Politics

Mark Sanford Should be Commended for His Courage and Honesty

| by Suzanne Venker

Do not throw stones. If you're a Republican, think hard before judging Mark Sanford. If you're a Democrat, do not use Sanford's story to your advantage. Being liberal or conservative has nothing to do with having an affair. But how Sanford handled the situation is very much related to his politics.

If there's one thing that would keep me out of politics (running for office, I mean) -- aside from the fact that I don't have a politically correct bone in my body, so I'd fail miserably -- is the idea of having my personal life under a microscope. We are all human; we all make mistakes; and we all have checkered pasts. Love and marriage, in my opinion, should be off limits. I understand the press eats it up, but I can't understand why we indulge them.

Clinton's case was different. His transgressions were in the Oval Office -- which demonstrated a shocking lack of character. His lack of character isn't because he cheated on his wife but because of the unmitigated gall and disrespect doing it in the Oval Office showed. It's like he had sex in church. It's like he was a child seeing what he could get away with -- and when he didn't, he cowered. Who wants that kind of person running the country? I think Clinton's case matters NOT because he cheated on his wife but because of the way in which he did.

But he's the only politician who's had an affair that I care about. Republican or Democrat, that behavior was off the charts -- but, generally speaking, I don't pay much attention to politicians' personal lives. We don't know squat about Mark Sanford's marriage -- where or how it went south -- and it's none of our business. His relationship with another woman is none of our business. The fact that he had an affair does not negate whatever he stands for politically. A person can absolutely espouse conservative values and fail in his personal life. Raising the moral bar is a good thing -- even if some of us fail to reach that high. If your child failed a test in school, would you tell her to lower her standards?

What makes Mark Sanford's case so unusual, the reason the press was so shocked by Sanford's words yesterday is because of the enormity of his courage and honesty. Mark Sanford provided FAR more information than he needed to on Wednesday. He gave more details than any one of us would possibly need, in an attempt to explain how a good person can still fail. It isn't whether or not people fail that makes them courageous -- I would challenge anyone to name someone who hasn't failed -- it's what they do with their failings that makes them courageous.

Mark Sanford is in tremendous pain. He knows what he did was wrong. And he tried to explain to millions of strangers why -- when he didn't have to. His moral lapse does not change his character. If I had to place my bets, I'd say he's in love with this other woman -- though he would never admit it because of the pain it would cause his family. Simply put, he's an emotional wreck over a no-win situation. It is no place to be.

If I'm right -- and I'm not saying I am -- leave the man alone. His life is a bona fide mess right now. Falling in love with another person when you're married is not the same as playing with cigars with an intern.

Many conservatives, particularly members of the religious right, will disagree with me. They will argue there's no difference between a casual affair and a serious one. An affair's an affair. It's sort of like the abortion debate. A true conservative believes there's no difference between aborting a 4-week old fetus and an 8-month old baby, and I respectfully disagree. It's not that one situation is "okay" and the other isn't; it's that one situation shows a different level of moral judgment. One shows the gray of life much more clearly than the other.

Bottom line: Affairs are not restricted to any one political group. But how we handle the mess that ensues will show our true colors.