Pardon me for not being able to figure this one out, but the furor over Mark Sanford, who has apparently ruined his political future by pursuing his lover to Argentina, has left me uneasy. Although Sanford certainly blundered, his mistake had less to do with his erotic energy than with his handling of the affair in a televised news conference. The South Carolina governor beat his breast and sobbed for a half an hour. In this mawkish display, he made a fool of himself and raised questions in my mind about his suitability for high office. But this is not a judgment about his extracurricular activity, except to the extent that his disappearance during his unannounced stay in Argentina created a panic among his staff. Sanford’s affair, however, should be viewed as a private matter, between him and his wife. If he drew on public money for his activity, one might criticize that as a breach of public trust. But here he would only be imitating in a very small way liberal Democratic governors Jon Corzine and David Paterson, who used enormous sums of public money to nurture their affairs and/or to keep their paramours employed.
For years now the media have applied a double standard to extramarital and kinky sexual relations among politicians. Those who are ideologically agreeable, like Teddy Kennedy, Jon Corzine, David Paterson, and of course Bill Clinton, are permitted all kinds of sexual escapades without having to worry about mainstream media attacks. Barney Frank has remained a media-protected child despite, or perhaps because of, his flagrant reputation as a pederast. Journalists hurried to cover up the details about Frank’s homosexual activity, including the possibility that congressional pages had been recruited to serve the needs of Frank and his friends. Next to his Democratic competitors, Sanford is a bush-league libertine (so to speak).
At his press conference, the South Carolinian should have told the media to go shove it. Their double standard should make a decent or even less than decent person throw up. Sanford should have listed those Democratic womanizers whom most of the media did not tell us enough about, perhaps starting with the Kennedy boys. I was already in my forties when I discovered the full truth about these scandalously lustful liberal heroes. Sanford should have stated that what he does in his private life is not a public concern, unless he diverts as much public money to his extramarital affairs as did Corzine and Paterson. Or unless he acts as mendaciously as Clinton, who pushed for feminist legislation but then disregarded his own inquisition when dealing with female employees.
Unfortunately much of the tasteless stuff that Sanford uttered was probably necessary given his sociological base. His GOP voters insist on having righteous-sounding politicians, who sober up their soused wives and parade around with their often dysfunctional kids in order to exemplify family togetherness and “values.” All the same, there has been forgiveness for Republicans who strayed off the straight and narrow. The GOP base, for example, rallied to such onetime problematic family-types as Reagan, Dole, and McCain. All three had been involved in affairs and divorces but nonetheless had the good sense to have surmounted these career obstacles well before they sought national office. Newt Gingrich‘s abandonment of a cancer-ridden wife for his lover did put a temporary damper on his upward-bound career as a movement conservative, but now it’s springtime again for Newt, as he picks his way through lucrative speaking engagements among the family-value crowd.
Another GOP public figure, namely Sarah Palin, exudes domesticity and folksiness but her family life reveals some glaring fault lines, a situation that became obvious when Sarah’s unwed pregnant daughter and the prospective father, whom the daughter would subsequently marry and thereafter divorce, were featured at last year’s GOP convention. Such problems would not be our business, were it not for the troublesome fact that Sarah’s ace-in-the-hole was her personification of “family values.” I would be hard pressed to find any other reason to vote for her for president, except to keep Joe Biden out of the office.
Allow me to make my position “perfectly clear,” as Richard Nixon used to say: electing people to high office should be, for our side, an act of expedience. In 1984, I gave my vote to Ronald Reagan over Walter Mondale, although at the time John Lukacs properly pointed out to me that Mondale was a better family man by any reasonable standard. And unlike Reagan, he had never been divorced. But I voted for Reagan not for his exaggerated domestic virtues, but because I thought that he would deal more effectively with the Soviets and not increase the size of public administration as much as Mondale would.
My support was entirely pragmatic and had zilch to do with what marvelous parents Ron and Nancy were. The Carters may have been better parents than the Reagans, but I simply couldn”t bring myself to support Jimmy’s failed policies in 1980. (Besides, I hated looking at Jimmy’s smirking face or listening to his sour sermons.) Now it’s not that I”m against truly good people going into politics. I”ve cast my ballot more than once in senatorial races for Peg Luksik, who has been our Constitution Party candidate in Pennsylvania. Peg is a devout Catholic, who hails from Alabama, and the mother of six children, including five strapping sons. She is the paradigmatic Earth Mother and has steadfastly opposed abortion.
But there is more to her politics than her unfeigned domesticity: Peg Luksik advocates a “family-centered society” based on independent communities and freed from the grip of the multicultural-managerial state. The main reasons I”m for Peg is that I”m entirely in agreement with her understanding of the need for limited, constitutional government. And I endorse her communal conception of American society and her corresponding repugnance for government agencies and meddlesome judges controlling and recoding our social and cultural attitudes.
Let me repeat my position: although I profoundly admire Peg Luksik as a mother and wife, that sentiment is not the sine qua non for my endorsement of her candidacy. I would also gladly support, were I an Italian cittadino, the philandering premier Silvio Berlusconi, who has dealt firmly with illegal Muslim immigrants in his country by kicking them out. Berlusconi also had the good sense to make an alliance with the rightwing nationalist mayor of Rome, Gianni Alemanno. A man under attack from the international media as a “neofascist,” Alemanno is one of the few European political figures, outside of the former Soviet bloc, who openly defies the PC police. Among his politically incorrect accomplishments has been expelling from his municipality panhandling gypsies who in most cases were not even legally in Italy. I applaud this sindaco romano, and my respect for him has nothing to do with seeing his smiling family on TV. For all I know, Alemanno may have no wife or offspring and may even be as big a philanderer as Berlusconi.
I”ve also noticed that the celebration of domesticity in the GOP has become the backdrop against which Republican politicians have been able to move leftward, while holding on to the vote of the simple-minded. When I”ve inquired from self-described movement conservatives about where “maverick” Sarah Palin stands on Title Nine and immigration restriction, I”ve been reminded about how nice she and hubby look. While the Palins are a photogenic couple, so are Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, neither of whom I would ever want to see near the Oval Office. And my judgment of Sarah’s fitness for national office would be exactly the same, whether or not she were trysting with somebody or hunting wolves from a plane.
There are of course reasonable limits as to how far I would go in ignoring a politician’s private shortcomings. For example, I”ve no idea how that obsessive seducer JFK could attend to his demanding work while chasing skirts nonstop. That may be the reason JFK, contrary to the stupid answers given in polls about his being one of the best presidents ever, was pathetically inept in his job. Arguably a politician who could not control his sensuous impulses to the extent this was the case with JFK would not have enough focus or moral restraint to administer his office effectively. But there is nothing I”ve learned so far about Sanford’s private life that would keep me from voting for him for president, providing that I agreed with his programs. Far more upsetting were his televised breast beating and his unwillingness to go after the fourth estate for hypocrisy. In both of these failings, Sanford reminded me of why I loathe the GOP even more than the Democrats.