Friday, May 3, 2013 | 2 a.m.
Former South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford’s fight for post-Appalachian Trail forgiveness ends Tuesday with a big congressional election. The focus, of course, is on issues, issues, issues.
“He skipped town to be with his mistress on Father’s Day,” says a Democratic ad currently being broadcast in the district. “Sanford even asked his wife for permission to have the affair and wasted our taxpayer dollars on himself.”
OK, but that was then.
“Do you think that President (Bill) Clinton should be condemned for the rest of his life based on a mistake he made in his life?” Sanford asked during a recent debate with his opponent, Democrat Elizabeth Colbert Busch.
That would be the same President Clinton that Sanford once voted to impeach.
The issue divide is actually pretty clear. Sanford is straight Tea Party; in the debate, he warned the audience that overspending had put us at the “tipping point as a civilization.” Colbert Busch, who more than held her own, kept linking herself to the Chamber of Commerce and the dredging of the local port. If the Republicans who dominate South Carolina’s 1st Congressional District want someone who will fight to reduce federal spending on everything except their area, she’d be perfect.
Sanford kept reminding the audience that Colbert Busch contributed $500 to his first gubernatorial campaign. Unfortunately, the debate came shortly before Hustler founder Larry Flynt announced that he had donated $2,600 to Sanford “because no one has done more to expose the sexual hypocrisy of traditional values in America today.” The former governor has certainly been plagued with unwanted supporters. His picture is prominently displayed on billboards recently erected by a website dedicated to connecting people who want to have extramarital affairs.
This election won’t change the composition of the House of Representatives, which will remain its same old wild and crazy self no matter who wins. But Sanford’s fate might tell us something about how far Americans are willing to go in overlooking misbehavior on the part of a politician. We all know that voters don’t generally punish adultery. The question is whether they at least require some reassurance that the pol under scrutiny won’t wind up being really weird forever.
Right now in New York, we need all the guidance we can get on this point, since we’re facing the distinct possibility of having to live through an Anthony Weiner for Mayor campaign. True, the chances are pretty slim that Weiner will ever again text pictures of his private parts to complete strangers of the female persuasion. But I think I speak for all city residents when I say that we do not have the emotional energy to come up with a complete list of other sexual feats we want taken off the table.
It’s pretty certain that Sanford will never again go jetting off to meet with a South American mistress while his aides desperately assure callers that he’s gone on a wholesome camping expedition. But ever since he was found out, the former governor has been periodically behaving as if he has a screw loose.
Sanford began this particular campaign with a meeting with his former wife, Jenny, in which, she said, he asked her to run his campaign. She declined, and the next time she saw him, he was standing on her back porch under the glow of his cellphone flashlight, violating their divorce settlement that prohibits him from entering her home without permission. At a minimum, the candidate suffers from an overoptimistic assessment of his relationship with the ex.
After court documents involving Jenny’s trespassing complaint became public, Sanford ran a full-page ad comparing himself to the defenders of the Alamo.
The ad was disturbing, and only partly because Sanford got the date of the fall of the Alamo wrong. It was written in the first person, in a manner that seemed designed to remind people that this is the same guy who once gave rambling, T.M.I. interviews about his marriage, his affair, and how he drew a “sex line” between normal lust objects and his Argentine “soul mate.”
“It’s been a rough week,” the ad understated. Sanford launched into an explanation of the trespassing incident and then a rebuttal of his opponent’s charges that he had spent taxpayer money on his affair. That part was virtually impossible to understand, possibly because Sanford delicately referred to paying for his flights to assignations in South America as “dealing with business class tickets.”
After quite a long ramble, Sanford wound up at the Alamo, where “a South Carolinian by the name of William Travis drew a line in the sand. ...” Travis has a lot of fans, but you could definitely argue he was an overemotional, self-dramatizing failed family man who was precisely the kind of person you would not want as the designated leader.
“I’m outnumbered right now but will fight to the end toward freedom and financial sanity in Washington so important to sustaining it,” Sanford concluded.
Also, the candidate really needs an editor.
Gail Collins is a columnist for The New York Times.