Sanford’s Flight of Fancy

What South Carolina columnists and editorials are saying about the governor’s affair

The Mark Sanford affair story affords plentiful opportunities for practitioners and observers of journalism and politics. It allows for the making of jokes, the calling of names, and the partisan schadenfreude. But we wanted to look at how the Palmetto State’s editorial columnists are handling the affair. After all, while Sanford may be primo fodder for late-night comedians, he’s still the governor of their struggling state. Would they focus Sanford’s sexual transgression or his absence as the real problem? In a close race, absence won over sex, with a final score of six to four.

Paper: The Times and Democrat

Columnist: Editorial

Focus:: Absence

Sanford should expect focus on his absence before the charges Sanford and his team should not be surprised at the attention. Anyone in the spotlight surrounding national campaigns is certainly going to make news as a governor who is away from his job without notice, and apparently without even his closest advisers knowing how to contact him — and apparently without any security. Look for someone to ask whether such behavior would be his practice as president.

Paper: Myrtle Beach Sun News

Columnist: Isaac Bailey

Focus: Absence, then Sex

I’m not naive enough to believe powerful men are above being taken in by temptation. I’m a man; I get how easily that can happen.

My disappointment is that his actions are just the latest in a long line that are trying to shatter an ideal I don’t want to let go, don’t want to believe is unattainable.

I hurt for his family, and for him. I still believe he’s a good man who made a mistake.

And on Tuesday

I feel sorry for the governor of our state.

Mark Sanford is a unique man, a good man even.

What we didn’t know is that he’d take mini-vacations without telling the state police or major office holders where he was going and for how long, in case they needed to reach him, or God forbid, something happened to him while he was away.

Paper: Mountain Lakes Today

Columnist: Editorial

Focus: Sex

There may be disagreement over whether Gov. Mark Sanford is despicable, pitiable or simply unstable, but in the wake of Wednesday’s revelation about an extramarital affair with an Argentine woman there is certainty in that he is an embarrassment to this state.

Sanford admitted to his yearlong affair at a news conference Wednesday afternoon after returning to South Carolina from Argentina following a six-day, unexplained absence from the state. His failure to appear in public and the lack of staff or even family knowledge as to his whereabouts had become national news over the past week. He explained where he had been and why Wednesday afternoon, but the reasons for his absence and failures to his wife, four sons and the people of South Carolina are unacceptable.

Paper: The Union Daily Times

Columnist: Editorial

Focus: Sex

Sanford becomes the latest political disappointment from South Carolina, joining former U.S. Sen. John Edwards, whose career wound up on the trash heap after he admitted having an affair with a campaign worker during his unsuccessful bid for president last year.

At one time, both Sanford and Edwards were the shining stars of their political parties. But their downfall demonstrates that even the best and the brightest aren’t perfect.

Paper: The Post and Courier

Columnist: Ken Burger

Focus: Sex

South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford joined a long line of political philanderers Wednesday when he apologized for an extramarital affair that could kill his ambitions for national office.

His emotional apology followed a week-long folly to Argentina, where he met with a woman he admitted seeing for more than a year.

He, of course, is not the first to fall from grace in the throes of passion or the embrace of true love.

And, despite the illumination of this treacherous tripwire, he will surely not be the last.

Paper: The Post and Courier

Columnist: Frank Wooten

Focus: Absence

America gawked at the figurative political train wreck in stunned fascination.

OK, so the personal crisis in Sanford’s marriage required a public explanation after he went AWOL.

Why not a simple written statement with just the pertinent facts instead of a rambling, stream-of-consciousness performance that, when over, left more questions dangling than it answered?

Paper: The State

Columnist: Bob McAlister

Focus: Absence

How they handle their crisis is between the two of them. The rest of us should put our stones back down where we found them and tend to our own families and maybe learn a hard lesson at the governor’s expense.

And the media should butt out.

The other crisis is more complicated, and it is the business of every citizen to sort it all out.

The governor broke a sacred trust with the people in fundamental ways.

First, he lied to his staff about where he was and allowed his spokesmen to mislead the press and public for days on end. He betrayed his own loyal staff and every citizen to boot.

Then in one of the most brazen gubernatorial decisions ever made, he decided to stop being governor for a few days. He simply ditched his SLED detail, commandeered a state SUV, turned off his cell phone and became a happy-go-lucky private citizen flying the friendly skies.

Paper: The State

Columnist: Cindi Ross Scoppe

Focus: Absence

Just a commonplace affair. The oldest story in history. Married man meets married woman; they become friends; they become confidants. An attraction forms, they become consumed by their own desires, they ignore their obligations to others and to God. And innocent people suffer.

To be human is to be susceptible to this temptation, at some point. Some of us are able to resist it; some of us are not. There’s nothing extraordinary about the fact that Mark Sanford — or anyone else — was not. Disappointing, absolutely. Damaging, on a personal and political level, without question. But not extraordinary. Not an adventure befitting a worldwide media frenzy.

Paper: The State

Columnist: Editorial

Focus: Absence

Our collective heart goes out to the governor, Mrs. Sanford and their boys as they endure this most difficult time. They deserve the opportunity to work through this situation outside the public spotlight.

But as much as they deserve to be able to deal with their personal issues in private, Mark Sanford, as governor, has to answer for his actions as the state’s elected chief executive. Yes, he deserves a private life, but those who choose to serve in elected office are held to a higher standard, and even their personal matters are thrust into the public square, particularly when they affect public policy or governance.

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Katia Bachko is on staff at The New Yorker.