Cultural Studies

Gracefully “Hiking the Appalachian Trail”

Appalachian Trail Logo StickerSo, former South Carolina governor, Mark Sanford, won his old congressional seat last night, defeating Elizabeth Colbert Busch with 55% of the vote. To be honest, I didn’t think he’d win. But for all the moral posturing of social conservatives, I think that the New York Times summed it up:

“We are not trying to elect the ‘how is your conscience’ candidate,” said Charm Altman, president of the South Carolina Federation of Republican Women. “We are trying to elect someone who can govern.”

Indeed, Charm. Indeed. Is it so wrong for anyone, especially a conservative woman that believes in the sanctity of heterosexual marriage, to endorse an adulterous husband and father? A man who divorced his wife and left his sons to pursue his South American “soul mate”?

Sanford has pled the “King David defense”, saying that King David “fell mightily, fell in very, very significant ways, but then picked up the pieces and built from there.” Well, true. He did. But Nathan, the prophet, did have to call him on his shit in the first place. Everything was going just fine until someone saw something and said something. And did this whole “I saw you bathing and I think you’re hot, so to have you, I got your husband killed” thing really get in the way of David’s governing? According to 2 Samuel, not at all. This was solely a personal matter. David says, “Oops. I’m sorry. I’m really, really sorry.” And yay! Repentent King David, politically unscathed. AND after his love child dies, he consoles Bathsheba by sexing her up and she becomes pregnant with Solomon. So it all ends up for the best, really. Because Solomon was a wise and great man who upheld traditional, biblical marriage, as well. Representative Mark Sanford, moral paragon.

It’s been a while, but we’ve seen this before. President Bill Clinton had his infamous affair with intern Monica Lewinsky. And the GOP-led House of Representatives, led by Speaker (and perennial presidential candidate) Newt Gingrich, who was cheating on his second wife at the time, impeached him on charges of perjury and obstruction of justice. Clinton said his conduct was “not appropriate”, but as far as I know, he never publicly repented. However, he did stay married to his wife, unlike the socially conservative Mark Sanford. And we’ve seen Clinton’s star continue to rise since he left office. The star of Sanford, it seems, is back in office.

Was it ultimately about sexual impropriety in both these cases? I don’t think so. It was about abuse of the office. Sanford won re-election because he ran on a platform of responsible government and responsible spending and he’s familiar. He’s family. And family is forgivable, right?

The interesting thing here is Sanford’s “biblical” strategy to gain favor. America, especially evangelicals, love a comeback story with a repentance hook. As the Times wrote,

In his victory speech, Mr. Sanford promised to be a “messenger to Washington, D.C.” Then, after introducing one of his sons and his fiancée, Mariá Belén Chapur, who had just flown in from Argentina, he spoke of the redemption he had found on the campaign trail.

“I am an imperfect man saved by God’s grace,” he said.

Everyman Representative Mark Sanford, politically unscathed. Conservative Christians can like Sanford and despise Clinton because of his public, pietistic repentance. The panacea of grace carries a lot of weight. And it can help win elections, if the right voting ears hear it. And if your district really, really despises President Obama.

It will be interesting to see Representative Sanford in action until the 2014 election cycle, when he’ll have to defend his seat and his congressional record. I’m curious what kinds of legislation he will bring and what kinds of speeches he will make from the floor. Will he be a strident force for “biblical” marriage and conservative, traditionalist morality? By citing King David, he certainly has opened up new old interpretations.

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