Governor Sanford's Odyssey Begins Now

A recent Wall Street Journal article titled “Sanford Odyssey Ends in Tears,” poses a challenging assertion. That the odyssey somehow ends with his Great Confession from the South Carolina State House. When I look at the picture on page 1, I can see how that conclusion could be drawn. He says, “What I did was wrong. Period. End of story…” Very contrite.

But when I look at the other picture inside on the continuation page, the one with his wife and four sons, it’s clear enough that it’s not the end of the story, and that the Odyssey has not ended. It’s only just begun.

How do you look into the eyes of those boys and tell them, as their father, that you have been unfaithful to them? That you were willing to sacrifice them, their mother, their family, their happiness, their station in life, their “coolness” at school, their futures, and their ability to hold their heads up high, for love of a woman you met via email?

How do you tell people – your wife, your kids, your peers, your constituents – that you’ve been working in overdrive to repair a 20-year marriage for the last five months, when you’ve just returning from a secrecy-shrouded trip to visit the “other woman” in another country? And how do you tell those people that you have no intention of resigning your office, when it’s clearly not up to you to decide?

People, people, people, wake up!

We keep doing the same thing and expecting different results. We continually promote our sports heroes, our rock stars and our priests and politicians (but not so much our poets) to saintly status. It’s based on our need to pretend that if we had what they have, we wouldn’t need to do anything off-kilter; we’d be happy with what we had. We truly believe that money and power can in fact buy happiness, and that happiness is intrinsically linked with fidelity, with honesty, with thoughtfulness, and with all the other virtues that we like to say we strive for.

It’s all a crock. Some of the language people have used to describe Mr. Sanford – some of it used by himself to describe himself – underscores the difficulty. He and others often emphasized his “high moral values,” and he made this a key part of his campaigns and his office. Now some of those same people are wondering how, now that he’s been brought back down to earth, he can “come back and be a sinner like the rest of us and function.” [S.C. State Sen. John Land].

Didn’t you all have parents? And didn’t it ever happen that once you were old enough to observe the difference between statement and action, you sometimes found the two divergent? That your parents would say one thing – “Don’t smoke,” for example – only to catch them in the very act? Didn’t you ever hear your parents say, “Do as I say, not as I do?” And didn’t that very humanness of their condition make you love them more, rather than hate them?

I guess it depends on how often it happens, and how that line is used. I love my folks a lot. They were very good parents; good to me, and good for me. But yeah, there were times that their statements of purpose diverged from their actions as I observed them, and they were forced to ask my brother and me to accept them as fallible humans who nevertheless had good advice to offer, even if they couldn’t always follow it themselves.

So I’m feeling two things here. First, this particular man has a lot of ‘splainin to do. It’s not going to be easy. Some harm has been done that may or may not be reparable. It depends on what his real intentions are and were. We’ll see what happens, or, hopefully, we won’t see it, because hopefully it’ll take place in private, where it belongs. Hopefully the kids, and his wife, Jenny, will adapt and will go on and not be shut down by this event, or series of events, but will grow from it.

On the other hand, one must question whether him doing what he did is any worse than anyone else doing what they do, when those doings are different from what they say they are doing. I suspect most of us really try to do the right thing, really do have some high moral values, and really do try to rise to the level of our own aspirations. But, being human, we fail. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak. It may not happen to the best of us, those hundred or so people who through history have in fact resisted temptation. But for the remaining billions of us, it’s our daily and our lifelong struggle.

Let’s not immediately turn away from our made-up heroes who fall from the pillars we’ve built under them, but let’s instead see a little of ourselves in them. I’m not saying to cut them slack after we’ve set them up to fail and they’ve obliged. I’m saying, rather, let’s not keep assuming that because they are in positions of power or influence that they are somehow immune to the same forces that act upon us. They’re human, and will remain so no matter how high they rise.


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