Saturday, June 27, 2009

She Said: A Soul Mate for the South Carolinian

South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford's affair with an Argentinian woman is only the most recent to hit the news lately. But his story is just a bit different than the usual. Unlike other cheating politicians, Sanford actually admits to having feelings for "the other woman." Clinton, Edwards, Spitzer, Vittner, and others all averred that the dalliance meant nothing, but Sanford had deep feelings for his paramour, María Belén Chapur. Is it worse to cheat because you are in love, or because you succumbed to the desire for physical gratification?

How embarrassing for Sanford that the emails to his Latin lover have been splashed all over the media. Robert Browning he is not, but it is titillating to read his passionate words. He calls her his "soul-mate" and laments transgressing a code of honor he has lived by all his life. But "despite the best efforts of my head my heart cries out for you, your voice, your body, the touch of your lips, the touch of your finger tips and an even deeper connection to your soul. I love you..." Sanford describes searching for answers in the scriptures (1 Corinthians 13) and retains a curious prudish reticence despite his passion:

“I could digress and say that you have the ability to give magnificently gentle kisses, or that I love your tan lines or that I love the curves of your hips, the erotic beauty of you holding yourself (or two magnificent parts of yourself) in the faded glow of night’s light — but hey, that would be going into the sexual details ...”

Other situations of this caliber have filled me with righteous indignation -- especially John Edwards' betrayal of his wife who was valiantly battling cancer. So I'm surprised to find that I have a teeny bit of sympathy for this Lothario. Am I too susceptible to a tragic love story?

Guy Murray and Kaimi had an interesting conversation about the affair on Facebook. Compare the two viewpoints on the political implications of this. Guy is of the opinion that "one can judge a man's character by the way he keeps vows and commitments to his wife and children. One who cannot be faithful to his own wife and children has serious character flaws that should be examined before assuming the national stage." He is also concerned that Sanford is "not the caliber of man I want leading a country designated as a land of promise, where if we keep the commandments we will prosper, but if we do not, will be swept from off its face."

On the other hand, Kaimi makes the point that personal issues are not as important as a political leader who has intelligence and skill. The qualities of intelligence, charisma, understanding of economics and geopolitics are not always correlated with moral value. "I mean, Michael Jordan was the best basketball player ever, despite his personal issues. Victor Hugo wrote enduring works (oft quoted by church leaders for their moral lessons), regardless of his own many affairs. I'd rather watch a game with Jordan than with a non-cheating but non-skilled player; and I'd rather read Les Mis than many other works which may have been written by folks who didn't cheat."

In reporting Sanford's infidelity, the Wall Street Journal notes:
For the Europeans, especially those of a Latin provenance, the sexual antics of politicians are of no more consideration in the judgment of their suitability for office than is what they eat for breakfast.

Examples include Silvio Berlusconi, the Italian prime minister; and the president of Paraguay, Fernando Lugo. Neither has found his political career to suffer due to his indiscretions.

So what do you think? Would you vote for or support a political leader who had an affair?


  1. No, I wouldn't vote for someone who cheated like that.

    It wasn't a one-time thing either. It's been going on before, his wife found out about it, and she forgave him on condition he wouldn't repeat.

    Then he repeated.

    So now he's a serial adulterer, well beyond the "just a slip" kind of thing (if there even is such a thing.

    My belief is: if a man will betray his wife, he'll betray his country.

    He would have been respected a lot more (or DISrespected a lot less) if he had waited until a divorce was final with his first wife, and actually waited to marry the other woman before carrying on with her.

    Guy Murray is right. Kaimi is wrong. National politics is not a ball game. People don't die if you let down your basketball team.

    By the way, this would also rule out McCain.

  2. Sex is sex. Are we supposed to believe that Franklin D. Roosevelt was worse than Adolf Hitler because the latter remained faithful to his wife and lover while FDR cheated on his wife?

    That would be absurd, wouldn't it? The claim that sexual fidelity is a standard by which we can judge a man's or a woman's character is equally absurd.

    Infidelity is not good but it happens in the best of families. Thus it has been from the beginning of time and thus it will remain.

    As I responded to your husband, human beings are not in charge of their bodies. We are our bodies.

    Therefore, we are not entirely in control of our sexuality. It is no accident that such a large number of men who were so judgmental about other men's shortcomings are getting into trouble themselves.

    It is their arrogance and self-adulation that renders them less disciplined, more ignorant, and more vulnerable to sexual temptations.

  3. I admire and respect MLK, John Edwards and Bill Clinton. I believe their egos and euphoria of power got in the way of their brains. What I can't take is hypocrisy, ie voting against gay rights then being found soliciting a man in a restroom. I pity Sanford, I believe he publicly humiliated his wife and children in the process of pursuing his passion and he will ultimately regret this, but I don't pretend for a minute to know what got into his head. As for me, I'm glad cheese is my indulgence, one which won't ruin my family or reputation.

    I'm not sure he should continue to stay in office given the AWOL bit, but arguing that someone can't keep their sexual urges under control = they will commit treason is far-fetched.

  4. I'm glad cheese is my indulgence
    What a lovely indulgence, mel.

  5. Hellmut, that's a straw-man. No one said that sexual fidelity was the _only_ criteria.

  6. It seems clear that personal righteousness and ability to govern are not correlated perfectly or anywhere near it. So if we want the best people for the job holding high political offices, then requiring that they meet some standard of personal righteousness seems like it would necessarily lead us to having some less competent political leaders.

    But on the other hand, it's not like there isn't a huge pool of potential candidates. And the political process probably already assures that lots of people are excluded for reasons other than competence. So perhaps focusing on personal righteousness gets us the 65,117th best candidate rather than the 62,400th best, and it's not that big a deal.

    Then if righteousness and ability to govern are at least correlated positively, perhaps focusing on righteousness will help us choose between otherwise similar candidates. But I wonder if in fact they aren't correlated negatively so that getting better leaders means putting up with more evil in their personal lives. I don't think there's enough evidence to suggest this is true, but it doesn't seem immediately obvious that it's false, either.

    I'm not sure what I think in the end. I do like melodrama's point about the hypocrisy being more bothersome than any particular sin, though.

  7. There is a very simple reason why disgraced politicians should immediately resign no matter what the offense, or the talent they may possess which could benefit society: in this partisan, acrimonious, political environment in which we currently live, and at this point in time in our nation’s evolution, any elected official needs as much support from his constituency which he or she can gather. After the offense, that support base will undoubtedly diminish, and render their service less effective.

    As for resignation, you might check out this.