The Wrong Lessons From Sanford's Sex, Lies, and Character

Time to bring private morality back down to earth.

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By Robert Schlesinger, Thomas Jefferson Street blog

Erick Erickson at RedState has gotten a good bit of grief from the left for a Tuesday blog post absurdly defending Gov. Mark Sanford's then-mysterious road trip. He wrote a subsequent post walking his defense back, but still misses a couple of key points.

"Well, what I wrote yesterday was wrong," Erickson writes in his second post. "Sanford's lies spread through his office and out to the rest of us."

He's got the first part right. But here's what he originally wrote:

* Sanford did tell his staff and family where he was going.

* Because he was traveling without a security detail, it was in his best interests that no one knew he was gone.

* His political enemies — Republicans at that — ginned up the media story.

* When confronted by a pestering media, things went downhill.

* Again though, at all times there was no doubt that Sanford's staff and family knew where he was.

There is at this point no reason to believe that these talking points—specifically the ones about Sanford's staff and family knowing where he was going—originated with the governor. Unless Sanford's lie—that he was taking off to go hiking on the Appalachian Trail—has some magical quality that caused people hearing it to then make up new lies of their own, this is not a case of Sanford's lie spreading out to the rest of us. Instead of at his critics, Erickson should direct his irritation at his source(s), who apparently just made stuff up in order to get competing spin out on the absentee governor story.

Erickson goes on to argue that contemporary politicians have been elevated "to such a level that there is no accountability," because they have no peers that can "guide, admonish, and correct politicians privately." I don't buy the notion that current pols are more egomaniacal or elevated than before or that they lack support systems. We all have support systems, some people are unwilling or unable to use them.

What has been elevated unnaturally in recent years is the notion that there is a strong connection and correlation between private morality, specifically as regards one's love life, and public virtue. The fact of being faithful or not in one's marriage does not make you a better or worse political leader, despite what social conservatives have hammered for 30 years now.

Maybe an enduring lesson of Sanford and John Ensign is that they'll give it a rest. But probably not.