Yes, it’s sad to think of the impact of Mark Sanford’s confessed extramarital affair on his family, but it’s also not hard to picture this staunchly conservative dude holed up in a Buenos Aires pied-á-terre with an Argentine hottie breathing heavily on a kitchen counter while the governor pleads in her ear: “Don’t tap out, fight until the end.”
The obvious comparisons are, well, obvious—yet they don’t quite fit. Sen. John Ensign’s recently revealed hook-up had the added intrigue of blackmail, but he got out in front of that story just in time, pretty much saying, “I cheated—so?—It’s not like I was running for president.” Gov. Eliot Spitzer’s caper was just clichéd—a MySpace call girl?
John Edwards’ side-baby drama is just a damn shame, and Bill Clinton is a bona fide “Playa from the Himalaya.” So where does Sanford’s AWOL maneuver fit in? Even though he’s the uptight white Republican governor of a Southern state, his current travails are more reminiscent of the antics of some well-known brethren than any of his political counterparts.
One imagines a refreshed Mark Sanford returning upstairs to Maria’s apartment after a dip in the pool, and upon seeing 20 or 30 frantic “where r u???” texts on his state-issued BlackBerry, replying, guilelessly, something like: “Hello—is it me you’re looking for?”
But while it’s not a perfect analogy, to the extent that Brenda Richie beat the hell out of Lionel when she caught him cheating, there’s at least one comparison to be made between Jenny Sanford’s reaction and Ms. Richie’s: Telling a scandal-hungry reporter you have “no idea” where your husband is (when you know good and well where he is), or that he’s out hiking the Appalachian Trail (which is patently absurd) is like the governor’s mansion corollary to whipping your crooner husband’s ass with a rolling pin.
Just like a rich black guy stands out at a posh Colorado resort, a married, preppy Southern gentleman has no business taking a “solo” vacation to Argentina.
Word on the street from reporters in the know is that Sanford is an “odd duck” who does his own thing and regularly pisses off potential allies—sound like any once and future NBA MVPs you might know? Man law clearly dictates that your boys have to help steer you clear of this sort of fandango, but apparently short on close friends, Sanford is looking like the gubernatorial Kobe Bryant. As in Bryant's case, his underlying misstep was condemnable, but fairly routine. But all of Kobe’s problems, like Sanford’s, stem from things that a halfway decent entourage would pull your coat on.
If Kobe’s crew had really had his back, they would have spotted the unhinged groupie concierge a mile away, and if Sanford had a colleague or anybody on his staff that he could trust, they surely would have counseled him not to e-mail back and forth with a woman who seduces him with lines like, “I haven’t felt this since I was in my teen ages.”
And speaking of e-mails, have these governors not learned anything in the last decade?
If dissident Iranian college students can outwit the Revolutionary Guard Corps’ IT department with Twitter and rogue servers, don’t politicians realize that TMZ or CNN can easily get their hands on their risqué love notes?
The self-styled “Hip-Hop Mayor,” Kwame Kilpatrick’s enduring legacy to the political class was a virtual handbook on what not to do when stepping out while in office. No one seems to be following it:
Rule 1—Don’t use a PDA for your not-so PDAs. There’s no such thing as a private e-mail.
Rule 2—Don’t use anything taxpayer funded for your caper: Sanford parked a South Carolina State Law Enforcement Division SUV at the Atlanta airport—this dude never heard of Avis?
Rule 3—If you must dip, don’t let yourself fall in love with your mistress (or manstress, or chief of staff, for that matter). Now we have to have a run-off to decide who wins “Most Un-gangster Love Text of All Time”: Sanford’s “You are glorious and I hope you understand that” or Kilpatrick’s “I realized that you are the wind beneath my wings.”
It probably didn’t help Sanford that his lady is from Argentina because there’s something about the image of a South Carolinian governor and a South American lover that has exposé written all over it—if Sanford had been caught sharing a milkshake with Sarah Palin at a governor’s convention in Las Vegas, he might have been able to put a better spin on the situation or at least get his own talk show out of it.
Politicians probably long for the days of Thomas Jefferson, when you could have a thriving political career, date your late wife’s half-black half sister (too bad the CW gave up on sitcoms), and still expect to keep it on the low—but, alas, those days are long gone.
David Swerdlick is a regular contributor to The Root.
David Swerdlick is an associate editor at The Root. Follow him on Twitter.