Maybe the moral high ground isn’t as high as it seems.
— Ani DiFranco
The state of South Carolina has a new motto: If you’re governor and you need to take a few days to hike the Appalachian Trail down to Argentina, it’s no big deal.
Who knew that “hiking the Appalachian Trail” was a wink-wink low country euphemism for hooking up with a hot Argentinian babe while the little woman’s at home with the kids and no one’s minding the store at the Statehouse?
In a series of events that may well top the charts in “What the ----” moments in a state that has plenty, South Carolina elected former governor Mark Sanford to serve in the U.S. House of Representatives Tuesday, capping a mind-blowing political comeback filled with such tabloidesque twists and turns the folks who greenlight movies for the Lifetime Network wouldn’t touch it with a 10-foot pole.
Sanford, you may remember, became the punchline to national political jokes back in 2009 when he disappeared for five days, telling staff he was hiking the Appalachian Trail. Sanford actually had hiked his way onto a private jet that took him down to Argentina to meet up with Maria Belen Chapur, who was not, it turned out, Mrs. Mark Sanford.
To make things worse, Sanford didn’t go to the old standby politician-with-his-hand-in-the-cookie-jar — so to speak — act when his infidelity surfaced and he was confronted by the media. You know, the old stiff-upper-lip press conference where his wife looks lovingly on and he proclaims, “In a moment of weakness I strayed from my loving wife and family, but I’ve seen the error of my ways and have recommitted myself to my family and to the issues that impact the great state of South Carolina.”
Nah, old Mark wept like a colicky baby and said, “But I love (his Argentinian babe).”
The national media had fun reliving those magical moments when Sanford, newly divorced from the former ball and chain and engaged to the hot South American babe, announced he would join a field of 16 — count ‘em — Republican candidates vying for the House seat vacated by then-Rep. Tim Scott, a Republican who had been tapped to replace retired South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint.
The laughter died down a bit when Sanford qualified for, and won, a runoff to claim the Republican nomination. He wasn’t given much chance against Democrat Elizabeth Colbert Busch, sister of Comedy Central funnyman Stephen Colbert, especially after the House Republican Campaign Committee decided a month before the election to cut off all financial support. Seems the ex had filed a complaint against Sanford for trespassing in violation of their divorce agreement.
But the forgiving folks in the Palmetto State proved to have short memories, sending Sanford to Washington and angering every women’s group in the world, except, of course, the national Gals for God and the GOP.
All the analysts who actually care about politics have wasted tons of time and money trying to answer a plethora of burning questions centered around the theme just what does the election of Mark Sanford mean? Is it a statement about Southern voters’ general disdain for women? Is it a sign that the nation is so tired of Democrats one of its 50 states would actually pick a philandering crybaby over a seemingly legitimate candidate from the other party? Is Sanford’s election a harbinger of things to come as this year’s midterm elections loom?
I don’t know about all that, but the surprising news out of South Carolina does provide some new political truths. Like:
- There may be no crying in baseball, but we may now see an increase in weeping at political press conferences. “I ... boo hoo hoo ... didn’t mean to take that $100,000 from the mob ... sniff, sniff ... they put super glue on it and it just kep sticking ... sob.”
- n Bill Clinton has a new buddy to hang out with when the ex-prez is in D.C., and House Speaker John Boehner now has competition if Congress holds a cry-off.
- We’re apt to see a NAFTA-like trade agreement with Argentina in which shipments of that country’s primary export (ahem) will come under less scrutiny by DEA ... er, make that Customs agents.
- It will be tougher for anyone to keep a straight face when they hear Republicans try, as they so often do, and stake a claim to any moral high ground.
Email Metro Editor Carlton Fletcher at email@example.com.