Mark Sanford’s victory is a triumph of ideology over decency

Unfit for office

The good news is that Jon Stewart will have no shortage of material for The Daily Show in the foreseeable future. The bad news is that the good people of South Carolina’s 1st Congressional District will hang their heads and deny their origins when they travel beyond the Lowcountry in the foreseeable future.

As I am sure you have heard by now, the adulterous, trespassing, prevaricating, politically corrupt, AWOL former governor Mark Sanford has staged the greatest resurrection in 2000 years with his election to Congress last night over his Democratic opponent, Elizabeth Colbert Busch.

This might be the time to recall the words of Charleston statesman and Unionist James Pettigru, who famously said in 1860 that South Carolina was “too small to be a republic and too large to be an insane asylum.” I prefer the verdict of the aforementioned Mr. Stewart, who declared much more recently that “South Carolina is America’s whoopee cushion.”

Of course, South Carolina is not alone. The South loves colorful politicians and has a long and not-so-honorable tradition of electing public crooks, outrageous demagogues, even murderers to high office. One suspects we have done this, at least in part, to shock the sensibilities of the rest of the nation, to show those Yankees we don’t give a damn about their civil rights and other niceties.

In the case of Mark Sanford, perhaps this shock value played a part in his election to the U.S. House seat he held from 1995 to 2001. But there was more than shock at work here and that is what is frustrating and frightening about the political age we live in.

Mark Sanford is so manifestly unfit for public office that the Republican National Committee dropped him like a hot potato, cutting off any further funding to his campaign after news broke of his trespassing incident at his wife’s house.

Even The Post and Courier endorsed his opponent two days before the election. To those not familiar with the local political landscape, the P&C is one of the most Republican papers in the country. It has not endorsed a Democrat in the 1st District in decades; it had given Sanford its endorsement in every general election — three for Congress, two for governor — in which he had run. But in its endorsement of Colbert Busch on May 5, the P&C wrote dismissively of “Sanford Fatigue – a malady caused by overexposure to all the cringe-worthy details of his 2009 disgrace as governor, his ongoing efforts at redemption via the political process, his resurgent personal problems, etc.”

The P&C endorsement drew a sharp distinction between Sanford and his opponent: “Ms. Colbert Busch would eschew ideology for a pragmatic approach that can be expected to achieve real results in the real world — including the 1st District.”

This was a thinly veiled jab at Sanford’s rancorous, toxic relationship with his own GOP legislature during two terms as governor; and it also acknowledged Colbert Busch’s fiscally conservative positions, which would have won her friends and influence among Republicans in Congress. But it was not to be, because if there was one thing which 1st District Republicans had no intention of doing, it was eschewing ideology for a pragmatic approach to anything. Southern Republicans are so locked in step that they could not turn their back on any GOP candidate — even one as flawed as Mark Sanford.

It mattered not that he had violated virtually every public and private institution he had claimed to defend. He had built his career on family values and used his wife and children as political props at every opportunity. He even voted to impeach President Bill Clinton on charges related to his sexual misadventures. Sanford claimed to be fighting for every taxpayer dollar against wasteful bureaucrats and legislators, yet as governor he enjoyed private travel on the public dollar and ultimately paid a record $74,000 in fines for ethics violations.

This is the man who will now go back to Washington and stand foursquare with other Tea Party radicals to block and obstruct the Obama agenda by any and all means. He is the product of an ancient Southern ideology which has little patience with public policy, a partisanship which tolerates no wavering or questioning of purpose.

This is the mentality which has built the South over the past century and a half. In the last 50 years white Southerners have seized control of the Republican Party and cast that party in their own image. The result is a party that believes in winning at all cost, that believes that winners take all, a party that sends unfit men like Mark Sanford to Washington to create deadlock and dysfunction in our national government, without regard for consequence or majority rule. It’s the Southern way and it’s scary as hell!

Will Moredock was a volunteer in the Elizabeth Colbert Busch campaign.

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