

    He did some commercial-real-estate deals and joined a couple of corporate boards. He popped up on Fox News to offer some political analysis. Then last summer, he took the plunge and traveled to Tampa for the Republican National Convention.

    Sounds like he has gotten on with his life. If this is crucifixion, put me up on that cross, brother.

  • schtick on March 04, 2013 12:27 PM:

    He has more empathy for teapubs that get caught with their zippers down and he always did. Nothing has changed except his tune, which is a feature to the lying scumbag teapubs.

  • Peter B Gillis on March 04, 2013 12:50 PM:

    I see Anthony Weiner sitting in a small room, staring at the screen, his jaw on his chest.

  • OKDem on March 04, 2013 12:56 PM:

    He is rationalizing tribal loyalty as empathy.

    I do not like country music in general [familiarity breeds contempt] but there is one that really fits Sanford:
    You say I should stay with you,
    That Jesus forgives you.
    You pray I will, but I won't.
    The difference is,
    Jesus loves you, I don't.

  • Egypt Steve on March 04, 2013 1:19 PM:

    "Mark Sanford has been crucified in the harshest court there is - the court of public opinion. Enough is enough. Let the man get on with his life."

    You know what's harsher than getting crucified in the court of public opinion? Getting crucified on a frackin cross.

    But that aside, I'm perfectly cool with him getting on with "his life." I just don't want him to impinge on my life at all. Which means I don't want him to have any part of my government.

  • Robert Waldmann on March 04, 2013 1:25 PM:

    Egocentric and also verbose. He could more concisely think "there go I" no need for the "but by the grace of God."

  • Bokonon on March 04, 2013 1:25 PM:

    It is not ordinary "empathy" that is the cornerstone of Sanford's campaign. It is "empathy towards a fellow fundamentalist Christian" - something more specialized and tribal.

    Sanford is speaking to South Carolina's fundamentalist voters in code, saying he has suffered, been chastened, made spiritual amends, and can now be trusted again and admitted back into the fold (since he is not arrogant or proud, but has made proper amends to God). Now ... this wouldn't be accepted in a politician who didn't have the correct moral foundation and religious views in the first place. And hence the different treatment Sanford is pitching here.

    Besides, lots of moral shortfalls are forgiven when you are an effective warrior, and you are also promising to utterly, completely wage war on the Democrats. Just ask David Vitter.

  • jprichva on March 04, 2013 1:36 PM:

    Sigh...it's been so long since Al has dropped by that the posters don't realize he's a revived parody troll.

  • schtick on March 04, 2013 1:56 PM:

    I caught it and I've missed him. And where has Hedda been?

  • Daddy Love on March 04, 2013 2:01 PM:

    I'm Thoreau-ing up in my mouth. A little.

  • zandru on March 04, 2013 2:28 PM:

    Nobody actually CARES about marital infidelity.

    Liberals may shake their heads and feel for the women who were betrayed, but they're not about to go rabid and hound the guy for the rest of his life. Ditto for "conservatives" (e.g. reactionaries) - they're completely fine with cheatin' on the li'l woman. After all, boys will be boys.

    Unless the cheater is a Democrat. Then, it's the ultimate evil. They're still talking about Teddy Kennedy, and he's been dead for years. So "Appalachian Trail" Sanford is (probably literally) "in like Flynn."

  • MuddyLee on March 04, 2013 3:11 PM:

    Jenny Sanford must be crazy - or just ultra conservative - to allow him to return to office. Let's not forget that Sanford left the state and country for several days and could not be contacted. This left the incredibly incompetent lieutenant governor Andre Bauer in charge by default - Bauer was Sanford's impeachment insurance since nobody in the legislature wanted to see Andre become governor in spite of Sanford's unpopularity in the legislature. My question is who are the crazy rightwingers who will finance Sanford's campaign?

  • SFAW on March 04, 2013 3:38 PM:

    My question is who are the crazy rightwingers who will finance Sanford's campaign?

    My question is: is there such a thing as a non-crazy rightwinger?

  • Col Bat Guano on March 04, 2013 4:37 PM:

    I love this:

    When I asked Sanford how that new empathy had changed his views on public policy—whether it had made him, for instance, more inclined to support public-assistance programs he’s long denounced as unnecessary—he said it had not. “Convictions are convictions,” he explained.

    But that conviction about adultery, you know, the one actually in the bible, that is completely disposable? What an idiot.

  • grandpajohn on March 04, 2013 4:56 PM:

    Uuhh I hate to break up the slam SC voters party here but it is not up to the voters of SC to elect him, but the voters in the particular district that he is running in to elect him, a big distinction. The district has also been redrawn since he was last elected to congress and so he is not at all assured of election.

  • theod on March 05, 2013 10:05 AM:

    And Mr. Kilgore is surprised about what exactly? That a leopard can't change his spots? I predict a successful future political career for Mr. Sanford, as he represents a large swath of selectively-self-righteous people who claim to love Jesus and the Bible and traditional values...in theory.

  • Unsympathetic on March 05, 2013 3:29 PM:

    Everything's OK for him - and nothing's OK for other people. Because, you know, God only favors people who have money.

    He's a Republican: Therefore, anything is OK if it will "piss liberals off" or Help Accomplish His Vision For America.

    How do Republicans continue to vote for someone who because of his actions clearly places zero value on his family?

    The double standard of "It's OK if Republicans do it but not if Democrats do it" is insulting. If Republicans continue to support candidates who place no value on family [Many more Republicans have sex scandals than Democrats] - how is it that people actually think they are the "family values" party?