Caught by a reporter last week, Jenny Sanford sniped that her husband’s career was the “least of her concerns.” The couple may be at odds with one another right now, but at least they seem to have that one thing in common.
As politicians go, Mark Sanford seems singularly disinterested in continuing his career. Anyone in the “real” world—that is, the world outside the alternate universes of entertainment and politics—would certainly have been invited by this time to clean out his desk and turn in his key. Sanford would do well to heed the advice of a fellow politician, a Brit named Denis Healey, who formulated the First Rule of Holes: “When you’re in one, stop digging.”
In a series of tell-all interviews, Sanford has admitted to enough improprieties and episodes of bad judgment to keep investigative reporters busy for months. From across the country, it appears that his political enemies within the state of South Carolina have so far been remarkably restrained in their comments—but why shouldn’t they be? Why interrupt the man when he’s so busy digging his own grave?
As the country watches this tragi-comic saga unfold, some commentators muse about how a man could be so indiscrete in a state that’s right in the middle of the “Bible belt,” home of the purest ideologues of social conservatism and the religious right.
My question is, where else could it happen? That “old-time religion,” which so many conservatives espouse (or at least flap their lips about), is all about emotion—pure, unadulterated (pardon the pun), raw emotion. There’s nothing rational about it.
According to the Pew Research Center, 33% of Americans believe that the Bible is literally true—that every word of it should be taken as historical fact or divine prophesy. Among those affiliated with Evangelical Christian churches, that figure rises to 60%. In South Carolina, where professed Christians comprise 92% of the population, it stands to reason that reason isn’t highly regarded as a decision-making tool, much less a moral compass.
Typically, Christians of the “Bible-is-the-literal-word-of-God” variety solve problems by praying a lot and then waiting for guidance from God, or inspiration—which is to say, they listen to their feelings, conveniently convinced that God will fill them with the right “spirit” and lead them to salvation. Well, the spirit that moved Mark Sanford led him to Buenos Aires—apparently not once but several times.
All this is, of course, embarrassing for the General Opposition Party (GOP), which spent so many years fostering an image of being the standard-bearer for family values. The Republicans had a good run, fueled in part by successfully channeling the emotionalism of Evangelical Christianity and beer-swilling, red-neck American patriotism—that is to say, as John McCain so eloquently put it, by “energizing the base.”
The very public behavior and maudlin suffering of Mark Sanford—not to mention the martyrdom of his wife, which is also getting its share of media attention—give a whole new meaning to the term “base.” Perhaps it’s time for the Republican Party to consider whether populism—relying as it does on the shifting sands of emotional commitment—is the best foundation on which to try to build government.