Acton Institute Powerblog

Time to go, Gov. Sanford

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A reader makes a request:

My purpose for writing is simply to request the Acton Institute make a public statement on its website to repudiate Mr. Sanford’s actions, in large measure because he was prominently featured in Volume 18, Number 3 of Religion & Liberty journal. Of course your organization is not expected to guarantee moral behavior of its featured contributors simply because none of us knows what is really in the hearts and minds of our neighbor. Governor Sanford previously demonstrated he was a man of character and integrity, but even the most upright man is in danger of falling. My request is for the Institute to denounce Mr. Sanford’s actions in the same public manner it praised his approach to politics last summer, in order to assure its viewers that it is not complicit with his actions.

If not exactly a denunciation, here’s an explanation for why we interviewed Gov. Mark Sanford. We opened the pages of R&L to the governor because of his record as a fiscal conservative and his willingness to talk about the way faith guided his public life. Here’s a sample of the interview:

R&L The religious views of candidates and their support among various faith traditions played a big role in the 2008 presidential race. Is this a good thing?

Sanford It is. But I don’t know if it was more window dressing than not. Obama had Rick Warren speak at the inauguration, and then got some guy of another persuasion to give the benediction. I don’t think you want it as an accoutrement. I think that you want it to show up in policy. In other words, conversation is certainly an important starting point. It can’t be the ending point.

Somewhere, that “deeds, not words” philosophy fell by the wayside. Yes, Gov. Sanford fell and fell hard. But he was lying to many people about his public life and private conduct. And we got taken in, too.

Now, we watch the sad spectacle of a politician clinging to power after he has obliterated any moral claim to continuing in office. He is refusing to go, and absurdly compares himself to Biblical figures.

About an hour after Mrs. Sanford talked of her pain and feelings of betrayal, her husband brushed aside any suggestion he might immediately resign, citing the Bible and the story of King David, who continued to lead after sleeping with another man’s wife, Bathsheba, having the husband slain, then marrying the widow.

“What I find interesting is the story of David, and the way in which he fell mightily — fell in very, very significant ways – but then picked up the pieces and built from there,” Mr. Sanford told members of his Cabinet in a session called so he could apologize to them in person and tell them the business of government must continue.

As a friend said about Sanford’s David and Bathsheba analogy: Doesn’t he realize it belongs to someone else to offer that kind of assessment?

Actually, the most enlightened, faith-inspired interpretation of this sad affair comes from Jenny Sanford, the governor’s wife, who has shown admirable forthrightness in dealing with her husband’s very public meltdown:

I believe enduring love is primarily a commitment and an act of will, and for a marriage to be successful, that commitment must be reciprocal. I believe Mark has earned a chance to resurrect our marriage.

Psalm 127 states that sons are a gift from the Lord and children a reward from him. I will continue to pour my energy into raising our sons to be honorable young men. I remain willing to forgive Mark completely for his indiscretions and to welcome him back, in time, if he continues to work toward reconciliation with a true spirit of humility and repentance.

Campaign staffers who have worked with Jenny Sanford describe her as “an Old Testament woman with a 170 IQ.”

The Argentine woman Gov. Sanford was reported to be involved with spoke up recently. “It is not for me to judge anyone,” she said. “I leave it all in the hands of God.” Yes, indeed.

While we’re at it, allow me to add this, from Matthew 10:26: For there is nothing covered that will not be revealed, and hidden that will not be known.

Political calculations are now taking over. Some, like Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) want Sanford to stay, so long as he can reconcile his marriage. Others, like Minn. Gov. Tim Pawlenty, had a more severe assessment.

“Clearly, there’s been damage,” Mr. Pawlenty said on CNN’s “State of the Union.” “Any time you have leading figures who are engaged in behavior that is sad and troubling and hypocritical, other people are going to look at that and say, ‘Hmm, they don’t walk the walk.’ And so the words and the actions don’t ring true.”

In a Washington Times column appropriately titled “Corrupt Conservatives,” Jeffrey T. Kuhner observes that Sanford’s “act of pure folly” has squandered much of the good he did as an elected official:

His extramarital affair gave his enemies the political rope they needed to hang him finally. Whether or not Mr. Sanford resigns is irrelevant. He is spent as a national political force. His erratic and bizarre behavior – the weird claims that he was hiking on an undisclosed path along the Appalachian Trail; his rambling, confused news conference announcing his infidelity; and the steamy e-mails that have been published on the correspondence between him and his Argentine mistress – have doomed his chances as a Republican presidential contender in 2012. He has become a laughingstock.

Yet conservatives, too, are in his sinking ship.

Mr. Sanford is only one in a long line of Republican politicians who, while sounding like preachers and priests, have behaved like perverts and pimps. Sen. John Ensign of Nevada recently admitted to an extramarital affair with a former female staff member. Former Sen. Larry Craig of Idaho was brought down by a gay-sex sting operation in a Minneapolis airport. Sen. David Vitter of Louisiana was identified as a client of a Washington escort service (and faces a re-election challenge from – I’m not making this up – a former porn star who claims she is running to spotlight his hypocrisy). And, of course, there was former Florida Rep. Mark Foley, who was forced to resign after revelations of improper e-mails with teenage male House pages.

Kuhner, the president of the Edmund Burke Institute, a Washington-based think tank, says that “the American right is permeated with sanctimonious hypocrites who talk like traditionalists but live like libertines. At its core, conservatism is not simply a set of beliefs; it is a way of life – one that is anchored in the natural moral order centered on faith, family and freedom. This is the conservative holy trinity. And it is now being defamed by its own high priests.”

Although the Governor is, for now, refusing to go, we hope he reconsiders. He should resign, pack up and return to private life. That’s the least he should do for the people of South Carolina who once trusted him to be the man he said he was. Maybe, in time, he can start to put his life back together. That’s the best “ending point” he could possibly hope for now.

John Couretas John Couretas is Director of Communications, responsible for print and online communications at the Acton Institute. He has more than 20 years of experience in news and publishing fields. He has worked as a staff writer on newspapers and magazines, covering business and government. John holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in the Humanities from Michigan State University and a Master of Science Degree in Journalism from Northwestern University.


  • Gayle

    Thank you for that insight. It seems many people here in South Carolina continue to cheer the Emperor on even though his new clothes seem lacking.

    SanFRAUD and his cronies Biblical references are the source of pained laughter in this state. How does one write an e-mail to his mistress quoting the Bible? How does one trot out the Bible at every opportunity to defend that which is not defensible? Only a first class cad and hypocrite, of which Mr. SanFRAUD has now shown himself to be.

    If the governor cared one iota about the people of South Carolina, he would display some leadership (his campaign slogan) and do the honourable thing and resign.

  • SWolf

    A shame, he had potential.

  • chick for life

    I live in South Carolina. I can say this and mean it. Gov. Sanford made himself, MY STATE, and The US on an international front look not so smart, not saying south carolina had a problem on its own. I hope and Pray Gov. Sanford step down and stay out of the spot light for a while and pulls his life back to together.
    God help his wife and family during this time.

  • Tracy

    As we seen several politicians ending their careers for the same reason, I see a pattern of highly publicized individuals that have large salaries with state or government funds to pay for their expenses. They also have to make some hard decisions for their welfare of many people and constantly being scrutinized for their decisions has effect on the Governor making a poor career and personal decision. Lots of poor deicions comes from not being able to cope with life tough lessons and balancing them with personal and career decions.

  • Catherine Snow

    Bill Clinton paved the way for “private behavior” to be divorced from public character. Clinton did the same, multiple times and lied about it, while Governor and while President, and the media called it a “private matter.” None of our business. Entitled men like Gov. Sanford are just following suit.

  • Becky Hahn

    Aren’t we forgetting something: we are all sinners. I do not like what Governor Stanford did, sin is a horrible betrayal of trust. But I like what he is doing now: repentance and reparation. Didn’t Christ die for us so that we would know that falling into sin isn’t the end of us? That there could still be life after sin once we repent and try to get back on the right path. Governor Sanford is doing all of that. I admire him for breaking off his affair and trying to reconcile with his family. I admire him for staying in office. Do you know how much simpler it would have been for him to dump his family and his responsibilities and head off to Argentina? Do you realize how hard it’s going to be to face everyone that he has let down, everyday? To see the hurt and disappointment in their eyes and know that he put it there? Yet, he chooses to do that. For politics as usual? I don’t think so. I think his political career is over. I think he chose to do it because it’s the right thing to do. And that shows a strength of character. If I know God as I think I do, God will work it so that Governor Sanford and his family will be a better people because of this.

    As for the King David analogy, I don’t think it was his. I think it was from his spiritual counselor. And don’t forget, when God told David that punishment was going to be meted out he gave King David choices on who the punishment should be inflicted on. King David chose not to take the punishment himself, but to have the people take it for him. Governor Sanford is choosing to take the punishment himself. And by not deserting his family and friends he seems to be trying to keep them from any further harm his deserting them might inflict.

    “I say unto you, that likewise joy shall be in heaven over one sinner that repenteth, more than over ninety and nine just persons, which need no repentance.” Luke 15:7

  • John Couretas


    No, it would not have been “much simpler” for Gov. Mark Sanford to dump his family and responsibilities and head off to Argentina for more Tango dancing. That would have only been the beginning of real complications for the man.

    As for King David, let’s just point out that we’re not living under an Old Testament monarchy here, or any other anachronistic sort of monarchical system, thank you. The free people of South Carolina elected Sanford in a free election because he promised them leadership and asked for their trust. Neither leadership nor trust are anywhere in sight now.

    We don’t “admire” Sanford for staying in office. He should resign and go back to private life. The longer he clings to power by his fingernails, the longer and deeper will the agony be for the people of South Carolina.

  • AnaMaria Conley

    I agree with Becky that we need to remember that we are all sinners. At the same time, because we have placed a great deal of trust and responsibility to them, we hold our leaders up to a high moral standard. Moreover, if the governor is dishonest in his marriage, how can we know he isn’t being dishonest in other matters (say, matters of state)? Hence, we should expect the governor to apologize and to amend his behavior. I’m not a citizen of South Carolina, but if I were, I wouldn’t vote for Mark Sanford for ANY political office until I felt he had set things right.

  • Becky Hahn

    AnaMaria, I agree that we expect a high moral standard from our elected officials which as you say means they should apologize and amend their behavior. But how many times have we gotten that from them when they do mess up? We sure didn’t get one from Bill Clinton. And I doubt very much that he amended his behavior. But Sanford seems to be, and that deserves recognition. Only time will tell whether he is truly sincere, but his behavior is so different from others who have been caught in some misconduct. I also agree that it was a great breach of trust. That’s was sin does it breaks trust. But how can he regain that trust, how can he help heal that wound if he cuts and runs?

    I’m sorry John, but I can’t throw people away. If we are going to live our Christian faith that means we have to forgive them “seven times seventy”. And I still think its harder to stay in office than it is to leave. If he left he would eventually fade away like Gary Hart. By staying he will have this constantly thrown in his face.

    And don’t forget many a man has fallen, repented, and went on to do great things: St. Peter for one, the founders of AA, etc.