Saturday, June 27, 2009

Sympathy for Mark Sanford

I'm not really sure what compelled me to look into the news about Mark Sanford. I guess it started when my wife, a romance author, thought she might be interviewed for a news story regarding the released love letters between South Carolina governor Mark Sanford and his Argentine mistress and longtime friend, Maria. Apparently some were finding the letters poetic.

So as my wife ran to McDonalds to get us supper (a nutritious Double Cheeseburger, fries, and a pie) I looked up what the fuss was about. I cared little about predictable political posturing and punditry all around and was happy to find just the link to the email communications that were released to the press.

... and surprisingly I found sympathy for the governor. Yes he'll be vilified, and yes there are lots of people he's hurt. But underneath this story is something tragic but also fundamental and "real." I encourage those who are interested to read the letters first to form your own impression, but here's my take:

I could be reading too much into the small amount of information in the letters, but I see a man who's burnt-out to the core - a guy on the edge who's worked very hard all his life to find at the end all his efforts left him disillusioned and empty. Taking a break on his farm, he speaks of how it's nice to run his tractor with "No phones ringing and tangible evidence of a day’s labors." I could see how a long career in politics could make you feel like you've become a cog in a vast machine that slowly overtakes you. My impression from a small amount of reading is that his spirit was broken, and he'd moved into that place of just going through the motions. I think many of us may find ourselves every once in a while - sometimes it's worse than others. And sometimes it seems harder to find a way out than others - and his life is far more complicated than most.

Here are some key passages:

I think there are indications in the letters that his first impulse was to end things as soon as they started - see an early email from Maria:

Maria: "although I don’t know if we’ll ever be able to meet again this has been the best that has happened to me in a long time"

I think this quote later on gives additional insight of where the governor was at and how life had just beaten him down:
Sanford: "I have been specializing in staying focused on decisions and actions of the head for a long time now — and you have my heart. .(snip text) ... while I did not need love fifteen years ago — as the battle scars of life and aging and politics have worn on this has become a real need of mine."

Sanford: "we are in a hopelessly — or as you put it impossible — or how about combine and simply say hopelessly impossible situation of love. How in the world this lightening [sic] strike snuck up on us I am still not quite sure.... I have crossed lines I would have never imagined. I wish I could wish it away, but this soul-mate feel I alluded too is real"

In all, I just feel sorry for the guy and all parties involved. He was living an unsustainable life, couldn't find a way out, and something had to give. Unfortunately Sanford's breaking point was reached on a national and international stage with far more stone throwing than most of us (thankfully) will ever experience. Some will dismiss this as a cop-out but I think Maria's comment sums it up well: "Sometimes you don’t choose things, they just happen"

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