I believe in redemption. I’m all for giving a sinner a second chance – or a third. Indeed, I know we are admonished to forgive seventy times seven. But when it comes to the Mark Sanfords of this world I draw the line. It’s not just that this ostensibly respectable married man ran off to Argentina in hot pursuit of a sexual assignation. Some otherwise good men have been guilty of similar transgressions. Even King David, who was among God’s chosen.
It’s not just Sanford’s dissembling – pretending he was on a hike along the Appalachian trail when he was visiting his mistress in Buenes Aires. And it’s not even his disregard for the office of Governor or his dereliction of duty in being missing for six days with nobody able to find him.
What makes me skeptical of his professed contrition is his brash bid for a return to public office so soon after his exposure and disgrace.
I know I must seem naive to expect better behavior from those who seek to represent – and lead – us. Sanford is not the first public figure to recover from scandal by seeking forgiveness. Jimmy Swaggart springs to mind… Jim Bakker… Newt Gingrich… Bill Clinton… Tom Delay… David Vitter… the list goes on.
They all seem to hide behind Christ when they get caught.
And who am I to say they’re not sincere?
But there’s something so convenient about Sanford’s conversion. His repentance seems so slick. And his plea for forgiveness seems so glib.
As Michelle Cottle observed in an article published by The Daily Beast last month:
It is no small measure of grace that Sanford seeks. The governor did not merely cheat on his wife. (Heck, many voters have come to expect nothing less.) In a telenovela-worthy drama in June 2009, he mysteriously abandoned his post for several days for an Argentine rendezvous with his girlfriend; when his absence was reported, he directed his staff to lie and say he was hiking the Appalachian Trail; then, after getting cold busted by a reporter at the Atlanta airport, he turned himself and his state into a laughingstock by blathering on publicly and endlessly about how he was so very, very sorry, but he just could help himself, because he’d found his soulmate and was madly in love.
Recognizing the fix he was in, Sanford was ready with the God card from day one. He promptly invited the public to wallow in his sin, repeatedly lamenting his “fall from grace,” reassuring us all that he was praying on it, and, ballsiest of all, comparing his adultery to King David’s as a justification for why, despite calls for his resignation, he felt compelled to stay put and fulfill his duty. (Talk about your tidy bits of exegesis.)
Sanford is now divorced and engaged to the femme fatale featured in his escapade, which might make the affair more forgivable. But he not only asks for forgiveness, he is trying to use his disgraceful behavior as a political asset. Ms. Cottle puts it this way:
As he explained to Politico, “I probably have more to offer now as a human being than at any point of my life because there’s an added level of reflection, of empathy … In other words, whether it’s through circumstance or one’s own choices, really at a gut level understanding where one’s coming from is not really possible unless there’s some personal experience of misfortune.”
Got all that? Having disgraced himself before God and country makes Mark Sanford better qualified to serve in Congress because he will henceforth be humbler, more compassionate, more reflective, more empathetic.
How’s that for a face of brass?
This is the guy Republicans are running for Congress in South Carolina?
What do they take the people of the Palmetto State for? A pack of credulous rubes?
Photo shows Mark Sanford and Maria Belen Chapur at his victory party Tuesday night. (Bruce Smith/AP)