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06.28.09

Forgive Mark Sanford

Sex scandals like Governor Sanford’s and John Ensign’s are private matters that don’t affect public policy and shoot down rising political stars. It’s time to end hypocrisy in America.

Plus: Read more of The Daily Beast's coverage of Palin's resignation and the GOP implosion.

When I first heard about Governor Sanford’s sex scandal, I was flooded with disappointment for many reasons. Particularly since his admission of an extramarital affair came so closely after Nevada Senator Ensign made a similar confession. I don’t know if it’s the fact that I am younger, or that just have a more open-minded view of politicians and sex, but it’s of very little concern to me who elected officials sleep with. Frankly, I think all of that is a private matter between a husband and wife, even if it is made public. Beyond that, life is complicated. And I can’t even imagine how complicated it must get after 20 years of marriage and four kids.

Of the times I have spent with Governor Sanford, I remember his family being absolutely beautiful in that way Southern families often are. I remember my dad describing his boys as “all looking just like Huckleberry Finn.” In other words, theirs was the very definition of a picture-perfect political family. It never crossed my mind that there would be any kind of scandal one day, but, especially in politics, you can’t judge a book by its cover.

The GOP is struggling right now to find anyone who looks to be our next leader. Going forward, I suggest that the party concentrate less on what goes on in the bedroom and more on what is going on in policy.

But what goes on in Governor Sanford’s personal life, I believe, just isn’t relevant to his role as a public official. The problem I see, like most problems I have with politics, goes back to the same thing—the hypocrisy of it all. One thing making everyone so mad, myself included, are the clips being played of Governor Sanford publicly blasting former President Clinton for his affair with Monica Lewinsky. It looks horribly hypocritical. And it is. We have to stop requiring that our politicians live at such a high level of moral superiority, as if they are infallible creatures. Let me assure you, they are not. Because when these same politicians fall from grace—especially in the South—we demand that they leave office immediately. (Unlike, say, Eliot Spitzer, Governor Sanford didn’t do anything illegal. If he were to be convicted of misusing state funds for traveling to Argentina, then, of course, it is a different matter entirely and he should step down. )

Now I do not condone Governor Sanford’s actions. Far from it. I am a big believer in the sanctity of marriage. And how the entire drama played out was far too intimate for me. Those excruciatingly personal emails. His strange and emotional press conference. Jenny Sanford’s long, Gospel-quoting press release. All of it is an uncomfortable glimpse into the inner workings of a political marriage and we as Americans eat it up with a spoonful of schadenfreude. Was Governor Sanford wrong to have an affair? As a husband, of course he was. But should we burn him at the stake and make him leave office? I don’t believe so. Because sex and politics are two very different things, even if sometimes they seem hopelessly entwined. What he does in his personal life, I believe, would have nothing to do with how he balances his state’s budget or conducts business.

Above all, the Sanford scandal just makes me sad for my party. The GOP is struggling right now to find anyone who looks to be our next leader. Those who have been anointed so far have ended up falling completely short. Going forward, I suggest that the party concentrate less on what goes on in the bedroom and more on what is going on in policy.

France—home of my absolute favorite foreign first lady, Carla Bruni—perfected the laissez-faire attitude toward the sex lives of its public leaders. Not here. We hold our politicians to impossible standards. We elect them, put our hopes and dreams for a brighter future on that one person, and then expect sainthood. Republicans— and Democrats—should forgive these private sins and move on. Life happens. People—especially politicians—make mistakes.

I, for one, lean more toward compassion and understanding—yes, even if Governor Sanford had been a Democrat—because I know from personal experience the pressure of perfection that is put on politicians and their families. At the end of the day, a politician’s job is to fix our country and take care of the states and constituents they represent. Yes, sex is an issue but it shouldn’t be the only issue.

Meghan McCain is originally from Phoenix and graduated from Columbia University in 2007. She is a New York Times bestselling children's author, previously wrote for Newsweek magazine, and created the Web site mccainblogette.com.