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South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford - Another Cheating Politician, Another Humiliated Wife

By June 25, 2009

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It's as American as baseball and apple pie - a prominent male politician cheating on his wife. This time, it's South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford, whose bizarre explanation for his unexplained absence -- he was hiking the Appalachian Trail -- is at least a new and inventive offering in the panoply of lame excuses.

Walk of Shame
In the meantime, South Carolina First Lady Jenny Sanford has another well-worn path to tread -- the walk of shame endured by so many blindsided, humiliated political wives before her. Some of the best and brightest have walked this path: Hillary Clinton, Silda Spitzer, Elizabeth Edwards -- and they do so stoically, silently, with white knuckles and pale complexions, standing by their men because to do otherwise is political suicide.

Infidelity is hard enough on any family. Imagine addressing its ramifications with your husband and kids while a whole nation watches.

Stand By Their Man
No political wife can afford the luxury of sour grapes. Some possess the smarts (and the resilience) to make lemonade out of the situation. All undoubtedly fight the urge to walk away from the marriage (and the fishbowl of public life) altogether. But they put on a brave face and stand by their man, even if it's only to say that their husband "has earned a chance to resurrect our marriage" as Jenny Sanford has stated.

Men Do, Women Don't
Last August I wrote a post entitled "Why Male Politicians Cheat on Their Spouses...and Why Female Politicians Don't." In it, I quoted psychologist Barbara Cohn Schlachet who noted that women with political power are rarely unfaithful and asked:

Are we just better people than the men? Is it really all about testosterone? Or, perhaps, we just keep a secret better. What can we expect of women when more of us attain positions of power?
When Two Heads Aren't Better Than One
At this point, I'm tempted to say that since women don't struggle with the rash impulses of a "little head," perhaps it's easier for our big heads to prevail. But by blaming it all on gender, that would be as ignorant as saying that since women have a menstrual period, at that "time of the month" they're incapable of rational thought.

That argument has kept women down and out of power for years.

Kick the Bum Out
In the same way that angry voters feel compelled to "kick the bums out," angry political wives should be free to do the same with their husbands. Jenny Sanford essentially followed this game plan as she acknowledged in a public statement:

When I found out about my husband's infidelity I worked immediately to first seek reconciliation through forgiveness, and then to work diligently to repair our marriage. We reached a point where I felt it was important to look my sons in the eyes and maintain my dignity, self-respect, and my basic sense of right and wrong. I therefore asked my husband to leave two weeks ago.

This trial separation was agreed to with the goal of ultimately strengthening our marriage. During this short separation it was agreed that Mark would not contact us. I kept this separation quiet out of respect of his public office and reputation, and in hopes of keeping our children from just this type of public exposure. Because of this separation, I did not know where he was in the past week.

Don't Blame the Victim
Before anyone gets ready to stone Jenny Sanford for maintaining radio silence about his absence, note that she tried her best to keep his political reputation intact (which he shredded on his own time, literally) while protecting her children from the ensuing media attention.

We have high expectations for our elected leaders (and rightly so) but those expectations can burden a political wife who's stuck between a rock and a hard place, forced to stretch the truth or even lie outright to cover for her husband.

There is no easy solution, short of electing more women to public office; as Schlachet says, they don't cheat nearly as much as men. But in the meantime, while we hang yet another politician out to dry, let's not throw his wife out with the bathwater. Jenny Sanford deserves our compassion, not to mention every ounce of protection we can muster, for the "dignity and sel-respect" she worked so hard to hold onto...even as her husband literally, figuratively, and politically went AWOL.


June 25, 2009 at 11:16 am
(1) whiteknyght says:

I think I must start using the term “hiking the Appalachian Trail” as a euphemism… and since I am always in the company of someone’s wife, I will be using it a lot.

June 25, 2009 at 1:50 pm
(2) Elizabeth says:

I find myself wondering if this is even true. When nobody knew where he was, she kind of snidely said that she didn’t know where HE was, but SHE was at home taking care of their children. This sounds like what someone would say if their husband took off of his own volition–I think I would probably say the same. But if she asked him to leave, she would probably have had a smoother story for the media, which would evoke less attention. I suspect (and this is pure speculation) that she decided after the fact to try to help him smooth things over politically so we don’t all think that, after his wife discovered the affair 5 months ago, he would be so callous as to take off and spend days with his honey under his wife’s nose and instead of celebrating Father’s Day with his 4 boys! I just don’t understand how this earns him the right to try and resurrect their marriage; it sounds to me like he’s giving her more to have to forgive. I think a telephone breakup would have been more appropriate!

Thanks for letting me vent. This one really bugged me. Maybe there’s something to that idea of electing more women, so the focus will be more on actually doing the jobs we elected them to! : D

June 25, 2009 at 3:21 pm
(3) Doris says:

I laughed out loud this morning when I saw a local headline, “McGreevey to South Carolina governor: Honesty is best.”

MCGreevey is a former NJ governor who resigned when he had an affair with a male state employee. When he resigned, he made it all about coming out as a gay American, instead of about cheating on his wife.

June 25, 2009 at 4:10 pm
(4) whiteknyght says:

I find the topic of infidelity an interesting double-standard, considering 40% of all married women have affairs to go along with the 60% of men… and probably even more given the fact from first-hand experiences, women have “emotional affairs” with other men that may never lead to sex, but are probably deeper and in a lot of ways more straying than the wandering organ.

American double-standards are interesting…

June 25, 2009 at 4:58 pm
(5) Jenn R. says:

There’s just something about these middle-aged men in politics. Well, maybe it’s just middle-aged men in general. Here’s another interesting take on the matter:


June 29, 2009 at 12:46 pm
(6) Caroline says:

The TODAY SHOW reported this morning that she’s decided to kick the bum out.

July 1, 2009 at 1:44 pm
(7) Jade says:

Go Jenny. Better now than later as I know.

August 29, 2009 at 12:40 am
(8) Slake says:

Guv should REALLY take a hike. He is just another
tawdry charlatan with delusions of grandeur. So
easy a Caveman can do it. Just go away you narcissistic

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