Sanford's Brain, Not His Heart, Is in Question

Gov. Mark Sanford on Wednesday.
Gov. Mark Sanford on Wednesday. (Mary Ann Chastain - AP)
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By Kathleen Parker
Friday, June 26, 2009

A wise man once said that love is the triumph of imagination over intelligence.

No one who managed to get through the torture of South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford's news conference admitting to an affair would disagree.

Yes, I know, shocking. Another Republican affair. Next thing you know, we'll learn that a Democrat hasn't paid his taxes. There does seem to be a pattern of failure in those matters about which people purport to care most.

If we were feeling charitable, we might say something about man's fallen nature and his attempt to repair himself through public works. Thus, Republicans touting family values can't seem to stay zipped. Democrats raising taxes can't seem to spare the change come April.

We might conclude that public espousals carry certain risks of self-incrimination.

Before charity exhausts its welcome, let's give Sanford this much: He has a flair for the dramatic in what otherwise would have been merely banal. Nothing like vanishing for a few days amid lies, mystery and frenzied speculation to get that "whole sparking thing" going, as Sanford ickily described his affair.

That was but one of many bits of information the governor might have spared the world -- and especially his family. His news conference felt like a combination AA meeting-tent revival, filled with self-recrimination and flagellation, absent only the sackcloth, ashes and Oprah. Although his agony seemed sincere enough to make me want to offer the man a cigarette, his apparent need to drag everyone else along his Via Dolorosa was both personally embarrassing and politically disastrous.

The man would not stop talking. But first he wouldn't start. Even though most cable news channels covered the spectacle live -- and the room was fairly bursting with media and equipment -- Sanford began with a wistful recounting of his adventurous youth, when he loved to hike the Appalachian Trail. What? He spoke for five minutes about those good ol' days before moving, finally, to the point: Where did he go, with whom, and why?

One sensed that the governor was afraid to put a period at the end of the sentence, whereupon his own sentence would begin. As long as he talked, he could entertain an illusion of control over his life.

People generally will forgive human frailty, especially in matters of the flesh. After too many such public trials, our schadenfreude begins to feel as unseemly as the original sin.

But Sanford's foray into iniquity has potential repercussions beyond what he and his wife ultimately resolve. He did disappear for several days, five of which he confessed to having spent "crying in Argentina." What is it about that place?

And, there's no nice way to put this, he lied -- by omission, if not commission.

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