Going Off Script

July 1, 2009 | By | 8 Replies More

Mind you, I am not defending Governor Mark Sanford, not really.  But I have to admit to being pleasantly surprised at his current stance, vis a vis his affair.

“I will be able to die knowing that I had met my soul mate,” he said in an interview.

Image by S.C. Governor's Office - used with permission

Image by S.C. Governor's Office - used with permission

So many public figures indulge in affairs, get caught, and then drag the whole thing out in a back yard lot, pour gasoline on it, and set it ablaze in a spasm of self-loathing apologetics.  I suppose the most dramatic was Jimmy Swaggart, weeping openly on television, going through a self-flagellation of Medieval proportions, at least psychologically.

And he was “forgiven” by his followers.

It seemed for a time that Sanford’s supporters were getting set to forgive him.  “Okay,” they seemed to say, “you have a fling, it could happen to anybody, but now you’re back, you’ve abased yourself, your wife is going to forgive you, we can go on.”

But wait.  Now he has come out and gone off-script.  He was in love with  Maria Belen Chapur, and still is.  They met in 2001, at the onset of our eight-year-long Republican convulsion over public morality and national meltdown in global politics.  The Republican Party named for itself the “high ground” of moral probity, condemning liberalism as somehow not only fiscal irresponbsible but the ideology of license and promiscuity.

Democrats have been caught in extramarital affairs, no question.  But most of them did not sign on to any puritanical anti-sex purgation program.  The Republicans, who stand foursquare in opposition to gay marriage, sex education, pre-marital sex, contraception, divorce, pornography, and just about anything that suggests an embrace of physical pleasure outside the narrow parameters of a biblical prescription for wedded bliss (all without obviously understanding just what biblical standards actually are) seem to be having more than their share of revelatory faux pas in this area.  They are the party now of “Do What I Say Not What I Do”—a parenting stance that has long since lost any credibility.

Polls and surveys and studies suggest that conservatives generally have a bigger problem with pornography than do liberals.  Likewise, it seems conservative men of power screw around a lot more than do liberals in similar positions.

I think this is because there is an unspoken assumption among conservatives in power having to do with “perks.”  You can see this extending all the way back in history.  The man with the power gets to play more.  In fact, they might suggest to colleagues in the know that a little “extracurricular action” is necessary to keep things sane.

John Edwards, for all his faults, is more typical of liberals/democrats.  He screwed up.  But he didn’t go out in public crying his eyes out about how he’d lost his way.  He said he intended to try to patch things up with his wife, sorry if the public is disappointed, and I’m outta here.  Crass as it seems, his wife has been very ill.  Say what you want about marital commitment, the stress cancer puts on a relationship is not something most people understand and if the man indulged inadvisedly in sex outside his marriage, well, that’s between him and his wife.  End of story.  We can condemn, understand, forget, forgive, or deal with it as we will, it is no longer any of our business.

It’s not like Newt Gingrich, who (planned or not) had his sick wife served with divorce papers in the hospital so he could marry his mistress.

But Sanford now…he’s gone off-script as I say.  He’s owning up.  He’s not really apologizing for the affair.  He’s sorry it came out, he’s sorry the situation is what it is, but frankly, he isn’t sorry it happened.

And honestly?  That’s a bit refreshing.

We indulge a myth in this culture about True Love that’s pretty unsupportable in real life.  It happens.  But it’s almost never—almost—the way we tell ourselves it’s supposed to be.  Falling in love with your high school sweetheart, marrying, and being happy in that relationship till we die…it does happen.  But it is not the norm and it’s not fair to hold it up as the Gold Standard, because you just can’t know where life will sometimes take you.

Besides, a big part of that myth is that we can only ever fall in love with one other person.  An ancillary part of that is that we can only ever be in love with one person at a time.  It’s not true.  Maybe it would be better if it were.

But standing up acting like a victim—which is what most of these people like Sanford and Swaggert and the rest do—and throwing themselves on the mercy of the public, a public that can have no real idea what was going on in these people’s lives, is worse in my opinion than the initial indiscretion.  Because when you do that, you throw your lover on a bonfire and make him or her out to be a terrible thing.

Sanford’s not doing that.  Sanford is basically saying “You know, I don’t like it that my life is about to explode over this, but I met someone and we have a connection, and I’m not sorry about it.”

What?!?  How can you say that?

Because—out of everything else he might have said or done—it’s the truth.  And for that, I applaud the man.

The dirty secret about the Republican mindset regarding this, with a few exceptions, is that they’re not nearly so angry with him for having done it as they are for getting caught.

And he didn’t actually get caught.  He took a week off to go see someone he loves.  Very publicly.  Maybe the press was sniffing around, maybe not, but if so he stole their thunder.

Molly Ivans,who was such a breath of fresh air and common sense in a realm where neither is in any great supply, once responded to a question about sexual misconduct and the performance of civic duty more or less this way.  I’m paraphrasing.

“It would be nice to think there’s a connection between private sexual conduct and the ability to do your duty in public office, but there just isn’t.  Some of the most lecherous men have been great politicians.”

Should Sanford resign over this?   If it were me, I’d fight it.  I’d look at my detractors and say “How dare you judge me for something a significant number of you would either like to do, have done, or are doing.”  But it seems unlikely he’ll be allowed to be effective now.

It’s a small thing, perhaps, this one spot of honesty in all this mess, but I think it’s an important one because for once it’s not feeding into the self-deceptive self righteousness that is our national myth about True Love.

There is True Love.  But it doesn’t always come along at a convenient time and it doesn’t only happen just once.  And—this is the most important thing—it is not reducable to a consumer package to be paraded and auctioned for Air Time and Ratings.

Just sayin’, you know?

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Category: American Culture, Culture, Current Events, Friendships/relationships, Politics, Sex

About the Author ()

Mark is a writer and musician living in the St. Louis area. He hit puberty at the peak of the Sixties and came of age just as it was all coming to a close with the end of the Vietnam War. He was annoyed when bellbottoms went out of style, but he got over it.

Comments (8)

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  1. Hank says:

    I wasn't aware Sanford been so frank & honest about this. Well, I must give him a little respect for that. I don't approve of his actions but at least he's taking responsibility, copping it sweet and not playing the pious penitent, led astray by the Debbil or some such foolery.

    I agree that you don't choose who you love or when you start to love them and that such things are always more complicated than they may appear on the surface. However, I do think you should show someone enough respect to end your relationship with them before committing to another one. I realise that's rather simplistic but I like to think that's how I'd roll were I – squid forbid – ever in the same situation.

  2. Mindy Carney says:

    hmmmm. As one who met her soul mate at the wrong time in both our lives and has to live with that, I understand that part of it. I want to agree with you, Mark, on the honesty part; I'm just having trouble getting past his narcissistic sliminess.

    But you have a point. How he handles his politics from here on will be interesting to watch.

  3. Erich Vieth says:

    Jon Stewart asks Sanford to

    stop reading aloud from his "Hello Kitty diary," saying, "The rest of us are not supporting characters in your erotic adventure."

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2009/07/03/shut-up-

    <table style='font:11px arial; color:#333; background-color:#f5f5f5' cellpadding='0' cellspacing='0' width='360' height='353'><tbody><tr style='background-color:#e5e5e5' valign='middle'><td style='padding:2px 1px 0px 5px;'><a target='_blank' style='color:#333; text-decoration:none; font-weight:bold;' href='http://www.thedailyshow.com/&#039; rel="nofollow">The Daily Show With Jon Stewart</td><td style='padding:2px 5px 0px 5px; text-align:right; font-weight:bold;'>Mon – Thurs 11p / 10c</td></tr><tr style='height:14px;' valign='middle'><td style='padding:2px 1px 0px 5px;' colspan='2'><a target='_blank' style='color:#333; text-decoration:none; font-weight:bold;' href='http://www.thedailyshow.com/video/index.jhtml?videoId=232258&title=shut-up,-mark-sanford&#039; rel="nofollow">Shut Up, Mark Sanford</td></tr><tr style='height:14px; background-color:#353535' valign='middle'><td colspan='2' style='padding:2px 5px 0px 5px; width:360px; overflow:hidden; text-align:right'><a target='_blank' style='color:#96deff; text-decoration:none; font-weight:bold;' href='http://www.thedailyshow.com/&#039; rel="nofollow"&gt <a href="http://;www.thedailyshow.com</td></tr><tr” target=”_blank”>;www.thedailyshow.com</td></tr><tr valign='middle'><td style='padding:0px;' colspan='2'><embed style='display:block' src='http://media.mtvnservices.com/mgid:cms:item:comedycentral.com:232258&#039; width='360' height='301' type='application/x-shockwave-flash' wmode='window' allowFullscreen='true' flashvars='autoPlay=false' allowscriptaccess='always' allownetworking='all' bgcolor='#000000'></embed></td></tr><tr style='height:18px;' valign='middle'><td style='padding:0px;' colspan='2'><table style='margin:0px; text-align:center' cellpadding='0' cellspacing='0' width='100%' height='100%'><tr valign='middle'><td style='padding:3px; width:33%;'><a target='_blank' style='font:10px arial; color:#333; text-decoration:none;' href='http://www.thedailyshow.com/full-episodes/index.jhtml&#039; rel="nofollow">Daily Show Full Episodes</td><td style='padding:3px; width:33%;'><a target='_blank' style='font:10px arial; color:#333; text-decoration:none;' href='http://www.indecisionforever.com&#039; rel="nofollow">Political Humor</td><td style='padding:3px; width:33%;'><a target='_blank' style='font:10px arial; color:#333; text-decoration:none;' href='http://www.thedailyshow.com/video/?searchterm=jason+jones&#039; rel="nofollow">Jason Jones in Iran</td></tr></table></td></tr></tbody></table>

  4. Danny says:

    I really appreciated the candor of your post, Mark. I more or less agree with all your points. Except I'm still trying to figure out the whole dems v. repubs in moral failures. I don't see the difference as some do.

    Your topic did raise a number of questions for me, though. Most notably, what is the nature of True Love (which you, I think aptly, took care to capitalize)?

    What is True Love and who said it is more real, higher, or sincere than any other type of love (which he purportedly has for his wife)? No doubt you, I, and everyone else has their own working definition. But is it objective? Sometimes it just feels like we as individuals are playing by different rules of love (including some who think it has no rules/guidelines). One person says "of course he should pursue his mistress, that is True Love, his soulmate." While another says, "love transcends infatuation and the commitment should always trump momentary (or unrequited) desire."

    So who is right? At the end of the day, people do whatever the hell they want. They may feign heeding advice or trying to adhere to objective standards of right and wrong, but people seem to always do what they want.

    No real revelation, just thinking out loud I suppose. It just surprises me at all the variety of moral indignation elicited by an episode like this.

    BTW, I am someone who was in Mark Sanford's shoes for a spell, but went on the path of severing all ties with the other woman and began (and am perpetually in) the process of reconciliation. From my experiences, I think there's good reason to question what sometimes presents itself as "True Love" and "soulmate." I also know there are a multitude of reasons people initiate and end affairs, and most media coverage doesn't care about this and likes to play armchair therapist with the whole thing.

  5. Danny writes:—"But is it objective?"

    Of course not. Truth is not objective. (Facts are, but they aren't the same thing as Truth.)

    and—"Except I’m still trying to figure out the whole dems v. repubs in moral failures. I don’t see the difference as some do."

    The moral failing—the cheating?—is no different, but many republicans heap a layer of hypocrisy on top of it because they take such public stances in opposition to exactly what they then get caught doing. You may think this makes what they do worse or not.

    finally:—"So who is right? At the end of the day, people do whatever the hell they want."

    Y'know, I have to wonder about that. If they did, maybe later on this kind of thing wouldn't happen. If they really, really did whatever the hell they wanted, would they really put themselves in a position where what they're doing and what they have isn't what they want? Of course, the problem is knowing what you want in the first place.

  6. Danny says:

    Yeah, I think my "people do whatever they want" is too simplistic. The problem that I recognize in myself is that I often want contradicting things. I'm sure Mark didn't want to hurt his spouse and may even wanted to make it work with her, but also wanted something with this other woman. So we are often stuck arbitrating between competing desires. Real ethical dilemmas are choosing between competing notions of what is good and not just choosing right from wrong. You're right that figuring out what we truly want is often a process of self-discovery in itself.

  7. Stacy Kennedy says:

    Mark Sanford is a member of The Family, the secretive fundamentalist Christian group that wields a great deal of power in D.C. A book's just come out about them: The Family, The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power, by Jeff Sharlet.

    I was just reading about the book, and I came across an excerpt from it on npr.org.

    Sanford lost me, as I mentioned in a recent post, when he compared himself to King David. As it happens, the excerpt on npr's website mentions King David. Here's an excerpt of the excerpt (the first speaker is David Coe, son of The Family's current leader, Doug Coe):

    "'David. Hey. What would you say made King David a good guy?' He giggled, not from nervousness but from barely containable delight.

    'Faith?' Beau said. 'His faith was so strong?'

    'Yeah.' David nodded as if he hadn't heard that before. 'Hey, you know what's interesting about King David?' From the blank stares of the others, I could see that they did not. Many didn't even carry a full Bible, preferring a slim volume of New Testament Gospels and Epistles and Old Testament Psalms, respected but seldom read. Others had the whole book, but the gold gilt on the pages of the first two-thirds remained undisturbed. 'King David,' David Coe went on, 'liked to do really, really bad things.' He chuckled. 'Here's this guy who slept with another man's wife — Bathsheba, right? — and then basically murdered her husband. And this guy is one of our heroes.' David shook his head. 'I mean, Jiminy Christmas, God likes this guy! What,' he said, 'is that all about?'

    'Is it because he tried?' asked Bengt. 'He wanted to do the right thing?'….

    'That's nice, Bengt,' David said. 'But it isn't the answer. Anyone else?'

    'Because he was chosen,' I said. For the first time David looked my way.

    'Yes,' he said, smiling. 'Chosen. Interesting set of rules, isn't it?' He turned to Beau. 'Beau, let's say I hear you raped three little girls. And now here you are at Ivanwald. What would I think of you, Beau?'

    Beau, given to bellowing Ivanwald's daily call to sports like a bull elephant, shrank into the cushions. 'Probably that I'm pretty bad?'

    'No, Beau.' David's voice was kind. 'I wouldn't.'"

    Coe goes on to say, "we elect our leaders, Jesus elects his…. If you're a person known to be around Jesus, you can go and do anything. And that's who you guys are. When you leave here, you're not only going to know the value of Jesus, you're going to know the people who rule the world."

    In other words, these guys believe they're chosen by god to rule the world. Their moral lapses aren't important.

    Yes, indeed, it is an interesting set of rules.

  8. Mindy Carney says:

    Wow, Stacy. That is unreal . . . Thanks for sharing. I have a feeling there is a lot of that mindset going on. I've been stumbling around with my thoughts about the recent family wedding I attended, and the 'churchiness' of it – in a big way looking at the difference between my sister's life (an evangelical) and my own. I am finding more little details, like this, that help me understand. I will finish and post it soon.

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