Saturday, February 6, 2010

Plumbing New Lows

There is nothing new under the sun, we're told in the book of Ecclesiastes, and I am the last to argue with a biblical source. Neither is there much quite so hackneyed and predictable as political scandal...only the names and eras change, for the most part.

Still, while channel-surfing several months ago, I stumbled upon the singular press conference conducted by SC Gov. Mark Sanford. It didn't look like 'business as usual', even to a jaded eye. Apart from the tears and convincing angst, it was obvious that his statement was neither prepared nor "spun." He had, afterall, been virtually ambushed by an intrepid reporter who figured out that he hadn't really been "hiking the Appalachain Trail" as he had told an aide; no, his destination had been both more exotic and more suspect...visiting his Argentinian mistress.

The reason I return to this sorry topic at all is that the governor seems to have broken some new ground, in spite of himself. Not in the immorality department, but in the very degree of his callousness. I found myself shaking my head as I read the following snippets from a review of Mrs. Sanford's just-released memoir:

"How he was a jerk early on: The first Thanksgiving they were married, they joined Mark's family at the Sanford farm -- where Mark informed her he'd be bunking with his brothers, not with her. 'I've always slept with my brothers and I don't see why that has to change now that we're married,' he told her.

"How he pinched pennies: One year, for her birthday, he gave her a drawing of half a bike; for Christmas, he drew the other half. A few months later he handed her a $25 used bike. [Nice.]

"Then there was the time he had a staffer pick out a necklace for her -- but when he saw her wearing it, he said, 'That is what I spent all that money on? I hope you kept the box!' He returned the jewelry the next day. And he was once too cheap to hire an exterminator when their Charleston house was infested with bats.

"How his disregard for her turned callous: When Sanford needed a tubal ligation (she had been through four difficult pregnancies and could not risk another), she went to the hospital alone. 'As I was wheeled in for surgery, the nurse asked me why I didn't have anyone with me for support.

"And shortly after she discovered his long-running affair, he began 'pestering me for permission to see his lover ... so he could find the 'key to his heart.' "

"When she demurred -- she knew she could forgive him for what had happened, but condoning continued adultery was another matter -- he asked her, 'Do you want to wake up when you are eighty and know you never had a heart connection?'"

There was also the jaw-droppingly insensitive comment about how he was "trying to fall in love" with his wife, after his return from one of the assignations. And what must have been an excruciating moment when Mrs. Sanford discovered her sons reading verbatim quotes from some of their father's graphic e-mails to his mistress, published in the Charleston newspapers.

But, every now and then, life seems to give us a heads-up, which we would do well to heed. Apparently for Mrs. Sanford, her early warning signal flashed during their wedding preparations, two decades earlier, at which time her husband-to-be "did not include the vow to be faithful" in his wedding vows. Warning, warning.

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