Finally, we get a prominent U.S. politician who cares about Latin America and look what happens…
What is it about this hemisphere? As Mark Sanford has once again demonstrated…and as Latins themselves have long known…the only thing worse than not having U.S.-Latin relations is actually having them. Perhaps that’s why so few U.S. politicians care to get deeply involved in the region. Sanford, of course, is among the very few recent ...
What is it about this hemisphere? As Mark Sanford has once again demonstrated…and as Latins themselves have long known…the only thing worse than not having U.S.-Latin relations is actually having them. Perhaps that’s why so few U.S. politicians care to get deeply involved in the region. Sanford, of course, is among the very few recent exceptions. The last American politician to care as deeply about our neighbors to the south was former D.C. mayor, Marion Barry, and that’s only because that’s where his coke came from.
Maybe that’s it. Maybe it’s just that Norte Americanos tend to get in trouble down in that part of the world. Think how many U.S. political careers have been damaged south of the border. (I’m speaking geographically here.) Kennedy had the Bay of Pigs. Kissinger will not be visiting Chile any time soon. You don’t hear many people thumping their chests about all the support they gave to one-time U.S. favorites like Carlos Salinas or Carlos Menem or Fernando Collor de Mello. (It’s a long list.) Other than NAFTA, which Bill Clinton doesn’t offer high on his resume any more, the last big Latin achievement that helped a political career was Teddy Roosevelt’s ride up San Juan Hill.
But of course, the fall of South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford, top Republican presidential prospect until he disappeared five days on the long stroll during which he became the first man ever to walk the Appalachian Trail all the way to Buenos Aires, is about more than his apparent weakness for tango music and alfajores. It’s even about more than the romance novel prose of his email communications with his Porteno girlfriend. (“I could digress,” he wrote, “and say that you have the ability to give magnificent gentle kisses, or that I love your tan lines or that I love the curve of your hips, the erotic beauty of you holding yourself (or two magnificent parts of yourself) in the faded glow of the night’s light — but hey, that would be going into sexual details …”)
No the story of Sanford is also about that special something, that yearning, that searching for love…that dark, standard-issue pol pathology…that makes the stories of fallen glad handers the Old Faithful of Washington press coverage, erupting regularly, offering a brief messy spectacle and then slithering back into a dark crack in the earth pending the next outburst. John Ensign last week. His fellow senators David Vitter and Larry Craig. Clinton himself. Eliot Spitzer. John Edwards. Time lists others like Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, Mark Foley, Barney Frank, Gary Hart, and, of course, former Cincinnati Mayor Jerry Springer. Springer, of course, earns a special place in this parade of libido casualties for his memorably stupid decision to actually pay off a hooker with a check. But there are more…so many more…Gary Condit, Vito Fossella, Tim Mahoney, Schwarzenegger’s groping, Gavin Newsome’s affair, Antonio Villaraigosa’s affair, Jim McGreevey’s dalliance with his homeland security advisor, and on into history…Bob Packwood, Newt Gingrich, Wilbur Mills, Wayne Hays, George Bush, Lyndon Johnson, John Kennedy, Dwight Eisenhower, Franklin Roosevelt…back to James Buchanan and William Rufus King and then on to our founding philanderers Alexander Hamilton, Thomas Jefferson, and goodness knows who else. Could it be that Demosthenes had more than pebbles in his mouth?
Which leads us to the real question behind the Sanford story: Why is it even a story? It is as surprising as a hangover after Tequila Night at your local bar. Yes, the guy was stunningly hypocritical. Yes, he ran on family values and seems, in retrospect, somewhat conflicted on the subject. But shouldn’t there come a time in the history of civilization where we realize this painfully predictable stuff has precious little to do with on-the-job performance? Some of our greatest political leaders have been hopelessly flawed as husbands. In fact, history argues that no matter what we do, we’re going to elect people who will screw up on a personal level. Sure, it’s fun to joke about how finally Sanford found a stimulus package he was willing to accept…but can’t we get over it?
The E! Network yesterday announced that they would no longer be covering the exploits of Speidi –Spencer Pratt and Heidi Montag-Pratt of “The Hills” — because their stories were so contrived and superficial as to be beneath the high journalistic standards of Ryan Seacrest and Giuliana Rancic. The Book of Revelations speaks of this moment. When the time comes that entertainment reporters no longer cover contrived superficiality in Hollywood, Washington newshounds should it see it as a sign they should throw down their notepads and give up covering politicians who — not satisfied with the high volume work they are doing in their day jobs — start trying to screw their constituencies one by one.
I therefore take the oath: This blog will lead the way. I will never again write about a D.C. sex scandal. (Because it’s a non-story distraction from real issues. Because American politicians have the unique ability to make love seem so dirty. And because this is, after all, FP…and if I ever feel the rest of you really do need a sleaze fix…or just some low comic relief…we still do have all the rest of the world to work with. Buon giorno, Silvio!!!)
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David Rothkopf is a former editor of Foreign Policy and CEO of The FP Group. Twitter: @djrothkopf
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