“Remembering The Affair To Remember”: In New Bipartisan Spirit, Have Members Of Congress Tell Each Other About Their Affairs
It’s kind of nice to have Mark Sanford back.
Perhaps not if you’re from South Carolina. It is my strong impression that many South Carolinians are tired of their former governor, who so famously snuck off to Argentina for some extramarital recreation while his aides claimed he was camping on a national hiking path. A resident of Columbia, the state capital, told me that he had been in Peru, on a train to the legendary ruins of Machu Picchu, when a local resident asked him where he hailed from.
At the mention of the words “South Carolina,” the Peruvian nodded happily. “Appalachian Trail!” he cried.
After skulking around in political exile for several years, Sanford staged a sort of a comeback on Tuesday, winning the Republican nomination for his old House seat. It was a triumph of sorts, although one that only required defeating a former county legislator who did not live in the district, in a race that attracted the excited participation of about 10 percent of eligible citizens.
At his victory party, Sanford said the campaign had been “an amazing journey.” Since the great disaster of 2009, Sanford has taken to mentioning “this journey called life” rather frequently. Perhaps, in a perfect world, a guy who got in trouble for jetting off to assignations on the taxpayers’ dime would not focus quite so much on travel metaphors.
Sanford will now run against Democrat Elizabeth Colbert Busch, a local businesswoman and sister of the comedian Stephen Colbert. She seems to be planning a deeply noncomedic campaign. But, still, hosting this race would be way more fun than being in Texas, wondering whether Rick Perry is going to run for a fourth — or is it fifth? — term.
Or in Tennessee, where lawmakers have just introduced bills to eliminate U.S. Senate primaries and let the state legislators pick the nominees. These new decision-makers would presumably include the members who recently expressed concern that the mop sink in a newly renovated Capitol men’s lavatory might actually be a special foot-washing facility for Muslims.
Or New York City, where a Democratic state senator has just been indicted on a charge of trying to bribe his way into the Republican nomination for mayor. Through the alleged services of a Republican city councilman, who has represented himself as a member of both the Tea Party and a tribe of Theodish pagans, making him what The Village Voice called “the first openly elected heathen in the nation.”
O.K., the heathen part was pretty good. However, dwelling on this story will only cause New Yorkers to revisit the fact that three of the last four full-time majority leaders of the New York State Senate have wound up under felony indictment.
I’d rather keep track of Mark Sanford’s evolution. So far, his spin strategy has been all about empathy and forgiveness. (“It’s only really in our brokenness that we really begin to understand each other.”) By the end of the primary, you had the impression that the key to a new bipartisan spirit in Washington would be having all the members of Congress tell each other about their affairs.
“There are too many people in politics who think that they know it all. And I think that they project this whole image of perfection,” he told Jake Tapper on CNN.
Not a problem here.
Since we last had Sanford to kick around, he’s been divorced and gotten engaged to the Argentinian squeeze. He virtually never mentions her and she barely got a shout-out on primary victory night. (“She completely surprised me,” claimed Sanford, who told Tapper that he just turned the corner on his way into the ballroom and there she was.)
His ex-wife, Jenny, has written a book about her marriage, and now South Carolinians know that Sanford is not just fiscally conservative; he’s also so personally cheap that he once gave his spouse a $25 used bicycle as a combined birthday-Christmas present. Also, there’s the revelation that he excused some of his mysterious absences from home by saying he needed to go off and relieve the stress he felt due to thinning hair.
Sanford has always had a terrible case of chronic self-absorption. Now that he’s talking about his feelings so much, it’s turned into a creepy New Age egomania. It began with his post-Appalachian-Trail press conference, when he rambled on and on about his love life as if the assembled reporters were best pals who’d invited him out for a drink. (“It was interesting how this thing has gone down. …”) More recently, according to New York magazine, he went to visit Jenny, who used to run his campaigns, and asked his still deeply estranged ex-spouse if she’d do another. “I could pay you this time,” he added empathetically.
Her refusal was probably a surprise. Like the victory night fiancée.
By: Gail Collins, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, April 3, 2013
“Empathy For The Devil”: Mark Sanford Proudly Champions The Most Self-Righteous Instincts Of His Privileged Class
At New York Magazine, Jason Zengerle’s got a long article on Mark Sanford’s fall and rise, focusing on his very touchy relationship with his ex-wife Jenny, who could have easily preempted his comeback congressional campaign with one of her own, and could sink his today with a few tart words.
Reading the piece, I couldn’t help but marvel at what a relatively easy time Sanford has had recovering from such a spectacular implosion, spending his post-gubernatorial days “almost Thoreau-ing” on his family’s plantation, building a cottage to house his political memoranda, mulling life in the big picture and occasionally jetting off to New York or Miami or Buenos Aires to spend time with his lover (and eventually fiancee). If Sanford hit bottom or struggled through a Dark Night of the Soul, it was in considerable comfort. Nor did his first steps back involve community service or anything selfless at all:
After a year and a half, he left Coosaw [the plantation] and moved to an apartment in Charleston. He did some commercial-real-estate deals and joined a couple of corporate boards. He popped up on Fox News to offer some political analysis. Then last summer, he took the plunge and traveled to Tampa for the Republican National Convention.
But here’s the most revealing part of the story:
Empathy is a dominant theme of Sanford’s campaign, and it came up in my own conversations with him. “I would argue, and again I’m not recommending the curriculum to my worst enemy, but if one fails publicly at something, there’s a new level of empathy toward others that could not have been there before,” he told me.
When I asked Sanford how that new empathy had changed his views on public policy—whether it had made him, for instance, more inclined to support public-assistance programs he’s long denounced as unnecessary—he said it had not. “Convictions are convictions,” he explained. His empathy is for other public figures recovering from sex scandals and personal humiliations. “I used to open the paper and think, How did this person do that? Now it’s all, But by the grace of God go I.”
Unbelievable. Here’s this man who grew up on a plantation and married an heiress, and then presided over a state that is a living monument to inequality, proudly championing the most churlish and self-righteous instincts of its privileged classes. But his new empathy still extends no further than people just like him. And odds are he’s going to go back to Congress, where I suspect he will declare his rehabilitation complete.
By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Washington Monthly Political Animal, March 4, 2013
Newsweek/Daily Beast reporter Jamie Reno published a provocative interview this week with Sue Emmett, a direct descendent of Brigham Young and a former LDS Church member, that plumbs controversial aspects of Mormon faith and culture, including the status of women in the faith and a tendency among some Mormons to manage the way they speak with non-Mormons about complicated aspects of our history and religious practice.
Flagging concern about how this highly managed communications style has impacted the Romney campaign and might shape a Romney presidency, Reno quotes a former LDS Church employee, who states, “Every Mormon grows up with the idea that it’s OK to lie if it’s for a higher cause.”
That doesn’t quite ring true to my own experience, though I do understand well the truth-swerving phenomenon Emmet and Reno describe. In fact, I cringe when I see the way it connects to Romney’s own tendency to avoid frank disclosure—this week, it’s tax returns—and the frequent charges that ambition and opportunism rather than consistent principle shape his policy stances.
Of course, it’s nothing shocking that an American minority group might develop its own way of talking to outsiders. But in some Mormon circles one does hear bitter accusations of “lying for the Lord,” and sometimes one does witness among Mormon people today the remnants of a deep-seated sense that telling a complete, straightforward story is not always good for LDS interests.
The most penetrating assessment of this Mormon cultural phenomenon comes from linguistic anthropologist Daymon Smith, who ties defensive communication mechanisms—telling outsiders one story in order to protect another version of the story for insiders—to Mormon polygamy and particularly to the decades in the late nineteenth century when federal prosecution of polygamy sent many Mormon men on the “underground.” (Read an excellent summary of his dissertation here.)
Double-speaking on polygamy continues. I myself wrestle with it whenever I’m obliged to talk about Mormon polygamy in public. Since 1890, LDS Church leaders and members have stated publicly and repeatedly that we do not practice polygamy, that the practice has officially ended. This is an earnest effort to distinguish contemporary members of the mainstream LDS Church from ultra-orthodox splinter groups of fundamentalist Mormons. And it is true that any Mormon who were to marry and cohabitate with a two living spouses today would be excommunicated.
But polygamy has not been eliminated from Mormon life. (I’ve discussed this topic at length here.)
The fact is that current Church policy does allow for a living man to be “sealed” (married for eternity) to more than one woman at a time. For example, a widower or divorced man who has elected to terminate his civil marriage but not his LDS temple marriage is permitted to marry another woman in an LDS temple with the assurance that both first and second marriages would be eternal. The same is not possible under current Church policies for living LDS women who have been widowed or civilly divorced.
This may seem like a technicality. But when combined with the fact that polygamy has never been renounced as a doctrinal principle by the Church and that it remains on the books in the Doctrine and Covenants, a book of LDS scripture, it fosters a belief among many mainstream LDS people that polygamous marriages will be a fact of the afterlife. Some mainstream Mormons dutifully anticipate polygamy in heaven. Others take an agnostic view. But many others quietly harbor feelings of grief, anger, and worry. I have experienced these feelings myself, and I hear them from other Mormons all the time. All the time Mormon men and women ask, “What kind of God would expect me to live in an eternal marriage that I would hate?” Not the God I believe in.
Polygamy remains a fact of mainstream Mormon thought and belief—whether as a doctrinal remnant or as a live article of faith, no one knows for sure. And the tensions created by the dissonance between the Church’s public denial of polygamy and the private continuance of the doctrine creates tensions that lead more than a few Mormons to leave the faith.
Given this complicated and conflicted situation, what should a Mormon say when she is asked whether we practice polygamy?
A few weeks ago, I sat in front of a radio microphone for the BBC program “The World”; with me on the program was a high-ranking public relations official for the LDS Church. Together, we did the same program twice: two back-to-back hours of the same hour about Mormonism, one time for the American audiences, and a second time for the whole world. During the first hour, taping for American audiences, when the inevitable polygamy question came, I squeezed my eyes shut and tried to convey in a soundbite the terrible complexity of Mormonism’s relationship to polygamy: how while it is true that Mormons today no longer plurally cohabitate, polygamy has never been eradicated from our doctrine, our scriptures, and even from current policy, and that this causes many Mormon women and men a great deal of worry and resentment. My description sounded jumbled alongside the clear and familiar official message: no, we do not practice polygamy, not at all. I felt self-conscious and incoherent and nervous about publicly contradicting Church PR officials, but also determined not to obscure the more complicated and difficult truth. When we deny those truths, their private emotional costs multiply.
Then came the second hour of programming. Our audience in this second hour was not just BBC’s American listeners, but the world. I thought about the global reach of the BBC—the reach of the former British empire. When the question about polygamy came, I imagined listeners in Wales and Bangladesh and Kenya, listeners who had no concept of Mormonism, perhaps, beyond the most rudimentary and familiar stereotypes; including nineteenth-century Mormon polygamy. I squeezed my eyes shut. “No,” I said, “we no longer practice polygamy,” agreeing this time around with the LDS Church public-relations official. As I did, I registered an old, familiar, sinking feeling. I tried to tell myself it was the best I could do.
Was I lying for the Lord? Or was I a regular Mormon struggling to tell a complicated story to a world that often reduces us to stereotypes? What should I have said? Mitt Romney has said, “I can’t imagine anything more awful than polygamy”—even though polygamy remains a live element in Mormon doctrine and practice. Is that what he really believes? Is that what he felt he had to say? Is this the best we can do?
By: Joanna Brooks, Religion Dispatches, August 8, 2012
Asked to explain his support for Rick Santorum in Michigan’s primary, voter Sandy Munro said, “Now what we need is a strong political leader to do something to get us out of the moral slump that we’re in.”
Mr Santorum would agree, having noted that “Satan has his sights on the United States of America.” As would Mitt Romney, who has attacked the decay caused by Barack Obama’s “secular agenda”. Newt Gingrich has gone the furthest, stating, “A country that has been now since 1963 relentlessly in the courts driving God out of public life shouldn’t be surprised at all the problems we have.”
But what are these problems? When considering America’s moral decline, my first instinct was to look at the crime rate. If Satan is at work in America, he’s probably nicking wallets and assaulting old ladies. But over the past several decades the crime rate has fallen dramatically, despite what you may think. The homicide rate has been cut in half since 1991; violent crime and property crime are also way down. Even those pesky kids are committing less crime. There are some caveats to these statistics, as my colleague points out, but I think we can conclude that crime is not the cause of America’s moral decline.
So let’s look elsewhere. Abortion has returned as a hot-button issue, perhaps it is eating away at our moral fiber. Hmm, the abortion rate declined by 8% between 2000 and 2008. Increases in divorce and infidelity could be considered indicators of our moral decay. There’s just one problem: according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, the divorce rate is the lowest it has been since the early 1970s. This is in part due to the recession, but infidelity is down too.
Other areas that might indicate declining virtue are also going against the perceived trend. For example, charitable giving is up after a decline during the recession. The teenage pregnancy rate is at its lowest level in 40 years. And according to Education Week, “the nation’s graduation rate stands at 72 percent, the highest level of high school completion in more than two decades.” So where is the evidence of this moral decline?
Here’s one for the declinists: the number of Americans not affiliated with any religion has increased, while the number of those attending worship services has declined. And here’s another: out-of-wedlock births have increased in America so that now at least four in ten children are born to unmarried women. This is something Mr Santorum has focused on during the campaign, and he is right in pointing out that the children of unwed mothers in America tend to do worse in terms of health, schooling and income later in life.
But here’s where the real debate over America’s moral position comes into focus. As the New York Times notes, out-of-wedlock births are increasing in much of the developed world—for example, over half of babies in Iceland and Sweden are born to unwed mothers. But according to Wendy Manning, a professor of sociology at Bowling Green State University, “In Sweden, you see very little variation in the outcome of children based on marital status. Everybody does fairly well… In the US, there’s much more disparity.”
So out-of-wedlock birth need not correspond to worse outcomes for children. And if it didn’t in America, should we still consider out-of-wedlock births a moral problem? One could ask a similar question about religion. While rates of religious participation may be declining in America, young people today have similar moral beliefs as their parents and grandparents. So is the decline in religious observance a moral problem?
When it comes to out-of-wedlock births, the issue is complicated because discouraging these types of the births may be a more efficient way of securing children than the type of nanny-state intervention that can be found in a country like Sweden. But in general, I think the debate over America’s moral position comes down to this: Republicans want the best outcomes based on solutions that fit into preconceived notions of what society should look like. So even if there are few tangible harms that point to our moral decay, any move away from their vision of society is evidence of declining virtue. Democrats, on the other hand, are more concerned with outcomes, even if that means upending the way things were (or accepting that they have been upended and cannot be restored).
So in the case of out-of-wedlock births, Republicans would probably see the increase as a moral problem regardless of the outcome. Whereas Democrats might feel more comfortable with, say, promoting a corresponding increase in stable familial relationships outside of marriage. It is a dynamic we’ve seen elsewhere recently, in regard to issues like gay marriage and contraception. And it leads to a debate over what “moral” really means. If “immoral” means “causing avoidable harm to other people” then gay marriage, pornography, sex, reality TV, soft-drug use and euthanasia are hardly immoral, even if distasteful to some.
But as we grind through the Republican primary process, it seems like the debate over morality in America has less to do with moral outcomes and more to do with a vision of how society should look based on idealistic remembrances of how things were. So people like Mr Munro and the Republican candidates believe America is in a moral slump. The odd thing is, people on the left might actually agree, though for very different reasons. They are upset by the perceived greed of the 1%, and the broad acceptance of torture and war as foreign-policy tools. In the end, the debate over morality more closely resembles two distinct monologues.
By: Democracy in America Blog, The Economist, March 2, 2012
When it comes to the life choices married women make, Rick Santorum does his best to portray himself as a crusader for tolerance. A passage in his 2005 book It Takes a Family — supposedly co-authored by his wife, although we have our doubts — famously blames “radical feminists” for shaming women who decide to raise their children full-time instead of pursuing a career. “All I’m saying is both decisions should be applauded and affirmed, based on the choice the woman wants to make,” he said in a primary debate last year. “That’s the point I made in the book.”
But Santorum has no problem calling out married women (and married men, and unmarried people of both genders) who make choices in their private sexual lives that Santorum doesn’t personally agree with.
As he told the “Evangelical blog” Caffeinated Thoughts last year:
One of the things I will talk about that no President has talked about before is I think the dangers of contraception in this country, the whole sexual libertine idea. Many in the Christian faith have said, “Well, that’s okay. Contraception’s okay.”
It’s not okay because it’s a license to do things in the sexual realm that is counter to how things are supposed to be. They’re supposed to be within marriage, they are supposed to be for purposes that are, yes, conjugal, but also [inaudible], but also procreative. That’s the perfect way that a sexual union should happen. We take any part of that out, we diminish the act. And if you can take one part out that’s not for purposes of procreation, that’s not one of the reasons, then you diminish this very special bond between men and women, so why can’t you take other parts of that out? And all of a sudden, it becomes deconstructed to the point where it’s simply pleasure. And that’s certainly a part of it — and it’s an important part of it, don’t get me wrong — but there’s a lot of things we do for pleasure, and this is special, and it needs to be seen as special.
Again, I know most Presidents don’t talk about those things, and maybe people don’t want us to talk about those things, but I think it’s important that you are who you are. I’m not running for preacher. I’m not running for pastor, but these are important public policy issues. These how profound impact on the health of our society.
In a nutshell, Rick Santorum is promising to use the platform of the presidency of the United States to tell people who use contraception that they’re wrong, because they’re not treating sex the way it’s “supposed to be” treated, according to the personal religious beliefs of Rick Santorum. As Time‘s Michael Scherer notes, Santorum is denigrating the sexual morals of about 99 percent of women between the ages of 15 and 44, according to the Guttmacher Institute. As far as politics goes, it’s a rare thing to see a major presidential candidate so out of touch with popular opinion.
Not to mention so wrong in terms of policy. Santorum claims that the use of contraception has a “profound impact on the health of our society,” and he’s right, unintentionally: Contraception prevents STDs and unwanted pregnancies, and in the process, lowers government health-care spending and cuts down on those abortions Santorum is so dedicated to stopping. Because people are going to have sex — hedonistic, non-procreation-y sex — whether Father Santorum approves of it or not. A president who doesn’t accept that has lost touch with reality.
By: Dan Amira, Daily Intel, February 15, 2012