The Christ-like Mark Sanford

I’m reasonably good by virtue of my heritage and many years of observation at untangling the peculiarly southern habit of politicians (and others) caught in dubious behavior retreating into religious protestations and even claims of martyrdom. I once had a distant country relative who was forever getting into all kinds of trouble, legal and ethical, and when cornered would invariably “take to preaching.” It’s an inevitable byproduct of a religion based on infinite divine mercy as practiced in a culture with a taste for high and low drama.

But I’m almost at a loss in fathoming Mark Sanford’s 2300-word Facebook post in which he dumps famous fiancee Maria Belen Chapur (to her apparent great surprise, since he just spent a week with her in–We’ll Always Have It!–Paris), promises to get lawyered up, and casually accuses his ex-wife not only of messing with his political career but of entertaining overnight gentleman guests–all wrapped in constant protestations that he’s engaged in an intensive Imitatione Christi, modeling himself on the humility of the Savior.

On one level, Sanford seems to be dumping the “love of his life” in order to strengthen his hand in a custody battle with his ex-wife. On another, he’s strenuously fitting said ex-wife into the stereotype of the Woman Scorned who will engage not only in destructive but in self-destructive behavior to avenge her exceptionally public humiliation. On this second level, you’d guess the idea is to pre-discredit anything Jenny says or does as the product of wounded pride and mitigate any damage to his political career–a career, of course, that likely would never have existed without Jenny’s shrewd advice and political/financial contacts.

What I really don’t get with Sanford (and many others like him) is how he somehow imagines himself uniquely qualified to persist with a political career that taste and decency and the most minimal concern for his and his family’s privacy would dictate he drop like a hot potato. He’s constantly complaining about the damage his ex-wife is doing to his kids via publicly battling with him. If he resigned from Congress no one other than local gossips would ever again care about what the man was doing. Does he think Jesus considers him indispensable in Congress? I mean, really, who would miss him in the U.S. House of Representatives if he were gone? If he quit he’d very likely be replaced by some ambitious Low Country Republican pol who would vote exactly the way he does. For that matter, any Heritage Foundation intern could easily duplicate his service to the First Congressional District of SC.

It’s probably not a coincidence that Sanford’s making this latest maneuver when he’s running unopposed for re-election in November. Perhaps by 2016 he’ll have fought off Jenny in court, or obtained her silence, or at least succeeded in getting his constituents to stop paying attention to her. The constant reminder of his disgrace, Benen, will be out of the picture (at least for now; the Facebook post, incredibly, seems to leave a weasely door open to a future resumption of the torrid romance in the undefined future). If it all works out for him, I guess you’d have to grudgingly respect, if not admire, his persistence. But I sure wish he’d leave Jesus out of it. Jesus died to save souls, not political careers.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.