Who Cares About a Politician’s Affair?

Posted: Jul 02, 2009 2:50 PM
The process is predictable. An affair is exposed; the politician has his teary press conference; then the feeding frenzy starts. One of the most frequently-stated opinions is that no one should care if a politician has an affair. His political positions, some people claim, are more important than his personal relationships. Who cares if a politician has an affair?

The Sanford-Chapur affair, according to the e-mails between the couple, was a “love affair,” so numerous people believe Gov. Sanford ought to follow his heart and go to his lover. Sympathy for the governor is widespread because he was distraught after spending “five days crying in Argentina” — never mind that he had originally planned to spend 10 days with Mrs. Chapur before his infidelity was exposed.

Even so, the romantic dreamers have no shortage of pity for a couple caught in a “hopelessly impossible” passionate relationship.

But, let’s look at the facts. Gov. Sanford turned to Mrs. Chapur again and again via e-mail and long-distance visits; there is no evidence that he attempted to turn away from temptation. Gov. Sanford was not honest in his accounting of the times they got together. He pretended to end the relationship when he and a counselor met with Maria, over dinner in New York, to break things off. Yet the emails and visits continued. Amazingly, even after his wife accidentally learned of the affair, Gov. Sanford asked her repeatedly for permission to go to Argentina to see Mrs. Chapur.

Can you imagine anything more bizarre? He asked his wife for permission to go visit his mistress!

One of the major factors influencing people’s support and respect for a person holding public office is the matter of “trust.” Should the public care that a sitting governor lied for over a year about a deeply-romantic relationship? Should they care that he wrote lengthy, emotional e-mails to a woman he met at a dance and visited occasionally over the span of nearly a decade? Or that the first night he met her, they talked long into the night about her problems with her husband? Or that his so-called “counseling” included e-mails with “sexual details”?

What do those factors say about the man’s judgment, professional demeanor, and emotional maturity?

Are we willing to give up on trust and credibility from our elected officials? It is no secret that Gov. Sanford is a social conservative who promotes pro-marriage and pro-family values. It is also common knowledge that Gov. Sanford is a Christian believer with “accountability confidants” who were quoted during his confession and later. Does it matter that, while participating in Biblical accountability sessions, he continued correspondence with a woman in a manner that was obviously binding them together romantically? Does it matter that he “broke off” the affair in the presence of a counselor and then continued the relationship? Does it matter that he deliberately and with forethought planned a trip to see her when the emotional pull was strong enough, inevitably, to draw them together physically? Does it matter that he knew, and discussed with his mistress, that the affair could destroy his marriage and threaten his career? Does it matter that during his confession he choked up in referring to the woman from Argentina as a “dear, dear friend?”

One of the worst revelations was when Gov. Sanford recollected in an e-mail that his wife disdained those who “never accomplished anything of significance” with their lives and eloquently praised Maria for being like his mother in her “ability to love unconditionally.” Does it matter that he was obviously moved in his references to his time with the mistress and at disappointing his friends and co-workers, yet showed no emotion as he talked about betraying and hurting his wife and sons, “those boys?”

Sanford told The Associated Press that he and his wife were working to repair their marriage. He added, “If there wasn’t healing going on, I wouldn’t be here.” That doesn’t show personal involvement and responsibility for the eventual outcome; it is hardly a declaration of intent to repent, beg forgiveness, and begin courting his wife for reconciliation.

Among all the troubling revelations in the e-mails between Sanford and Chapur is the attitude that what happened between the couple “just happened.” Chapur wrote, “Sometimes you don’t choose things, they just happen. … I can’t redirect my feelings and I am very happy with mine towards you.” He wrote that “this lightning strike snuck up on us,” and he talked about a love that just “sparked.”

No. They spent months — years — developing an illicit relationship; the feelings and the love affair were entirely predictable given the path that they foolishly followed. To pretend otherwise is not fair to young people who might look to public figures as role models.

Does it matter that a public servant has an affair that reveals that he is untrustworthy, not credible, and treats those closest to him with disdain? Does it matter that he is willing to humiliate his wife and children in order to satisfy emotional cravings that he deliberately cultivated with countless hours of assiduous attention while he, during those same long years, neglected his wife and sons with the pretext of public service? Somebody should compare the number of e-mails he sent to his lover with the number of his boys’ ballgames he attended or the number of times he took his wife to dinner in New York.

Surely we care when such actions reveal a lack of trustworthiness and credibility. Is it not significant that such behavior — and the subsequent and inevitable lying about it — calls into question both character and integrity? When a politician won’t keep his commitments to his family (the philanderers are generally men), how can we trust him to keep his commitments to the public he represents? If his wife and children can’t trust his word and depend upon his character, how can we?