There he is! (AP images)
There he is! (AP images)

“Truth is stranger than fiction, but it is because Fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities; Truth isn’t,” Mark Twain wrote. Mark Sanford probably appreciates that.

The only thing I’ve enjoyed more than the Sanford campaign is the explanations offered for Sanford’s victory. Admittedly, this is South Carolina, where GOP primary voters thought it would be fun to pick Newt Gingrich out of a field that included at least three people who were NOT Newt Gingrich, so what I’m saying is, it is a glorious wonderland where anything can happen!

There are any number of possible explanations for how Mark Sanford managed to squeak back into the good graces of the voters of South Carolina. I’ve heard everything from “They really just don’t like liberals down there” to “They found his fiscal conservatism appealing and his lifestyle irrelevant” to “He’s a great retail politician” to “The only thing voters dislike more than Mark Sanford is cardboard cutouts of Nancy Pelosi.”

Here are a few more:

– Upon learning that he was a deceitful philanderer, voters decided to send him to Washington, an environment where deceitful philanderers seem to find themselves more comfortable.

– Voters figured best way to get him out of Jenny Sanford’s hair was to send him to a different state, since he would otherwise linger in the Palmetto state flying airplanes at the children and sneaking over to watch the Super Bowl.

– Confused by Sanford’s aggressive campaigning and Colbert-Busch’s reclusiveness, some voters came to believe Colbert-Busch was actually a cardboard cutout. (“I like her politics well enough, but I prefer my representatives to exist in at least three dimensions.”)

– South Carolina voters would get a real kick out of a New York City Mayor Anthony Weiner and are trying to offer him subtle encouragement to run.

– Millennial voters especially describe D.C. as (I am paraphrasing slightly) a Godforsaken Wasteland Of People Who Will Not Help Us And Are Incapable Of Doing Anything, For Good Or For Ill, so they either didn’t show up in disgust or thought he’d actually improve the caliber of people there.

– South Carolinians wanted to stop General Santa Anna at any cost. 

– “If he lost this, we’d have to stop HEARING about him, and I’ve already invested so much time and effort.”

Perhaps the real secret of the comeback is that it’s not a lesson about the need to Prostrate Thyself dramatically before the public to earn their reluctant forgiveness. It’s that our expectations are so low we were almost stunned by his over-the-top apologies. The idea of politicians as people one looks up to is increasingly out of date. As long as they get their job done of Doing Nothing In The Most Noxious Way Possible, we are content to let them frolic as they please.

Look up to our politicians for moral guidance? Please, what is this, 1828 1800 never? We now look up to our sports stars and reality television personalities instead, which has worked out extremely well.

It’s like the old joke where Noah Webster was in flagrante delicto with a chambermaid, I think, and his wife stumbled in on them. “Noah,” she allegedly said, “I’m surprised.”

“No,” he replied, “You are amazed. It is we who are surprised.”

Similarly, the only ones who seem genuinely surprised when a politician makes news for cheating these days are the Sanfords and Weiners who are caught. In our national opinion, Congress lurks somewhere below Nickelback and herpes. Us, disappointed? In them? Hardly. What did we expect?

Alexandra Petri writes the ComPost blog, offering a lighter take on the news and opinions of the day.