Paul R. Hollrah, O.E.
The Mark Sanford Affair
South Carolina Governor Mark
Sanford has recently reappeared after a week-long absence...an absence
during which his whereabouts were unknown to his wife, his children, his
staff, and his political advisors.
Prior to his departure on June 18, following a protracted court battle
over South Carolina’s share of federal economic stimulus funds, he made
casual mention to his staff that he’d like to spend some time hiking the
Appalachian Trail, in order to "clear his head.” However, we now know
that he was not "clearing his head” in the Appalachians, he was in
Argentina, visiting a woman with whom he’s been carrying on an illicit
love affair for the past year.
It has become a familiar theme in recent decades as more and more
powerful politicians have had promising careers ruined by sexual
infidelity. Why? Why would they take such risks? And why is it that only
conservatives and Republicans are made to pay a high price for their
Throughout the ages, love and sex have been the root of many
difficulties...between husbands and wives, between lovers, between total
strangers, and even between nations...because no one has ever figured
out how to dampen what is the strongest of all emotions, or how to
guarantee a monogamous sex life while surrounded by temptation. What we
do know is that sexual mores have undergone massive shifts over the
years and that God has a way of seriously blindsiding those who insist
most loudly that they are immune to lust and/or extramarital
Growing up during the 1940s and ‘50s, few of us had anything even
remotely resembling a healthy attitude toward sex. In the stilted
atmosphere of small-town Missouri, where I grew up, what we thought we
knew about sex we learned in whispered conversations with our friends
and classmates. It certainly was not a topic that parents, teachers, and
children discussed openly.
As boys and girls attending a Lutheran parochial school, we were all
taught that sex was something that only men enjoyed and that all women
hated...an activity they engaged in after marriage only because it was
their duty to they husbands. And since we were all pretty much
convinced that pre-marital sex was a sure-fire, one-way ticket to hell,
we tended to walk the straight and narrow. It was in the post-puberty
phase...when we first experienced that wonderful hit-by-a-truck,
kicked-in-the-stomach kind of emotional love that we spend a lifetime
searching for...that the sexual aspects of the male-female relationship
became a problem.
While the misinformation about human sexuality that had been pounded
into us tended to keep teen pregnancies to a minimum, it also insured
that we would all approach adulthood with more than our share of
neuroses. As best I can remember, we all viewed sex pretty much like
Moses must have viewed the Promised Land. We knew it was there and we
knew where it was, but we also knew that our chances of ever seeing it
were pretty close to slim or none.
But then came the so-called "sexual revolution” when women threw off
their Puritan bonds, burned their bras, and declared to the world that
the "weaker sex” just might enjoy a "romp in the hay” as much as their
male counterparts. I don’t know about the rest of the male population,
but the mere thought of it scared the hell out of me.
Having been preoccupied with marriage, raising children, getting an
education, and pursuing a career, I paid little attention to what was
happening on the front lines of the "sexual revolution.” I suppose I
knew it was going on, but since I had "no dog in that hunt” I simply
ignored it and wasn’t confronted by it until I was divorced in 1976,
after nearly twenty years of marriage.
My face-to-face confrontation with the world of sexually liberated women
coincided almost exactly with my entry into the world of politics. It
was a culture shock of major proportions because it was then that I
observed for the first time the very powerful and dangerous amalgam that
is sex and politics. As we have seen in recent years in one political
scandal after another, political power is a very strong aphrodisiac.
However, experience teaches us that Republicans and Democrats tend to
approach such matters in entirely different ways. With the exception of
Republican Senator Larry Craig, of Idaho, who pled guilty to having
adopted a "wide stance” while seated on a commode in a men’s restroom in
Minneapolis, Republicans tend to take their medicine alone, standing
humiliated in the glare of the television lights, while Democrats nearly
always have their wives standing beside them...I suppose as a means of
generating a bit of sympathy that, hopefully, will rub off on them.
Senator Bob Packwood (R-OR) was accused of having kissed one or two of
his female aides without their permission. He faced public humiliation
alone. When Democrats leaked to the press that Speaker-designate Bob
Livingston (R-LA) and House Judiciary Committee Chairman Henry Hyde
(R-IL), who led the Clinton impeachment investigation, had engaged in
brief extramarital love affairs many years before, both men took the
When it was learned that Cong. Mark Foley (R-FL) had exchanged e-mails
with a former House page, asking that he send photographs of himself,
Foley faced the heat alone. When it was learned that Sen. David Vitter
(R-LA) had used the services of a prostitute, Vitter stood alone before
the TV cameras. When Sen. John Ensign (R-NV) disclosed that he’d had an
affair with a female aide, he stood alone before the TV cameras. Nor has
Gov. Sanford called upon his wife to humiliate herself by standing
beside him while he publicly confesses his sins.
Democrats, on the other hand, invariably share their public humiliation
with their wives, who dutifully stand beside them as sad-eyed props.
Jack Kennedy is known to have carried on love affairs with Hollywood
actresses Marlene Dietrich, Angie Dickinson, Rhonda Fleming, Audrey
Hepburn, Janet Leigh, Jayne Mansfield, Marilyn Monroe, Kim Novak, and
But, of all of Kennedy’s love interests, the most interesting were
Ingrid Arvad, a Nazi spy; Ellen Rometsch, an East German/Soviet spy; and
Judith Exner, the girlfriend of Chicago mob boss Sam Giancana. Kennedy’s
relationship with Arvad made him a security risk during World War II,
his affair with Rometsch took place in the shadow of the Cuban missile
crisis, while his affair with Exner created interesting questions about
Kennedy’s relationship with Giancana...whom the CIA had recruited to
assassinate Fidel Castro. If only the walls had ears...or tape
Throughout the time that Kennedy was engaged in serial extramarital
affairs, his wife Jackie was made to stand at his side at innumerable
public events, a much-practiced smile glued to her face.
FDR, whose wife was a recognizable public figure in her own right,
carried on a long love affair with Mrs. Roosevelt’s secretary, Lucy
Mercer, who was with him when he died. After the affair was uncovered,
Mrs. Roosevelt maintained a "stiff upper lip” and continued on in her
When Arkansas Governor Bill Clinton announced for the presidency, his
reputation preceded him. Clinton used Arkansas state troopers as
procurers and facilitators, and when one attractive target, Juanita
Broaddrick, ignored his advances, he simply reverted to "Plan B.” He
gained access to her hotel room under false pretenses and raped her.
Clinton’s most notorious sex partner was 19-year-old White House intern,
Monica Lewinsky. And when Clinton was forced to admit in a
nationally-televised speech that he had, in fact, engaged in an improper
relationship with Ms. Lewinsky, his wife sat by his side and blamed her
husband’s difficulties on a "vast right wing conspiracy.”
Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-MA) drove a car off a bridge on
Chappaquiddick Island, leaving his young female companion, Mary Jo
Kopechne, to die a horrible death. When he was held responsible his
pregnant wife, Joan, who was
bedridden because of two prior miscarriages, was sent to attend the
Kopechne funeral. She was also required to stand beside Kennedy in court
three days later as he entered a guilty plea to a reduced charge of
"having left the scene of an accident”.
When New Jersey governor James McGreevey admitted to a
homosexual affair with an aide, his aggrieved wife was forced to share
in his humiliation. When it was learned that Governor Eliot Spitzer, of
New York, had patronized a beautiful call girl in New York and
Washington, his wife stood stone-faced by his side. When California
Cong. Gary Condit, New York governor David Paterson, and San Francisco
Mayor Gavin Newsome publicly admitted to sexual indiscretions, their
wives stood glumly by their sides, sharing in their public humiliation.
Then, of course, we have Barney Frank, whose male lover ran a homosexual
prostitution ring out of his Capitol Hill residence. In that instance,
Barney had no wife to help him through the ordeal.
None of these men can be excused for their behavior. The decision to
engage in an extramarital affair, while it always involves factors far
beyond the understanding of those not involved, is still a matter of
personal choice and blame can only be assessed to the wrongdoers. But
for whatever it’s worth, Sanford’s infidelity was based on love, while
Kennedy and Clinton’s infidelities, even to the point of committing
rape, were based on nothing more than lust, the irrepressible need for a
release of sexual energy. It doesn’t excuse Sanford’s behavior but it
does allow us to see it with a bit of compassion.
Finally, we might ask why Republicans and Democrats who stray are
treated so differently by the media. The reason, it has been suggested,
is that Democrats lay no claim to moral turpitude. In their approach to
governance they are prepared to support any misappropriation of property
rights and any misappropriation of individual rights, so long as the
misappropriation inures to the benefit of the Democratic Party and its
For Democrats, it is the only standard by which good and evil may be
judged. It is the coin of their realm.
Compared to the Nixon tapes, the
Kennedy-Arvad, Kennedy-Exner, and Kennedy-Rometsch "pillow talk” would
have made fascinating listening.