Sanford Spills Secrets


That is the word that came to my mind about ten forty five last night after watching Larry King and Anderson Cooper do their part to fill the world in on some of the details behind the affair Governor Mark Sanford recently had with an Argentinian woman. Sanford's hangdog face looked even more forlorn as he proceeded to explain to the reporters packed in at his news conference yesterday what has been going on in his personal life for the last few months.

What was remarkable about his confession was the amount of intimate details Sanford chose to reveal. He reminded me of Gary Cooper, not because of his looks, but because of the shy manner in which he tried to avoid looking at the cameras, the way Cooper used to do when he was forced to come clean about his feelings for the romantic interest in his pictures.

It was a Shakespearean soliloquy come to life, giving his air of resignation to the public flogging that is sure to follow for weeks to come the feeling of a grand, epic failure in the tradition of the great Elizabethan dramas. Sanford's statement was the kind of thing that the Lifetime Channel has built its entire stable of made for TV movies around - the cheating husband.

In my mind, at least at first, it was a fitting comeuppance for someone who could treat the plight of Ty'Sheoma Bethea and the rest of my undereducated South Carolina brethren as if they were nothing more than mere chaff to be separated from the wheat.

But as I watched the political pundits and so called relationship experts on CNN, the disgust I felt rising in my chest wasn't for Sanford's bone headed and clumsily executed attempt to re-experience the throes of new found love, but for the dry, wooden sanctimony that these talking heads seemed to manufacture as they regurgitated the same old tired and inaccurate reasons on why these things happen.

My father, who is a big fan of Sanford and his no nonsense, bare bones style of leadership, has often told me the story of what happened immediately after Sanford's father's death. The Sanford sons buried their dead heart surgeon father themselves, some of them digging the grave while Mark himself built the casket.

    "You hammer the nails closed, you carry it out there in the back of the pickup to a certain part of the farm. You lower the thing down there. You and your brothers do it on your own, and then grab shovels. We say a little prayer, fill the grave, walk back up to the house. It was an intensely personal experience that really hit home for me: you ain’t taking any of this stuff with you."

    Mark Sanford

To my father, this illuminated Sanford's commitment to his parsimonious economic policies. To me, though, it has always spoken to a deeply emotional current raging beneath the surface of the son's taciturn exterior, to physically bury your own maker.

I was awake last night long enough to see a few pictures of Sanford's wife. I thought about the things we do as Americans to women in our society as the array of photos of the governor's wife, an ex-investment banker who was the mother of his four sons, flashed across the screen, the things we do to idealize their femininity, while divorcing them from their sexuality, as if those four boys had popped neatly out of the accessories section of a Talbot's catalog. I thought of the perverse way the press has castigated any woman who has not fit their preconceived mold of proper political wife, whittling away all these years at the public's imagination until all we are willing to accept is the narrow field of view they have convinced us to adopt as our own.

Next door to me lives a middle aged Puerto Rican woman who is married to an American man from Seattle. She understands this mainstream American fetish for women who are supposed to act like men well enough to play along when necessary, displaying the demure restraint that is the hallmark of professional women all across the country. She can often be seen nodding gravely, or flashing a quick, clipped off at the wrist wave the way women do in any downtown office building.

It is when this neighbor woman takes a moment, when we are all in the driveway, catching up, or in somebody's house, sharing a glass of wine, that she taps back into her natural emotional wellspring. At times like this, it only takes thirty seconds to see why her husband married her. That a woman can flash her eyes and roll her 'r''s voluptuously without any intention of coming on to a man sexually is not a part of our mainstream American culture.

My buddy and I were talking earlier this week about the events in Iran when he asked me if I remembered an Iranian girl from back in our college days.

"Rima?" I said.

"Damn, you remembered her name?"

"Dude," I said, "I used to call her at night sometimes just to hear her talk on the phone. That voice was magic."

Governor Sanford wanted that thing that many of us want from time to time - to relive that beginning feeling you get when you are first in love, when there is more unknown than is known to you about your lover, a void you happily fill with a runaway imagination, with endless possibilities - but most of us have neither the opportunity or encounter the rare circumstance of having the other intangibles line up in such a way that we feel it is worth the risk to try to have our cake and eat it too.

Does it mean he was right to do it?

No. But unlike all the other recent lover boy politicians, beginning with the modern day Lothario-in-Chief himself, Bill Clinton, and wending our way through all the other names and faces that have been plastered all over the news these past years, Sanford seems to have chucked the "politician caught red handed" damage control playbook out of the window.

However naive it may seem, the man wants his family back. Whether or not that happens hopefully remains a decision only his wife and his sons have any meaningful influence on. May the members of the media who have not at least lusted in their hearts jump from the top of one of the nearest church steeple.

I'm not worried about my home state of South Carolina. The personal notoriety of an individual politician won't make or break it. Educating the Ty'Sheoma Bethea's will still be the number one issue when the TV cameras leave.

All politics aside, may Mark Sanford live long enough for his sons to bury him with the love and pride with which he buried his own father.

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