Paul Greenberg

Another high-profile politician now wishes he had a lower one. Another public figure now wants a "zone of privacy." At least when he himself isn't sharing his mawkish confessional with the whole world. The human comedy, inseparable from the human condition, persists. And how. And so does its primary stage, politics. Nothing changes except the poor sap reciting the familiar, apologetic lines. Same script, newest actor. Every lover thinks he's a poet, and every broken-hearted one imagines himself a tragedian.

"Affair took S.C. governor away," said the headline in the paper. Indeed it did -- far, far away, and not just geographically. Mark Sanford is now in a whole different place, social and political and personal. As you could tell by even a fleeting glance at his doleful countenance on the flickering screen that shows no mercy. Television transmits our every word, expression, painful grimace and tearful moment. And it's always revealing something different from how we see and hear ourselves. It's like one of those strange Diane Arbus photographs in which you can tell both how the subject wanted to look, and how, alas, he really does. Talk about cruel and unusual punishment. Only in this case, it's administered by the subject himself. And he's different afterward. Forever.

The old Mark Sanford is no more. He's been chewed up and spat out before our eyes, if we could bear to watch, by this new, extremely uncomfortable one. Why, you have to wonder, would anyone do this to himself? And to what remains of his family.

It seems only a little while ago that Mark Sanford's name was being bruited about as a vice-presidential pick, then as a presidential possibility come 2012. A fiscally conservative governor from a socially conservative state like South Carolina, he was riding high. But in a story as old as folly, as familiar as hubris, he's now meat for the tabloids.

It is the fortunate indeed who realize that the joys of adultery, if and whatever they may be, cannot compare to the delights of fidelity -- that endless garden from which the lucky do not stray.

What more can be said about this old, old story? Didn't Shakespeare say it all? "Oh, what fools these mortals be!" It seems to be in our DNA. And now a lot more than the governor's midsummer night's dream is over as Mark Sanford joins a large and regretful club.

Paul Greenberg

Pulitzer Prize-winning Paul Greenberg, one of the most respected and honored commentators in America, is the editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.