Sunday, May 20 , 2018, 3:05 pm | A Few Clouds 66º


Susan Estrich: Don’t Cry For Me

The South Carolina governor finds out the hard way that you can't just run off and expect not to get hit with a reality check

Spare me the tears, OK? If you want me to respect the privacy of your stupidity, don’t expect my sympathy. And whatever you do, I don’t want to hear about your agony.

Susan Estrich
Susan Estrich

South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford’s admission that he spent the past five days crying in Argentina provided us with one of those moments to wonder how it is that people can get so far with so little judgment. I know the old explanation that men don’t always think with their brain, but as always, it is the part that isn’t about sex that is so mystifying.

Is Sanford the only long-married politician out there who is currently and actively unfaithful to his wife? I dare say not. I dare say that is not a road either party would invite the other to walk down. As far as we know, the woman Sanford was involved with didn’t even work for him. A heterosexual affair with a woman older than 18 who doesn’t work for you and who you didn’t pay or meet in a public restroom wouldn’t even land Sanford on a top-10 list of tasteless political scandals of the past two years were it not for the more mystifying part of this case: the disappearance part.

What is so puzzling about Sanford is not the arrogance of thinking that he could send sloppy e-mails to his girlfriend, fly off to see her in Argentina and no one in South Carolina would be the wiser. Every second-rate thief is arrogant in that way, thinking he will be the one who won’t get caught.

It’s also not the selfishness of expecting those on his staff — who either didn’t know but suspected something was wrong or worse, or knew but obviously couldn’t say — to lie to others on his behalf, damaging their own reputations and credibility in the process. Hiking on the Appalachian Trail while recovering from the legislative session? Who came up with that one? Whoever did, it was the staff that was forced to try to sell it.

Loyalty may be a one-way street in politics, but having to out-and-out lie to protect your boss’ bad behavior is really slimy — but not surprising.

When I was in college, in the last years of curfews and “parietals” (there’s a word you don’t hear anymore), we were required to sign out when we left the dorm, and in an act of rebellion, we would put down things like Cambridge or New York City. Funny.

Since I’ve been a grownup, I’ve understood that if you’re a person with responsibilities to and for others, there are times when you must be reached. And in order to be reached, you tell people where you’re going. Adults don’t disappear. They leave numbers.

Sanford thought he could escape his life, escape his wife and four sons on Father’s Day, escape a job he apparently loved and a future he had cultivated, escape all these things to go off to Argentina and play — and not even leave a number.

My guess is that if Sanford’s staff is like every other politician’s I know, they’re on-call to him 24/7. If one of them disappeared to Argentina for a week, they would find an empty desk when they got home.
Those are the rules of the game, and everyone knows it.

But the rules don’t apply to the king: the president, the governor, the candidate. No one, or almost no one, has the standing to say no to them. No one who wants to be there very long chooses to play that role. So, surrounded by their yes-men and women, politicians — like Benjamin Button — get younger every year until they start believing in their fantasies and losing touch with the hard realities.

I think Sanford really was crying in Argentina, because reality finally intruded on his fantasy. Time to grow up, governor.

— Best-selling author Susan Estrich is the Robert Kingsley Professor of Law and Political Science at the USC Law Center and was campaign manager for 1988 Democratic presidential nominee Michael Dukakis. Click here to contact her.

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