Didn’t get a chance to note this yesterday, but I recommend Ross Douthat’s post on Mark Sanford: Mark Sanford’s God.
If you think, as I obviously do, that we have more than enough Sanford-style religion in America, then the way he used the megaphone afforded by victory to do a little creative scriptural interpretation illustrates the problem with just bracketing a politician’s private life and saying “vote the party, not the man.” When that private life is already woven into the public narrative, a vote for the man is often a vote to ratify that narrative, and to lend one’s support not only to particular policies, but to a larger view of human behavior and affairs — encompassing, in this case, a theologically bankrupt and socially destructive understanding of what real redemption actually involves.
Yes, politicians are neither angels nor philosophers, and sometimes the political stakes are high enough to warrant voting for a man with Sanford’s baggage and beliefs. There’s no absolute rule for these things; they have to be navigated case by case. But a special election to fill out a term in a reliably-conservative seat seems like exactly the kind of high profile, low stakes contest where it makes sense to put moral and theological principle ahead of party. Unfortunately the voters of South Carolina disagreed.
I have to admit I would struggle with this were I a resident of South Carolina. I tend to be brutally pragmatic about these things and sending a liberal Democrat to Congress seems clearly a bad choice.
But Ross makes a good case that this was an almost ideal situation to make an example; to set out our moral standards. A reliable district that would very likely return to GOP hands at the very next election. Exactly how much damage could be done in this short time?
Tough choice. The Republican in me says politics ain’t beanbag and a win is a win. Another part of me agrees with Ross, “can’t we retain our moral standards particularly when the cost in this case would be rather low?”
In the end, I have to admit I would probably just vote for Sanford. I view elections as choice and you have to pick one. But I also admit it would leave me frustrated and a little uneasy.
Cop-out? Probably, but I am just being honest.