On the Sanford Affair

by Don Boudreaux on June 28, 2009

in Current Affairs, Politics

Here’s a letter that I sent yesterday to the Boston Globe:

Dear Editor:

Scott Lehigh argues that “infidelities shouldn’t end political careers” (June 26) – to which I say: it depends.

A politician who holds himself or herself out as a savior – as such a paragon of virtue that he or she can be trusted with vast swaths of our lives and property – certainly should not be suffered to remain in office once that person is revealed to be simply another ordinary human being, as faulty as the rest of us.

In the case of Gov. Mark Sanford, however, he’s that rare politician who does not fancy himself to be more sagacious or virtuous than the rest of us. While not excusing Mr. Sanford’s broken promises to his wife and family – or his use of public funds to finance his trysts – I regret the likely loss to the public of an official who never posed as being worthy to lord it over ordinary human beings.

Sincerely, Donald J. Boudreaux

Mr. Sanford’s use of public funds to pay for his tryst-inspired trips is the far worse offense to the public. As for the much-commented-upon fact that Mr. Sanford disappeared without letting any other South Carolina officials know of his whereabouts, well, Mr. Sanford understands that states are not really governed by governors — that if a high-ranking government official is absent, dead, or comatose, the society will still continue along productively. The idea that the people of South Carolina were in some sort of danger because their governor was AWOL is absurd.

Having said that, I doubt that Mr. Sanford’s political philosophy played much of a role in his excuse-making for his secret trips. Mr. Sanford no doubt had only one thing on his mind and he behaved irresponsibly and immorally — chiefly to his family.

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{ 40 comments }

Chris June 28, 2009 at 11:42 am

Best summary of the situation that i have seen.

Jeremy P June 28, 2009 at 12:07 pm

I used to think this way and am still conflicted, but he did use tax payer money to fund an affair. Is he susceptible to corruption? Is he compulsive? I think he would be a good president, but the last time we had a compulsive president we were stuck fighting 2 expensive wars that we could not win against an unidentifiable enemy.

Jeremy P June 28, 2009 at 12:07 pm

I used to think this way and am still conflicted, but he did use tax payer money to fund an affair. Is he susceptible to corruption? Is he compulsive? I think he would be a good president, but the last time we had a compulsive president we were stuck fighting 2 expensive wars that we could not win against an unidentifiable enemy.

Fred June 28, 2009 at 12:12 pm

The last time we had a compulsive president we had Bill Clinton but, that was "only about sex" and we should "move on."

Marcy June 28, 2009 at 12:23 pm

What makes us think that someone who refuses to honor one oath — his marriage vow — is going to honor his oath of office? Or having broken either one of them once, isn't a very good candidate for a repeat performance?

If the oath of office isn't something we hold a politician to, then we might as well just install kings who can hand out public funds to their friends or spend it on their own pleasures, without accountability, and who exercise increasing control with no regard to our rights. Which is pretty much the direction we're headed.

Martin Brock June 28, 2009 at 12:34 pm

… if a high-ranking government official is absent, dead, or comatose, the society will still continue along productively.

But the same logic doesn't apply to a high-ranking corporate official?

Don Boudreaux June 28, 2009 at 12:50 pm

Although I believe that corporate officials of any rank generally are far more socially productive than are even the highest-ranking government official, I've never known a society to be endangered by the sudden disappearance, death, or retirement of any corporate official.

Randy June 28, 2009 at 1:04 pm

Considering the degree of waste present in nearly all state spending, I see no reason to be overly concerned about a few thousand dollars spent on trips to Argentina.

In a contractual government, it wouldn't matter. All that would matter is whether or not the office holder had fulfilled the terms of his or her contract without going over budget.

Greg Ransom June 28, 2009 at 1:49 pm

It seems most all of the politician these days are the most pathetic sort of narcissist.

Be faithless to people and lie to them and betray their trust?

At the drop of a hat.

DAVE June 28, 2009 at 3:50 pm

"What makes us think that someone who refuses to honor one oath — his marriage vow — is going to honor his oath of office? Or having broken either one of them once, isn't a very good candidate for a repeat performance?"

Come off it. The guy screwed up. Like Don said: He never presented himself as better or wiser than anyone else. He screwed up and it's no one's business.

Cheers June 28, 2009 at 4:26 pm

Yea, I hate to break it to you Jeremy, but so far as impulsive means "characterized by undue haste and lack of thought or deliberation" the last time we had an impulsive President, he decided to reform the health system, financial system and automotive sector within the first 6 months of presidency.

vidyohs June 28, 2009 at 6:39 pm

Martin,

And, exactly what do we do, what do we think, when there is no difference?

"But the same logic doesn't apply to a high-ranking corporate official?
Posted by: Martin Brock | Jun 28, 2009 12:34:58 PM"

"Although I believe that corporate officials of any rank generally are far more socially productive than are even the highest-ranking government official, I've never known a society to be endangered by the sudden disappearance, death, or retirement of any corporate official.
Posted by: Don Boudreaux | Jun 28, 2009 12:50:50 PM"

A corporation is a corporation is a corporation, and by any other name should smell so sweet.

Fill a pot with cold water, stick your hand in, then pull your hand out. The hole you leave behind is the hole that will be left when Bill Gates dies, Steven Jobs dies, when Putin dies, Obama dies, that was left when Kennedy died, and when you and I die.

Somehow when a person, and person, exits this vale of tears, the rest of us just soldier on.

vidyohs June 28, 2009 at 6:40 pm

Somehow when a person, and person, exits this vale of tears, the rest of us just soldier on.

Should have read, ….any person, exits this vale of……

Babinich June 28, 2009 at 8:04 pm

"A politician who holds himself or herself out as a savior – as such a paragon of virtue that he or she can be trusted with vast swaths of our lives and property – certainly should not be suffered to remain in office once that person is revealed to be simply another ordinary human being, as faulty as the rest of us."

Anyone who holds themselves out as a savior or messiah should be cast out into the dustbin of history.

To me infidelity is an egregious character flaw. This crack in character was exceeded by the greater sin which was that the chief executive of a state could not be located for a period of time.

Dan Clementi June 28, 2009 at 8:39 pm

We are all humans and inherently flawed. Can anyone honestly be surprised when evidence comes out that a politician is human?

Some say: we simply need to find the "right people" to be our leaders. I say: why not avoid placing so much trust (and power) in their hands?

Martin Brock June 28, 2009 at 8:51 pm

And, exactly what do we do, what do we think, when there is no difference?

My statement here refers to discussion of Don's previous post.

On the one hand, in this post, the sudden disappearance, death, or retirement of a particular corporate official has no very dire consequences, because this official is only one person.

On the other hand, in the previous post, one corporate official can contribute tens or hundreds of millions of dollars in value to the corporation in a single year, as much as a thousand other employees combined, because his unique contribution is so rare and valuable.

These assertions seem inconsistent to me.

Jeremy P June 28, 2009 at 10:37 pm

Well, I don't think Obama is compulsive. He thinks out his plans very deliberately and maximizes his political agenda. He wishes to remodel America in a way in which neither you or I agree with or approve of and the philosophy which he rationalizes his actions with is silly and evil, but I would contend that he is very deliberate. Horrible, but deliberate. On the other hand, I think the decision to invade Iraq was knee-jerk and compulsive. Bush was compulsive and horrible, while Obama is deliberate and extremely horrible. My only point is that pragmatism and deliberation are desirable traits for a president to have especially in foreign policy. I agree that the Pres should have much less power, but this is irrelevant to my point.

M.C. Hubbard June 29, 2009 at 3:13 am

"infidelities shouldn't end political careers" – heh, but they can hurt them and more…

"such a paragon of virtue that he or she can be trusted with vast swaths of our lives and property"

Looks like Edwards is being accused of a sex tape on top of all the rest… http://www.nydailynews.com/gossip/2009/06/28/2009-06-28_aides_tale_of_john_edwards_sex_tape.html

Sanford, please don't have a sex tape. :(

vidyohs June 29, 2009 at 6:25 am

Another good example of the market creating a demand; and, of corporations so large no one any longer is capable of knowing what is going on:

A Well-Planned Retirement From The London Times:

Outside the Bristol Zoo, in England, there is a parking lot for 150 cars and eight coaches, or buses.

It was manned by a very pleasant attendant with a ticket machine charging cars 1
(about $1.40Cdn) and coaches 5 (about $7).

This parking attendant worked there uninterrupted for all of 25 years.

Then, one day, he didn't turn up for work.

"Oh well,", said Bristol Zoo management, "we'd better phone up the city council and get them to send a new parking attendant."

"Err, no", said the council, "that parking lot is your responsibility."

"Err, no", said Bristol Zoo management, "the attendant was employed by the City Council, wasn't he?"

"Err, NO!" insisted the Council.

Sitting in a villa some where on the coast of Spain, is a bloke who had been taking the parking lot fees, estimated at 400 (about $560) per day at Bristol Zoo for the
last 25 years. Assuming seven days a week, this amounts to just over 3.6 million
($7 million)!

And no one even knows his name.

Randy June 29, 2009 at 6:49 am

Dan Clementi,

"I say: why not avoid placing so much trust (and power) in their hands?"

It occurs to me that your point is very strong evidence against the contract theory of government. We did not and would not agree to put so much power in the hands of the political class, therefore, it is evident that they took it.

Martin Brock June 29, 2009 at 7:10 am

A Well-Planned Retirement From The London Times

It's an urban legend.

LowcountryJoe June 29, 2009 at 7:42 am

Scot Lehigh should realize that these decisions are ultimately left up to the voters but you'd never know that he understand this based on what he writes; it's as though he believes it's the media who selects the official. He might be correct, come to think of it.

One thing he writes has me questioning Scot's accuracy in reporting:

As a congressman, Sanford had voted to impeach Clinton after his affair with Monica Lewinsky; the president, he declared, had violated his oath to his wife.

Was this really Sanford's reason to vote to impeach? I'd like to see that. I think that Sanford's vote to impeach was about the lie that then President Clinton told about relationships while being under oath to tell only truth.

Oh, and Martin Brock, none of your posted views are ever inconsistent, are they?

John Galt June 29, 2009 at 7:52 am

Sorry; character counts. I was rather disappointed that he didn't resign immediately after meeting with his cabinet.

vidyohs June 29, 2009 at 7:52 am

So it would seem. :-D

vidyohs June 29, 2009 at 7:55 am

SCOTUS ruling in a lawsuit brought by an Ohio group (who had sued a politician because he lied on the campaign trail about what he would do if elected to a state office, promises on which he reneged of course) was that lying by politicans is not a civil or criminal offense and polticians are free to lie whenever and about whatever.

Character counts in our private and commercial world, but not in politics.

vidyohs June 29, 2009 at 7:57 am

Well, let me amend that last, what the SCOTUS was saying is that lying is okay as long as it isn't done under oath.

Gil June 29, 2009 at 8:08 am

"It occurs to me that your point is very strong evidence against the contract theory of government. We did not and would not agree to put so much power in the hands of the political class, therefore, it is evident that they took it." – Randy

Well you can blame the amendment process of the U.S. Constitution. Libertarians and old-time Conservatives should seen this coming and made a special 11th Amendment that the U.S. Constitution can no longer be amended (before it was too late).

Daniel Kuehn June 29, 2009 at 9:04 am

This guy was reckless and endlessly dedicated to what made good electoral headlines even before this – and it was scary that he was a serious presidential candidate in 2012. I'm glad that prospect is out of the picture at this point.

Martin Brock June 29, 2009 at 9:11 am

Oh, and Martin Brock, none of your posted views are ever inconsistent, are they?

If one of my posted views is inconsistent with another, you're free to point it out, and I'll thank you for the favor.

Martin Brock June 29, 2009 at 9:25 am

Well you can blame the amendment process of the U.S. Constitution.

Most of the constitutional reform of the last century involved no amendments. It rather involved incredibly broad interpretation of the commerce clause. So now, if you grow marijuana in your back yard for your own use, the Federal government may jail you, using its authority under the commerce clause, because you might have sold the pot across state lines, even though you didn't.

That's just what the courts have been saying for nearly a century now. The Feds can also regulate marriage, because you might move with a spouse across a state line and then seek resolution of a marital dispute, even if you don't.

In fact, the Feds can govern practically anything under this theory, so federalism is thoroughly quashed, not by any constitutional amendment but simply by an assertion of Federal authority that authors of the constitution never imagined.

rpl June 29, 2009 at 9:25 am

I'm a little surprised at Don's defense of Sanford's conduct. In virtually every job I've ever had (the notable exception was when I was an academician), absenteeism like Sanford's, without prior notice or valid excuse, would have gotten me fired. That's irrespective of whether I was "critical" to my employer's operations. Why should a governor be held to any different standard? If we want politicians to stop setting themselves up as tin-pot gods, wouldn't holding them to the same standards of professional conduct as the rest of us be a good place to start?

dg lesvic June 29, 2009 at 9:53 am

Daniel,

Sanford was scary?

Mind-readers like you are what's scary.

And me.

Get those nasty thoughts out of your head, right now!

LowcountryJoe June 29, 2009 at 9:54 am

>>In virtually every job I've ever had…absenteeism like Sanford's, without prior notice or valid excuse, would have gotten me fired…Why should a governor be held to any different standard? If we want politicians to stop setting themselves up as tin-pot gods, wouldn't holding them to the same standards of professional conduct as the rest of us be a good place to start?<<

Who's going to fire him? And wouldn't holding him to the same standards of professional conduct as the rest be a good place to start?

Two decent questions that utimately come back to who/what, exactly? Think about those for a bit [not just how they relate to the governor of SC] and after obtaining the answers/connection, it might be wise to not hold your breath while waiting for things to change.

dg lesvic June 29, 2009 at 10:09 am

Rest in Place,

You wrote,

"If we want politicians to stop setting themselves up as tin-pot gods, wouldn't holding them to the same standards of professional conduct as the rest of us be a good place to start?"

You missed the point entirely.

Sanford was the rare exception, a politician not setting himself up as a tin-pot god.

If we held politicians to the same standards as the rest of us, the affairs of state would all have to be conducted from within prison walls.

Bob Guzzardi June 29, 2009 at 10:37 am

It is near impossible for a politician to campaign or govern without support of his or her spouse. I hope the betrayal can heal. There are four young boys affected by the example set by their father. Regardless of what we think, as a practical matter, Mark Sanford's political career has ended until he resolves the matter with his family. The intensity and risk taking evidence that this was a romance and it will take time for this to reconcile. Mark Sanford, unlike Rick of Casablanca, chose romance and self over his obligations of his office and to South Carolina and to his family. A tragedy and who but for the grace of God go some of us. Yet, it does appear his effectiveness in government and politics is ended.

Bob Guzzardi June 29, 2009 at 10:38 am

If the CEO of almost any private company, large cap, medium cap, he or she would have been gone. Even small businesses are affected by behavior of owner. Leaders lead by example as well as words.

Phil June 29, 2009 at 12:57 pm

What makes us think that someone who refuses to honor one oath — his marriage vow — is going to honor his oath of office?

Exactly, if you can't keep a promise to a SPECIFIC INDIVIDUAL -how are you going to keep a promise to a concept called "the public".

We all know infidelity has always occurred-and always will-but the only way to determine the seriousness of the aldulter's contrition is the passage of time (years and decades, not weeks and months).

If we held politicians to the same standards as the rest of us, the affairs of state would all have to be conducted from within prison walls.

But we don't.

tms June 29, 2009 at 4:32 pm

The most ridiculous criticism I heard regarding the Sanford situation was from Howard Fineman on MSNBC. He explained that Sanford's political philosophy is all about states rights (and "not the racist kind"), and therefore, as a Governor, he views himself as equal in importance to the President of the United States. Since he sees himself equal in importance to the President, how could he just leave the way he did?

As you point out, this has nothing to do with his political philosophy. But, if it did, leaving the state without a chief executive for several days is, if anything, entirely consistent with his philosophy of limited government.

Nathan June 29, 2009 at 8:27 pm

There's this little thing called evolution. It just so happens that infidelity is a wildly successful strategy for our genes. To hold fidelity as some gift from the bosom of god is displaying a firm lack of understanding reality.

mandeville June 29, 2009 at 9:19 pm

Nathan, I agree. It also shows a firm lack of understanding nature. Further, I don't think anyone should be upset if he saw the woman on government business trips, unless we agree that politicians can't golf, have dinners or conduct other personal affairs in conjunction with their official duties.

If I send a sales rep 500 miles from our plant to visit a customer and he decides to have dinner with a friend, should I make him reimburse me for a portion of the hotel and travel expenses that I paid? Of course not. If he picks up a women in a bar, should I fire him? I know one thing; if I fired a woman or minority for infidelity, they'd sue me in a flash. The bottom line is that there's no difference between an employee working for me and a politician working for his constituency. If the people don't like the politician, they shouldn't vote for him the next time round.

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