Secular Right | Reality & Reason



Mark Sanford’s Thought for the Day

“God moves in mysterious ways.”

I would like to think that most people, even Republicans, wallow in sex scandals just for the sheer voyeuristic fun of destroying a politician’s career for no particular reason other than that one can.   For I otherwise don’t believe that there is a close connection between public and private virtue.   New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani was an execrable father and husband but a transformative mayor, who understood as a gut matter some fundamental principles about the public realm and the responsibilities of citizens towards each other.  Not all our Founding Fathers were paragons of fidelity.  Bill Clinton’s ability to nudge the Democratic agenda towards a modest repudiation of the welfare state was untouched by his irrelevant womanizing.  Sanford’s initial stance on the stimulus package was a valuable one,  and it is amusing to see the media left seize on his marital transgressions to discredit it yet again.  

A politician’s sex life has only one public relevance: its unavoidable function as a role model.  I confess that I would be unwilling to vote for a politician who acted as a serial impregnator of women without marrying any of them, not because I believed that such behavior told me anything about his public character , but because he would be further normalizing a civilization-destroying behavior.  There is a big difference between having an extramarital affair and never bothering to marry the mother(s) of your children in the first place–the one at least obeys a crucial norm, however imperfectly, the other destroys it completely. 

Sanford did make his private life a matter of public concern, however, by his self-involved failure to secure the chain of command during his disappearance.



  • OneSTDV · June 26, 2009 at 2:41 am

    I blogged about the liberal reaction to Sanford’s affair:

    I also broach the topic of secular objective morality (I connect the two topics so it’s not entirely random).

  • Susan · June 26, 2009 at 6:17 am

    It’s an interesting question, and one, I guess, that’s as old as history. If you know your political opponents’ secrets, you can exploit them. Weren’t some closeted gay men in the British government blackmailed into espionage? Remember the whole Profumo scandal? So I suppose in that sense private behavior can have a direct influence on public performance.

    As for Sanford…his whole demeanor throughout this has been so bizarre that I can only think he wanted to commit some kind of public career hara-kiri, for some irrational reason known only to him. (If you no longer want a political life, you can quietly opt out of it,right?) Either that or he’s so head-over-heels in love with the woman that he’s willing to throw everything away for her.

  • Ivan Karamazov · June 26, 2009 at 7:23 am

    It’s all kind of King Edward VIII-ish, no? Except with modern media, and all that entails.

  • sage · June 26, 2009 at 8:29 am

    I’d have more sympathy for Heather’s position if these politicians would just once say “I offer my sincere apologies to (insert name of politician in opposite party) for publicly berating him and trying to bring him down for doing essentially the same thing I was doing.”

  • Florida resident · June 26, 2009 at 9:55 am

    It’s all kind of King Edward VIII-ish, no?
    NO ! King was pretty bad guy, and his mistress was even worse.

  • Author comment by Steel Phoenix · June 26, 2009 at 3:07 pm

    “The bottom line, though, is I am sure there will be a lot of legalistic explanations pointing out that the president lied under oath. His situation was not under oath. The bottom line, though, is he still lied. He lied under a different oath, and that is the oath to his wife. So it’s got to be taken very, very seriously.” (Sanford on CNN, 12/18/98)

    I can forgive a politician his infidelity, that is between him and his wife; I’m just sick of the hypocrisy.

  • Susan · June 27, 2009 at 7:47 am

    Well, Ivan and Florida, Sanford has compared himself to the Biblical King David rather than Edward VIII. He might have been better off comparing himselfm with King Edward rather than David, given that Edward, as far as I know, didn’t kill his lover’s husband. And he certainly didn’t impregnate Wallis, which would have been, from what I’ve read, impossible anyway.

    Interesting that King Edward used David (one of his middle monikers) as his name in private life.

  • Tancred · June 28, 2009 at 9:10 am

    It seems that, no matter the behavior, the self-identified “Christian” can always allude to his “Bible” in order to turn his own misfourtune into some kind of allegory; by letting his life immitate those in a sacred text, he is somehow “only human,” and uses that notion to explain away his ultimately selfish behavior. This is, perhaps, the most annoying thing about guys (and women) like Sanford and many “Christians” in general; when confronted with an obvious issue of personal responsibility, they will chalk it all up to things out of their control as previously illustrated in their favorite book of fiction.

  • kurt9 · June 28, 2009 at 1:11 pm

    If these people cannot live up to their own self-professed standards, they have no business promulgating those same standards onto the rest of us. The hypocrisy of the Taliban-wing of the right is boundless.

  • Jim B · June 28, 2009 at 8:39 pm

    As a self identified liberal who visits a few liberal websites (talkingpointsmemo is particular), I disagree with your statement that liberals (and even republicans, imagine that!) are mostly in this to destroy Sanford’s career for grins.

    No doubt you can dig up specific cases of liberals somehow claiming that Sanford’s personal failures somehow discredit his political positions. With tens of thousands of people expressing their thoughts on the matter, it is a smorgasbord and you can find evidence for whatever you are trying to look for.

    In all of my reading on this subject, liberals have pretty much said that their beef with Sanford isn’t that they object to his sexual transgressions, but rather his hypocrisy.

    Both Clinton and Sanford may have had dalliances, but the situation isn’t symmetric. Sanford built a lot of his reputation on claiming to be a choir boy and advocating for laws that aligned with these beliefs, yet at the same time he was secretly violating those tenets. Bill Clinton never claimed to be pure and didn’t build his political career on castigating the sinners.

    From Sanford’s subsequent statements, it appears he has already found justification in the Bible for why he should be forgiven. Funny he has skipped over the chapter & verse of the same book that would firmly establish he has earned himself a stoning.



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