By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, June 25, 2009 7:56 AM
You knew there had to be a woman.
The only question was how long it would take for Mark Sanford to run through his list of apologies before getting around to acknowledging it.
That was one painful presser, as the South Carolina governor, choking up at times, admitted that "I spent the last five days of my life crying in Argentina"--with his girlfriend. No carefully scripted talking points, just an overwrought, guilt-ridden man. He came apart on live television.
It was riveting, but you couldn't help but feel a mixture of sympathy and revulsion as the self-described "person of faith" talked about breaching "God's law."
I had trouble keeping up with my note-taking as Sanford apologized to his wife Jenny, his four boys, his friends, his colleagues, his parents and the voters. He said his wife and family had known since the affair was "discovered" five months ago, so the first lady played along with the he's-off-decompressing story line.
The way that Sanford rambled, the way he wouldn't even say whether he and his wife were separated--well, the most generous interpretation is that he was in considerable pain. And those, like Glenn Beck, who said the media were overblowing a little absence, are looking a bit foolish.
I give Sanford credit, though, for taking press questions instead of running back to the bunker. But forget about the 2012 Republican primary: how does a term-limited governor come back from that?
When you take a step back and look at all the pols who have cheated or otherwise given in to their sexual demons, you wonder: Is it a reaction to the pressures of office, or the sense of entitlement that so many feel?
Bill Clinton. Newt Gingrich. John Edwards. John Ensign. Antonio Villaraigosa. Gavin Newsom. Larry Craig. Rudy Giuliani. Eliot Spitzer. Jim McGreevey. Kwame Kilpatrick. Mark Foley. David Vitter. And on and on. Maybe politicians should call news conferences to announce they're not having affairs.
While we don't yet know much about the mystery woman named Maria--how long before TMZ get a photo of her?--it looks like the governor didn't fool around with a staff member, or the wife of a staff member, or someone getting a state contract. His spouse didn't have cancer. He didn't use the federal stimulus money he opposed for the trip. Adultery is illegal in South Carolina, punishable by up to a year in jail, but let's write that off as a technicality.
So Sanford is just another middle-aged guy with problems in his marriage, and might be given a pass.
That is, if he hadn't lied about his whereabouts with the whole Appalachian trail thing. The man walked off his job and left the country--how, exactly, did he think he could get away with that? And he let his absence mushroom into a national story.
Most Americans hadn't heard of Mark Sanford before yesterday. They have now.
Jenny Sanford issues a classy statement, noting that she booted hubby two weeks ago for a "trial separation."
How did The State get these e-mails between the governor and the woman named Maria? And why has it been sitting on them since December?
"You have a particular grace and calm that I adore. You have a level of sophistication that so fitting with your beauty. I could digress and say that you have the ability to give magnificent gentle kisses, or that I love your tan lines or that I love the curve of your hips, the erotic beauty of you holding yourself (or two magnificent parts of yourself) in the faded glow of the night's light - but hey, that would be going into sexual details . . .
"Despite the best efforts of my head my heart cries out for you, your voice, your body, the touch of your lips, the touch of your finger tips and an even deeper connection to your soul."
Hey, the man can write.
NYT: "Gov. Mark Sanford of South Carolina said Wednesday that he had been conducting an extramarital affair with a woman in Argentina for the last year, ending the mystery surrounding his disappearance over Father's Day weekend and considerably dampening his prospects for a national political career."
L.A. Times: "Mark Sanford's extramarital excursion to Latin America is just the latest -- albeit the most lurid -- in a series of setbacks that have plagued Republicans as they struggle to recast the party and promote a new generation of national leaders.
"Over the last few months, several of the GOP's most touted presidential prospects have fallen away, leaving Republicans increasingly adrift at a time when voter surveys show the party in possibly the worst shape since the troubled days of Watergate. Extramarital affairs, gambling, alcohol abuse, prostitution and sexual pursuit of minors have taken a toll on the GOP."
Washington Times: "Social conservatives, the once-powerful force that focused the Republican agenda on moral virtue and family values, have suffered a diminished brand on the national political landscape as a steady stream of their icons have fallen prey to the vices they once preached against."
Gina Smith, the State reporter who spotted Sanford as he got off the plane from Buenos Aires, describes the encounter:
"Sanford was nervous -- not so much when I first approached him, but certainly once we were seated in the airport terminal and the interview began.
"For several moments, he gazed off, searching for the words, his mouth opening, then closing. He seemed tired, deflated. And not because of a long international flight.
"Suddenly, he launched into a talk about his love of the Appalachian Trail and hikes he'd taken on it dating back to his high school years."
As for the Latin lover, according to Time, "Thursday's edition of Buenos Aires newspaper La Nacion identified her as Maria Belen Chapur, a 43-year-old divorced mother of two, who lives in the fashionable district of Palermo and works for an agricultural company."
There's little sympathy for Sanford on the right. American Spectator's Philip Klein:
"It's absolutely disgraceful not only that he had an affair, not only that he lied about it publicly, but that he put his staff in a position to lie about it. And anybody who has followed Sanford was given the impression that he was a family man. Always close to his sons, so tight with his wife that she managed every one of his campaigns and even served temporarily as his chief of staff while he was governor. And yet he abandons them on Father's Day weekend to fly off to Argentinia to see his mistress, and now forces them to live through all this emotional pain in the media spotlight."
"He had a hell of a lot more passion and pathos for his mistress than his own wife. He referred wistfully to the 'great friendship' and 'that sparking thing' he had with the mistress for eight years -- during which his wife was raising his four children.
"No excuses. No 'but, but, look at all the dirty Democrats.' This is a disgrace."
"Not the most effective way to keep it under wraps: disappearing for days with no notice. But it's important to remember at these moments that we're all human. I just wish the GOP leadership would apply that lesson to everyone else."
"It's not that I have no compassion for human failing. I do. I fail all the time and my sins, dropped into the big bucket of human sinfulness, resound and reverberate no less than Sanford's.
"I'm just so SICK of these people with power -- our so-called 'leadership' -- sneaking around, making excuses and carrying on while the country is in serious trouble. And it's doubly annoying when it is someone from the right; pols on the left haven't, at least, been mouthing platitudes about values and the sanctity of marriage, give them that."
Former Bush strategist Mark McKinnon: "Sanford's press conference was a disaster. Did he really think the millions watching wanted to hear a dissertation about how 'innocent emails' turned into a torrid love affair? . . .
"He resigned as head of the Republican Governors Association. Big whoop. You lied. You cheated. How about you step down as governor?"
Elsewhere, Slate's Emily Yoffe says: "Perhaps South Carolina governor Mark Sanford was moved by the remarks of Sonia Sotomayor . . . and decided to study deeply the wisdom of a Latina woman." She predicts that "hiking the Appalachian Trail" will join "taking a wide stance" in the naughty politician's lexicon.Tobacco Road
More online buzzing about McClatchy's are-you-still-sneaking-cigs question to Obama. "In other words," says Washington Monthly's Steve Benen, "the president had just signed landmark legislation, giving unprecedented authority to federal officials to regulate tobacco products. What's really interesting, though, isn't the new government policy, decades in the making, but rather, Obama's personal habits . . .
"This led to reports in the New York Times and LA Times, bizarre criticism from Michelle Malkin, and even some unexpected disapproval from Matt Cooper.
"Does the president's occasional cigarette and difficulty in kicking the habit really deserve this much attention?"
In the New Republic, Michelle Cottle thinks the habit is best left in the shadows:
"I know it's an irresistible game to try and catch the POTUS sneaking a cigarette, but I so wish the media would find another way to amuse itself.
"Does it really matter if Obama now and again falls off the wagon? If anything, the bigger problem would be if some photographer snapped a pic of a smoke break that somehow led the nation's Obama-idolizing youth to believe it's cool to smoke. (Not that many people ever manage to look cool taking a drag, but you never know with this guy.)"Presidential Pivot
Virtually all politicians deny that they're changing their position even as they're doing so, and Obama was no exception Tuesday when he stepped it up on Iran.
National Review's Jim Geraghty examines the media reaction:
"Obama, Tuesday: 'We've been entirely consistent, Major, in terms of how we've approached this.'
"Headline in The Washington Post: Obama Sharpens Criticism of Iran
"Headline in The Wall Street Journal: Obama Rips Iran in Tactical Shift
"Headline on CNN: Obama toughens his talk on Iran
"Opening sentence in The New York Times: 'President Obama hardened his tone toward Iran . . .
"The AP: 'FACT CHECK: Obama's words about Iran get tougher'
"Look, Mr. President, this is one of the times that a lot of people are thrilled that your statements come with an expiration date. Roll with it."
Commentary's Jennifer Rubin sees a rare moment of press pushback:
"Of the many big and small untruths the president has uttered (e.g., he doesn't want to run a car company, he doesn't like big government), this may be the first one the entire mainstream media called foul on.
"Don't they know they are in the presence of the One? Did they get the 'your fawning is too obvious' memo? Maybe the media has been shamed into modestly cleaning up its act. (By historical standards, however, the questioning was still gentle, a pale imitation of what George W. Bush faced.) Or maybe these fearless journalists are shameless followers of public opinion; once the president's poll numbers dived, the media pack decided to adopt a tougher stance toward the less-dreamy-than-before president."
Well, there have been a few other episodes: Geithner's taxes, AIG bonuses, flip-flop on abuse photos. It's still early.Pendulum Swing?
A Republican comeback anytime soon would seem like a Las Vegas long shot, but Politico's Jim VandeHei and Jonathan Martin conjure up a scenario:
"At first blush, this sounds absurd. After all, polls show the GOP more unpopular than ever, and the John Ensign sex scandal serves as a vivid, real-time reminder of why many see the party as a collection of hypocrites.
"But several trends suggest this optimism might not be as far-fetched as it seems.
"Polls show that the GOP is wise to focus most of its attacks on spending, government intervention and job losses. (Those same polls show the public has low regard for Republicans on these issues, but it's a significant development that President Barack Obama's numbers are slipping in these areas, too.) And just as importantly, GOP leaders on Capitol Hill privately recognize the need to distance themselves a bit from George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Sarah Palin and Newt Gingrich -- even though they've done poor job of doing so thus far.
"This combination of exploiting the unpopular parts of the Democratic Party and moving beyond the unpopular parts of their own is a start. But it will take a lot more to undo years of self-inflicted damage during the Bush years . . .
"Forget every article you've read about just what policy reforms or new leaders the GOP needs to come back. If this economy is worse off a year from now, that is what Republicans will run on. In politics, the resurrection of the out party almost always comes from the failure or excesses of the in party."
But memories of the financial crash under Bush will still be relatively fresh.Fictional Tweets
Slate's Emily Bazelon tells the tale of "Kanye West, Ewan McGregor, Maya Angelou, Tony La Russa, Ben Stiller, and me. Not a list I'd normally find myself on. But like all of these real celebrities, I have my own Twitter impersonator.
"At first this was creepy. Would the person who wanted to be me online show up at my door next, in real-life stalker fashion? Or was the point of creating a fake me to harm the real me, by posting trouble-making lies in my voice?
"But when I found my impersonator, and decided that his weird form of flattery was unwelcome but benign, I started to understand the whole phenomenon of Twitter. The reason the site is so popular is the same reason it breeds numerous imposters. Twitter isn't really intimate. It's intimacy wrapped in a jokey veneer (my avatar is a cheeseburger! a goat!) and an endless loop of instant feedback. That makes it the perfect place to pretend to be someone else."
And the letter she got after tracking down the perpetrator:
"Just a quick a note to clear my conscience. I was your twitter impersonator.
"I would have confessed earlier but the thoughts of the WP legal were petrifying. Now I offer my remorse and regret. Be assured that I am merely a grad student from Ireland with absolutely no bad intentions . . . I felt yours was a persona that was sorely lacking on twitter and moonlighting as ebazelon merely accounts for my misspent library breaks! . . .
"Causing distress, or paranoia, was the last thing that I would ever want to come from this and I was devastated and ashamed when I heard you talking about your feelings towards it on the gabfest . . . I can only hope you forgive me and acknowledge my sincerity.
"With deepest regrets, M."
"P.S . . . and if you ever come to Ireland, I'll buy you a pint."
Now they're Facebook friends.Business Babes
I'm all for having fun, but this Huffington Post slideshow--"Fox Business vs. CNBC: Who's hotter?"--leaves out a central fact. Who among the Maria-and-Erin crowd are the best journalists? Not even a nod to anything but looks.