Going In-Sanford in South Carolina


Republican South Carolina governor Mark Sanford, infamous stimulus naysayer and presidential aspirant, has been missing since Thursday. Let's just keep it one hundred and call it what it is: Sanford got "touched in the head," as the old folks used to say.

But is there anything wrong with that? Bob McAlister, chief of staff to the late SC governor Caroll Campbell, called the episode "disconcerting":

If Campbell was on vacation or deep-sea fishing, often the press would not be told, McAllister said. But Campbell’s office tried to keep Lt. Gov. Nick Theodore, a Democrat, informed about Campbell’s schedule, particularly when he was traveling abroad.  'From a professional standpoint, this can’t happen,' McAlister said of Sanford’s absence. Residents and public officials need to know where the governor is …


Which should be a cause for concern on a variety of levels, the first being that Sanford runs a state of nearly five million inhabitants. Alan Greenblatt in Governing Magazine pitches a strong case for what you shouldn't do if you're the state executive:

In a day and age when it seems like people can't go on vacation without regularly checking their BlackBerrys — or, in some cases, won't even go to the bathroom — it seems incomprehensible that someone in a position of real authority, who might be called on to make life and death decisions, would take off for days at a time.

Sanford's in a tough, possibly irreparable spot with this latest incident—primarily because Americans don't do well with "crazy."  Anything appearing odd or abnormal, even if it's a legitimate or clinically assessed condition, is anathema to the American psyche. Now what made Sanford think that folks would tolerate something as "off" as a four-day Father's Day disappearing act? The details are still trickling in, but the governor's presidential ambitions might be on permanent hiatus due to thus sudden urge to hike the Appalachian Trail "raw," as Ol' Dirty once put it.  To nail that coffin, what's left is some grainy cell phone footage of a backpacked governor dressed in nothing but Tims, wool socks and a trucker's hat.

Lots of folks are getting a hearty laugh at Sanford's expense. And it's true that if Sanford didn't want the attention and the grief of a nayional profile, he should have kept his notoriously frugal mouth shut in February and just accepted federal stimulus money. But in the final analysis, politicians are human, too.

And maybe there's a deeper, more unfortunate twist to this story: When brothers in public life go Kwame Kilpatrick, we're tagged as "angry," "hostile," a menace to public safety. Sometimes we end up in jail (though Marion Barry prove there are always second acts in politics).  But what if Obama pulled something like that? If Gov. Deval Patrick (D-MA) flipped? or Gov. David Paterson (D-NY) suddenly lost it? What would the brothas and sistahs say then? We might feel more conflicted about rushing to judgment.

For now, however, South Cackalack ole' boy Sanford's gambit—cutting off all communication with family, staff and civilization for a possible "nude hike?" Why - that's just strange.



Charles D. Ellison is a veteran political strategist and a contributing editor at The Root. He is also Washington correspondent for the Philadelphia Tribune, a frequent contributor to The Hill, the weekly Washington insider for WDAS-FM in Philadelphia and host of The Ellison Report, a weekly public-affairs magazine broadcast and podcast on WEAA 88.9 FM Baltimore. Follow him on Twitter.