Reactions to Mark Sanford

You’ve surely heard about it, if you’re reading this from the other side (i.e. the Western) of the Big Pond, and word has spread over to us here on the European side as well: South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford, missing for six days, turned out not to have gone hiking in those Appalachian Mountains that he loves so well, as his office staff claimed, but instead jetted down to Buenos Aires to meet with a local Latin lover there – supposedly employing all those five days (left after you subtract travel time) to put an end to the relationship. This the governor tearfully acknowledged to the world at a bizarre press-conference yesterday.

Who better to look to for a first take on all this than the French? (Other than the Argentinians, but this weblog is called EuroSavant). For that we can go to L’Express’ correspondent in the States, Philippe Coste, and his blog-entry The governor and his labrynth. You might recall – although it was more than ten years ago – that the French, in particular, were mystified by the whole to-do around the Monica Lewinsky affair and President Clinton’s impeachment; powerful French politicians, all the way up to past President François Mitterand (and for that matter – who knows? – even president-at-that-time Jacques Chirac), had routinely kept mistresses on the side, but these had always been kept decorously hushed-up, in keeping with the French electorate’s acceptance of and lack of interest in such things.

Sure enough, here Coste mainly comes down on the side of Sanford; he makes it clear that he feels that the governor was unfairly hounded by the press:

I don’t know, but all that I see is a man in love, terribly in love. The State, the local newspaper, did not flinch at any sacrifice, dispatched to Argentina special personnel to trace the lady, and has just published their personal e-mails. I still dont know. . . . He only committed the crime of loving to the point of thinking for a while of just chucking everything for her.

He goes on, even as he describes the decision to publish those e-mails as “ignoble,” nonetheless to urge Sanford’s detractors to examine them again, as they will surely find “a human richness that contrasts as if by magic with the sticky and vulgar artifice, the virtuous poses American elected officials strike for the media.” He even undertakes to translate what he considers a particularly touching passage from one of Governor Sanford’s e-mails to his Argentine flame. (Hey, what the heck, the horse has long since left the barn since they’re all public now anyway.)

It’s all a bit touching; who in the US can you name who has similarly been willing to take Sanford’s side? (Not that the Governor can be expected to be appreciative; I understand that the very adjective “French” is a dirty word in the Republican lexicon.) But Coste probably goes to far with his sympathy, declaring at one point – referring to Sanford – that “this type has never played Father Virtue.” That of course is hardly true; it is largely the sheer hypocrisy that such behavior reveals in purported “family values” Republican elected officials like Sanford (or the philandering Senator Ensign of Nevada) that most offends many observers.

Poul Høj On the Case!

In view of this, it’s probably better to shift to a no-nonsense Northern European/Protestant media onlooker for a more iobjective view. Here it will come as no surprise to long-time readers of this weblog that I resort once again to Poul Høj, correspondent in the United States for Denmark’s Berlingske Tidende. Høj is all over the Sanford affair, coming out on BT’s on-line site with several articles dealing with various aspects, including one entitled Sanford took a hard line against other sex-scandal colleagues. That piece directly controverts the assertion by L’Express’ Coste mentioned above that Sanford had never been “holier-than-thou”; its lead: “Governor Sanford asks for forgiveness now, but he has never before been willing to forgive politicians who had flings.” And there’s another Sanford-related piece from him, a sort of nostalgic return to the ten “greatest hits” of American political sex scandals of times past, if you will, with the Big Dog naturally #1 on the list and a superb picture at the article’s very head of him pointing his finger at the press behind his presidential lectern (“I did not have sex with that woman!”) while the 1998-model Hillary glares sternly, with ruby-red pursed lips, from behind his right shoulder.

Actual analysis of Sanford’s situation Høj provides in his article Sanford affair is far from closed. He puts forward a number of interesting points:

  • Can he even survive in his job? Consider that his fiercest critics in South Carolina seem to have been fellow Republicans, even before this latest adventure, with at the head of the pack one certain State Senator (whom Høj does not identify, but it’s Jake Knotts) who denounced to the press the governor’s “lies, lies, and more lies.”
  • Who is this Maria in Buenos Aires? The press is certainly on her tail, as they already know her address, so it’s inevitable that we will learn much more about her and maybe even get to hear her side of the story.
  • Høj phrases his next point rather awkwardly: “What was the anatomy in Argentinagate?” What he specifically means here is that it seems that Sanford, during the six days of his disappearance, deliberately lied to his staff about where he was – isn’t that somehow against the law?
  • Records show that Sanford has had multiple occasions to visit Argentina before, ostensibly for public business. So did South Carolina taxpayers actually end up paying for what we can assume were those visits to his mistress?
  • Finally, what sort of effect will this affair have on Republican electoral fortunes, particularly in view of the fact that it follows so closely on the Senator Ensign affair? Will it convince people that the Republican Party is rotten at the core?

Good questions, all – and it’s for certain that Poul Høj will continue to stay on top of this matter for his BT readers.

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