06.24.09

Sanford May Have to Take a Hike, After All

Anyone with a heartbeat felt for the South Carolina governor during his awkward, drawn-out press conference. But his lying to the public and going AWOL might add up a quick exit from office.

Anyone with a heartbeat felt for the South Carolina governor during his awkward, drawn-out press conference. But his lying to the public and going AWOL might add up to a quick exit from office.

Plus, read more Daily Beast contributors' reactions to Mark Sanford's flameout.

Life was so much more fun when we didn’t know where Mark Sanford was.

The possibilities were endless. Of all the speculation the past few days, nude hiking on the Appalachian Trail was my favorite. His disappearance happened to coincide with Naked Hiking Day, in case you want to mark your calendar for next year.

I rather relished the thought that the straitlaced, boyish South Carolina governor got his private kicks walking buck naked through the woods wearing only a backpack and hiking boots.

I get no kick from fallen men (or women). It must be my age, but Schadenfreude ain’t what it used to be.

As layers of deceit gradually were peeled away, we learned that Sanford, rather than hiking, was actually in Argentina, possibly dove-shooting. Suddenly, and oddly, the story became both stranger and... less interesting.

You can trust me on this: Finding out a South Carolina boy is shooting birds in Argentina is about as scintillating as finding out that Barack Obama sneaks a smoke now and then.

South Carolinians mark time according to dove season, meaning that the calendar year begins on Labor Day. A governor who doesn't zip down to Argentina for a little feathered sport isn't worth his waders.

The real truth, finally revealed during one of history’s strangest news conferences, was, alas, even less interesting. Anti-climactic, if you will. He had an affair. Oh, Jehovah, Allah, and Damien, wake me when they get to the good part, will ya?

Is there anything more banal than a Republican affair? Can we just all become Democrats so no one cares?

I get no kick from fallen men (or women). It must be my age, but Schadenfreude ain’t what it used to be. Sanford’s pain was palpable as he described his relationship with another woman and apologized to everyone on the planet. His suffering—and that of his family—is too real and raw for snarky remarks. Anyone with a heartbeat felt for the man in his unbearable moment of public humiliation.

But could we chat for just a moment about the governor’s utter weirdness? What was this man thinking? What was he talking about the first several minutes of the news conference, during which he regaled a watching world with his love of hiking and adventure? Get on with it, man, will you?

TMI was made for moments like this. Mark, Mark, Mark. Just say: “I had an affair; my wife has known about it for five months and we’re working on it; I paid my own way. Gotta go.”

Instead, he told us how many times they’d gotten together “during that whole sparking thing.” Thrice! Please tell me your sons weren’t watching. It all started very innocently with email, he said. It always does, pal. Then about a year ago, boom. Big Guy Upstairs nodded off and Little Friend Downstairs took over the controls.

The chief executive of the nation’s most embarrassed state doesn’t know when to turn it off. We didn’t need to know all that. And did he really say he’d spent that past five days crying in Argentina? What is it about that country? Does anyone ever go to Buenos Aires just for the laughs?

What love/lust/whatever does to sane men and women has kept poets in business for centuries. We all get it; we’ve all been there. Love is nothing but temporary insanity from which one, unfortunately, can and does recover. Americans aren’t quite French, but they’ll usually forgive a fellow human being for frailty.

The sin of betrayal is Sanford’s to work out with his wife and, since he brought him into the discussion, his God. But his sin of deceit, of outright lying to the public about his whereabouts and leaving his state without arrangements for governance, is another matter.

He may end up having to take a hike after all.

Kathleen Parker is a syndicated columnist with the Washington Post Writers Group and author of Save the Males.