On the July 14th edition of Hardball with Chris Matthews, Comedian Bill Maher asserted that Mark Sanford comes off better than other politicians who have cheated because “at least Sanford was truly in love, and I think he looks very good next to all the other cheating politicians we’ve seen in recent years”. Matthews agreed saying “I’m with you on this one”.
Well, if you just judge these public figures solely within the context of their sex acts, then Sanford may come off better than other folks. For instance, Former New York Governor Eliot Spitzer’s hiring of hookers in a jurisdiction where prostitution is illegal implicitly exposes his own inability to follow the laws he is hired to endorse and/or enforce. Being that he was a “john”, you could probably reasonably assume Spitzer was softer on illegal “high end” prostitution than he was on criminal tax cheats and robber barons who hid in Wall Streets board rooms. We know many of the other culprits: Hart, Clinton, Livingston, McGreevey, Foley, Vitter, Craig, the aforementioned Spitzer, Edwards, Ensign, Pickering…I am sure I missed many more. But to prove the error of that contextual focus, I would like to pose a specific hypothetical situtation while using one of these cheating executives: Rudy Guiliani.
The morning of September 10, 2001, let’s say this alternate universe New York Mayor Rudy Guilliani decided to print out some sonnets he had written about his lover’s eyes and hips, embark on an unannounced 5 day trip, render himself unreachable by staff, neglect to transfer emergency powers to his deputy mayors, drive to Newark in an illegally commandeered SUV from his security detail’s motor pool, leave the vehicle unaccounted for in Newark long term parking, fly to London, and instead of the obligatory check in with the US Embassy, he checks into the honeymoon sweet in a London hotel w/a female companion who is not Mrs. Guiliani. The next day, a Tuesday, just after noontime, he is enjoying brunch with his lover, courtesy of room service. Let’s just say the the next few hours, are the same in this alternate reality Mayor’s NYC as they were for our Big Apple. And the Pentagon. And the folks who lost their lives on those planes turned to WMDs. In a matter of weeks, when the airports would be cleared to re-open and alternate world Guiliani returns to give a rambling press conference explaining this love. Would “at least Rudy was in love” matter to Maher then? I would hope not. It sure wouldn’t have mattered to New Yorkers. Now back to our reality’s version of that day. Folks like me, who before and after that attack had no shame in not being fond of Guiliani, his personal relationships or his policies. On that day, we were absolutely in his corner . What mattered was that in this world, Guiliani was clocked in.
Sanford showed a complete disregard, disdain and disrespect for his sworn professional duty: governing. Try being unaccounted for a full business week at McDonalds, Wal-Mart or any job and you won’t be back. The fact that he completely disappeared is the real issue. Not why he disappeared. What if he became mentally ill and disappeared for 5 days? Empathize with him, yes. Should he keep his job? No. He should not be a governor because he has the ability to completely ignore his 24-7-365 job. Not because he is a shitty husband. Tons of shitty spouses are adequate professionals. They deserve to keep their jobs and lose their marriages. They may get none, all or some of what they deserve. Mark Sanford deserves to lose his job and his marriage, but he just may get to keep both. Its immaterial what he was doing out of love or lust, its very important to look at what he was comfortable not doing while in office. The comedian isn’t alone in lamenting the jokes at Sanford’s expense told by late night hosts and partisan political show hosts who laughed at Sanford’s prose. Sanford’s sympathizers neglected to weigh the commentary on Senor Sanford against the rhetoric of then Representative Sanford: a C-Street hypocrite who piously beat his chest while showing no empathy for Republican US Representative Bob Livingston. The comedians and partisan hosts who recounted Sanford’s adulterous adventures weren’t operating from the draconian code espoused by US Representative and ’94 GOP revolutionary Mark Sanford the family man. They were berating Sanford’s infidelity while contrasting it with his own righteous indignation towards his colleagues’ adulterous forays. It is comical, and he made himself the clown. For the most part, Mrs. Sanford has actually been treated with respect and hasn’t been saddled with jokes implying that her very existence drove her husband to cheat, as Hillary Clinton was and still is.
Maher on his own show, that Friday, angrily exclaimed that he wanted to know how it comes to pass that a person’s “private e-mails and text” can be printed so “the whole world is allowed to know about it”. If Gov. Sanford was sexting Maria using a blackberry owned by his office or filling her inbox with flowery prose from a terminal hosted on a server paid for by taxpayer dollars, or if he did it during work hours, then Maher is wrong about the e-mails. In the public sphere with laws like F.O.I.A a reporter could have filed an request for them in wake of a scandal. The messages could have been subpoenaed in an impeachment trial. In the end, it came down to a real act of journalism by Gina Smith and her colleagues at The State.com. The e-mails were a tip from a source, initially and rightfully suppressed (as they were unverified) and used as leverage when Sanford continued to lie to Smith after disembarking from a return flight from Argentina. Once the ruse was up, the people had a right to see the full information acquired by the State that led to the exposure of Sanford’s real priorities.
The hypocrisy Maher peddles here is pretty disappointing. Previously, Maher alleged that a politician’s sex life is a private matter and a separate issue then his work life. He bemoaned witch hunts for guys who just did what men do. Today Maher repeatedly declared his admiration for Sanford vs. other politicians because he was truly in love with his lover, not just a guy sleeping with “road kill”. Maher can apparently judge the heart of man with a thorough a focused reading of an elected official’s e-mail. Any old Governor could have only wanted a quickie with some “road kill”, also known as a human being, in between a late meeting at the office with his aides and a late budget meeting with legislators. Such a governor is definitely not as wonderful as AWOL Casanova Sanford in Maher’s opinion. Why Casanova? Sanford also mentioned he had fooled around with some “road kill” aside from his beloved Maria. But Maher and his fellow members of the chorus choose to ignore that part when judging the pain of a love denied by printed e-mails, the Fourth Estate, and a 2 hour block of Olbermann & Maddow. The man who is a loving adulterer pol is a hell of a guy, because he actually loves. The other adulterers? meh.
Either law abiding adultery is something we should leave alone or not. We can’t genuinely sort through this man’s feelings, and filter his professional obligations through that. We can, however, sort through his state mandated duties. I don’t know if Mrs. Sanford was moved by Gov. Sanford’s rambling “I wasn’t hiking” presser, but Maher definitely was. He was moved away from a logical examination of a delinquent executive. Maher was also believes he has the gift to accurately judge the value of a man’s intention by simply reading some letters and watching a press conference. Sounds more like the gift of “bromance” from the reality show cupid. In addition to apologizing to Cubby Culbertson’s and Tom Davis’ of the world, Sanford should have apologized to Maher for being so damn dreamy he made him dream of true love. I really do believe adultery is not central to rating a governor’s job performance. As long as the adulterous behavior doesn’t lead to a violation of the law or a poor job done at the end of the day, it remains a non issue to me. Its irresponsible and slimy, not illegal. In this case, it did affect his work. The dereliction of duty makes his act as bad as Spitzer’s regardless of the amount of lust and/or love. Sanford simply disregarded all of his official duties and intended to deceive everyone from his wife to the Appalachian Regional Commission while he did it. At best, Maher’s favorite elected Romeo is just as good as the rest of “road kill” lovers.