Tuesday witnessed something of a miracle: the rebirth of a political career. In a primary election in South Carolina, former Governor Mark Sanford received 37 percent of the vote for a vacant seat in the House of Representatives. For those of you who don’t remember the scandal, a history lesson: in mid-June 2009, Sanford disappeared for six days. His whereabouts were unknown to his wife, the police and the public. He had told his staff that he was going to hike the Appalachian trail during that time but was later spotted at an airport in Argentina. As the scandal developed, it turned out that he was having an extramarital affair with an Argentine woman, to whom he is now engaged. This, in itself, is not all that uncommon and politicians in both political parties, including President Bill Clinton, John Edwards, John Ensign, Newt Gingrich and Larry Craig, to name just a few, have had affairs that later became national scandals. The latter three had their political careers effectively ended, at least in the short term.
What Sanford is doing is not altogether unprecedented: Newt Gingrich was able to make a well-publicized and, for a time, politically viable run for the Republican presidential nomination in 2012. For those who don’t remember, Gingrich was the Speaker of the House presiding over the impeachment of Clinton for the Monica Lewinsky scandal. Gingrich had been having an extramarital affair since 1993. He had previously had an affair with the woman he was then married to, divorcing his first wife in 1980 while she was in the hospital recovering from cancer surgery. Sanford himself figures into this as well: he was among the representatives calling for Clinton’s impeachment in 1998.
Altogether, Sanford’s move is not uncommon. It is a sad reflection on the massive hypocrisies within American politics. Sanford, Gingrich and Ensign have all spoken out against gay marriage, attempting to protect the institution of marriage. (Gingrich did finally endorse gay marriage in December 2012.) One would also think that based on their previous political stance that Gingrich and Sanford would have destroyed their own credibility, committing the exact same “sins” for which they tried to impeach President Clinton. The very fact that they are not only still politically viable, let alone competing, means that Americans are either willing to forgive these people or have become so disillusioned with politics that they are willing to overlook hypocrisy in order to find someone to represent their position. Yet in voting that way, these Americans forget that these men have already shown themselves to be political mercenaries: willing to adopt a position that they believe will earn them power.
Sanford has not earned a spot in the general election yet: he still must face a runoff, as the 16-candidate election did not produce a clear winner. And although his comeback surprised me, it really shouldn’t have. Whereas I remember a disgraced governor resigning, I do not live in his congressional district. The choice is not mine; it is that area’s residents’. Perhaps they see something in him I do not (admittedly, I am very liberal, so even if he were honorable, I would still never have voted for him), but all I see is a power-hungry hypocrite.