What the Sanfords Didn't Say
Tina Brown decodes the governor and first lady’s statements about his sexual escapade.
When the news first broke about Mark Sanford, the South Carolina governor whom MSNBC’S Keith Olbermann now calls the Wild Bull of the Pampas, I thought for a hopeful moment his wife, esteemed first lady Jenny Sanford, might rip off her burqa and revolt on behalf of all the other downtrodden political wives called to genuflect before their husbands’ outsize egos.
Wasn’t there something deliciously passive-aggressive about Mrs. Sanford’s first trailing of trouble with that deadly clue in her statement to the AP two days ago? No, she hadn’t heard from her husband the governor on his mysterious three-day trip— not even on father’s day. “I am being a mom today,” she told CNN’s David Mattingly. “I am taking care of the children.” Deft touch that. A sharp, small kick in the groin.
The first lady of South Carolina blew it. She chose instead a pious manifesto that lets the governor off the hook.
Then the missing father surfaced. And told the world his disappearance was not a bracing trek in the Appalachian Trail after a trying legislative session, but a hot tamale interlude in Argentina, swiftly fleshed out by embarrassingly erotic sentiments that should have been found 50 years hence tied up in blue ribbon in the Sanford family attic, instead of surfacing as they did in leaked emails to a South Carolina newspaper, The State.
One could have felt sorry for the guy—at least James Carville on CNN could—but why have admissions of guilt become so suicidally wordy? Sanford needed only three sentences at that press conference to come out ahead. “I was a damn fool. I apologize. I resign.” Instead, there was that bizarre, free associating ramble about his love of hiking; his eight-year friendship with a woman in Argentina that became a “spark” ( translation: it was hot and heavy from the get-go, “hiking” is no doubt a Craig’s List euphemism for long-distance sex); his need ( translation: his right ) to get out of the “bubble.” ( Correction: The bubble’s where you’re s’posed to be, Mark. That’s what all the rubber-chicken fundraisers you put her through were for.)
Watch Highlights of Notorious Political Apologies
And, again, briefly when I read her statement, I thought the first lady was slyly going to keep up the marital pressure. “I personally believe,” it said, “that the greatest legacy I will leave behind in this world is not the job I held on Wall Street ( translation “I had a big career, asshole, before you came along”) “ or the campaigns I managed for Mark” ( memo: I was the brains, you’d be nowhere without me) “or even the philanthropic activities in which I have been routinely engaged” (more of those frikkin chicken dinners).
But oh no! Just when she set the table for a big-ticket matrimonial lawyer to have a payday on behalf of all the humiliated political wives—ashen Mrs. Eliot Spitzer; pulverized Dina Matos McGreevey; quietly imploding Mrs. Larry Craig; fuming deity Elizabeth Edwards—the first lady of South Carolina blew it. She chose instead a pious manifesto that lets the governor off the hook. “I remain willing to forgive Mark completely for his indiscretions and to welcome him back, in time, if he continues to work toward reconciliation with a true spirit of humility and repentance.” God is great. Roll on the book deal about Resilience, and the date with Oprah.
Tina Brown is the founder and editor in chief of The Daily Beast. She is the author of the 2007 New York Times best seller The Diana Chronicles. Brown is the former editor of Tatler, Vanity Fair, The New Yorker, and Talk magazines and host of CNBC's Topic A with Tina Brown.