The news about South Carolina Governor Sanford’s extramarital affair is sad on many levels. Certainly it is a heartbreaking matter for his wife and his sons; their family unit has been breached by an outsider and the source of the breach is the man whose responsibility it was to protect them.
The liberal press, as is their way, used it as a feeding frenzy; not in small part because it allows them to sling arrows instead of dodging them for the few moments that anyone is going to really pay attention to this. And now that Governor’s admitted his infidelity, every shred of documentation that a grubby hand can snatch is being thrust into public view with snarky, knowing, holier-than-thou eagerness to gain ratings. Kudos to his wife for having no part of it.
Pseudo-conservatives are wringing their hands over what is also a breach to the GOP’s perceived integrity and lamenting what is most assuredly the loss of one of their golden boys for the 2012 presidential election.
You could almost feel the collective sigh of relief when the sudden death of pop star Michael Jackson diverted the media’s ever-fickle attention to even more juicier pickings.
While Governor Sanford’s actions deserve no more than a minute of our time in which to make note of them, there are elements here that are important. I have always believed that what people do in the privacy of their homes and how they manage their relationships is their own business. I do not believe in legislating morality but instead in choosing one’s friends and associates carefully, with an eye to their integrity and character. You can, indeed, tell a lot about a man by the company he keeps. The old adage that birds of a feather flock together is A Truth; we are drawn to like minds and through our interactions we continually influence one another. Whether we like it, admit it, or even realize it we draw lines and we choose to support – on many, varied levels ranging from emotional to material - those who hold and, most importantly, demonstrate similar beliefs and values.
So the question here is that of character and integrity. Sure, we’re all human and we all make mistakes, but if you’re going to deliberately put yourself in a position of influence and take on the perceived authority of leadership, there is a price you must pay. And that price does not include any baggage allowance for hypocrisy. You may bring your vices, but your character must be sound and your integrity unquestionable.
It is really none of anyone’s business that, like so many, many politicians, Governor Sanford chose to break his marriage vows, but I DO care – as should you – that by doing so he reveals himself to be just another garden-variety hypocrite. He is on record voicing condemnations of Bill Clinton for his relationship with Monica Lewinsky yet now tearfully admits to equal lies without demanding equal consequences for himself.
When considering any issue, from health care to taxes, what is good for the goose must be good for the gander. The most stellar feature of America is her systemic application of blind justice and I believe, as I dare say do most people, that consequences must apply equally in moral matters as in legal. Moral matters may sometimes be more murky to bring to justice without the weight of someone being able to point to some last word, ”buck stops here” set down in wet cement, however, that doesn’t mean it can’t be done. For if we hold no firm line on what we consider to be moral and ethical, there can be no trust. And in the end, it is the ability to trust that is paramount in both our personal relationships and in our business dealings. The latter being the area in which people like Governor Sanford enter into the picture.
I believe it is valid to ask the question: if Governor Sanford’s family – those closest to him – cannot trust him to uphold his responsibility to them, how can we, who are literally virtual strangers, trust him to uphold his responsibility to us?
To me the answer is that we can’t. Perhaps he has at last learned the lesson that there but for the grace of God go I, but I didn’t hear him apologize to Bill Clinton or anyone else during his public confession, did you? Anyone who is willing to lie about something as important as their marital fidelity cannot be trusted to not lie about anything else important when it becomes necessarily convenient for them. One big lie calls into question everything ever said and taints everything ever done with the poison of suspicion. And once broken, trust is very, very hard to repair and it takes a very long time to do it.
Millions of Americans live their lives with character and integrity. We may not agree with their opinions or with their choices but it can be said they are consistent, even as they evolve (as we all do). There is no reason to not expect the same from those we elect to represent us.
Tax cheats, adulterers, and liars are not representative of me or my life. Are they representative of you or yours? If the answer is honestly no, then it is time to take a good, hard look at those in government and decide if what their character and integrity – especially the lack thereof – reflects upon us is worth keeping.
I don’t know how the answer can be yes.