Wednesday, May 08, 2013

"Get Outta' My Backyard!" Part 1

Mark Sanford
Remember this fellow, ex-South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford? I wrote about him here and here back when he was notorious for "taking a mountain hike" by which he meant "carrying on a torrid affair in Argentina." This escapade promptly took him from telegenic, somewhat successful Governor and possible Republican candidate for President with a lovely family to the opposite of all that. Well, he was still telegenic, but also quite toxic politically. That was the end of his career.

Except that now there he is, duly elected Representative from South Carolina's 1st Congressional district. An amazing comeback by almost any standards to be sure. Now he may have won because he worked hard, had a great campaign staff, is telegenic, or because South Carolinians are just wonderful forgiving people.

But I think it might have something to do with Americans's  deep aversion to having folks in their backyards. We're, by and large, uncomfortable with people outing the deep dark secrets of our personal lives and passing judgement on them. And we're particularly uncomfortable if it has anything to do with sex. Nobody is allowed to say anything about what we do in the bedroom since the epic "Summer of Love!" I think there might have been a law passed back then. I'm a bit hazy on my history. Sure we'll peek and titter celebrity sex on TMZ but that's about it. We wouldn't want them looking at us on TMZ!

But with elected officials we know there's the proverbial 'higher standard' that we, as dutiful citizens, hold them to -- particularly if their sexual escapade also includes stabbing your wife and family in the back and telling whoppers to everyone. The loopy abandon Gov. Sanford showed in pursuing his "dream" might signify deeper problems, we reason. And down they go.

Politician Lab rat learning
However, like lab rats, politicians learn. If they're contrite, if they forthrightly admit they screwed up, if they apologize and cast their lives as a story of redemption, if they're telegenic... then we might just cut them some slack. After all, it was "only sex." We wouldn't want anybody peeking in the back windows of our house (or posh Argentine hotel) and judging our sex lives. It'd be different if his dark secret was being a serial killer...

This isn't a new phenomenon, not just "since Bill Clinton." Pres. Grover "two non-consecutive terms" Cleveland escaped a tight squeak in a similar way, adjusted for it being the 19th century at the time.  The country has always had this libertarian streak on a whole host of issues. We just don't like people in our backyards, people questioning how we live. And although we do enjoy reading about you celebrities' indiscretions for our own sordid entertainment, that's about as far as it goes. And you know, we weren't the ones that took those photos of you drunk outside a club at 4 am. That's what we have paparazzi for.

Some people need a second chance. Mr. Sanford may do a bang up job this time. Forgiveness and being open to redemption are probably, for the most part, good byproducts of our libertarian, "stay out of my backyard and I'll stay out of yours" mindset.

But there's a flip side to that. That's what part 2 is about.


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