Post Politics: An adolescent view of love is not 'hot'

Sunday, July 5, 2009 at 11:00pm

While the spectacular exercise in self-destruction South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford has engaged in the past couple weeks has been embarrassing, what I've found most embarrassing was some of the reaction to it.

Of course, what Sanford did was somewhat cliché. He put his own special spin on the age-old tale, no doubt. But in the end, Sanford was just the same as those who came before him: a powerful man undone by sexual scandal. Nothing really new there.

But in the days following the release of e-mails between Sanford and his mistress, I saw something I'd really never seen before.

When something like this happens to a politician, you expect certain things. The party hacks of the busted will seek to minimize the damage and, if need be, cut the man loose to protect the cause. The other side will seek to cut the man's political jugular while it is exposed and attempt to amplify and universalize the situation.

In this instance, it was Republicans on defense and Democrats on offense. But it could have been vice versa just as easy.

For the most part the standard modus operandi has held up in this case.

However, one local lefty blogger, "Southern Beale," as well as other national blogs and comments on Twitter have actually showed some sympathy for the GOP governor. Why? Because his e-mails to his mistress showed genuine "love." Or, in another blogger's words, his e-mails were "hot."

"While I’m sure plenty of liberals are going to take pot-shots at him for those e-mails," wrote Beale. "I’m enough of a sap to find them charming. Touching. And terribly romantic."

But it doesn't end there.

"I just want to give Mark Sanford a hug. This guy poured his heart out onto the keyboard to his one true love and I just hate to see him mocked for it. Call me sappy, hormonal, sentimental, whatever, but this is the stuff of a great summer romance," wrote Beale.

True love? Whether said in jest or not, there is something disturbing about seeing Sanford's words described this way. Is this how our culture views love? A married father of four, a leader of men, sending e-mails to a woman not his wife. This is love?

I'm not even making a judgment about whether a politician's sex life should have bearing on his political life. Whether cheating on one's wife should disqualify a man from high office is an issue for another post. That is a political question. I'm more concerned about our culture and how we view concepts like love and monogamy.

Is there a sizable population out there that think those e-mails Sanford sent represent love?

Infatuation? Maybe. Romance? Possibly. Willful self-destruction? Definitely. But true love? How can you call a short-term intercontinental extramarital affair 'love'? The relationship between Sanford and Maria Belen Chapur is not love. It is fleeting. It is a powerful man letting his sense of entitlement get to him.

To call those e-mails evidence of love cheapens the concept.

As much as religious conservatives like to talk about gay marriage assaulting the institution, Sanford did more damage to traditional marriage than two men living together as husband and husband could ever possibly do. Because if Sanford's relationship was "love" then we might as well throw the concept of monogamy right out the window. One cannot stay infatuated for a lifetime, after all. Even romance fades or at the very least ebbs and flows.

Love is not easy, it takes work. And, although I admit I am no expert, it almost certainly does not come during jaunts to Buenos Aires.

We wonder why divorce rates are so high in this country. It's not gay marriage or even a lack of religion or faith. It's that everyone wants to be the star of their own personal romantic comedy. Everyone wants, as Julia Roberts said in Pretty Woman, the "fairy tale."

John Lennon famously said that "life was what happened while you made other plans." Well, love is what happens while you are waiting on the fairy tale. That is, if you let it. Respect, loyalty, trust — these are the building blocks of love. Chasing infatuation like a junkie, like Sanford did, will get you nowhere — and quick.

Tan lines, the curve of a woman's hips, and the erotic beauty of a woman holding herself (three things cited in Sanford's e-mails) are all wonderful, don't get me wrong. But they are not love. And in our instant-gratification, disposable culture it has been increasing instilled in our subconscious that we should search out and place value on superficial happiness.

Sanford did a selfish, self-absorbed thing. We condemn it but many of us do it ourselves. Sometimes we violate the bonds of marriage to do it, sometimes we dissolve those bonds first. But chasing this oversexed, adolescent ideal of love is destructive and it is rampant in our society.

Don't get me wrong. Sex, romance, adolescent infatuation are all fine things. But when those things go away, that which is left, that is what love is — or isn't. Mark Sanford forgot that. We should not.

Kleinheider is NashvillePost.com's political blogger. Visit Post Politics at http://postpolitics.net

9 Comments on this post:

By: craigd2599 on 7/6/09 at 5:52

Seldom do I find opinion here in the CP that I agree with...but this one I do wholeheartedly. You don't get to your 50th anniversary because every day felt gooey and fuzzy along the way. Sanford is an embarrassment to me as a Christian and a conservative and he needs to go. If he has this sort of out-of-touch attitutde about his marriage, where else has he lost touch?

By: imdyinhere on 7/6/09 at 6:39

Sex/ sexual love is the most powerful force on earth. The Greeks caught onto that 2-3 centuries ago. Trying to deny it is what creates these Sanfords, Edwards, Spitzers, and others who are arrogant enough to think they've got it mastered.

What makes some of us sympathetic towards Sanford is the revelation and admission of how weak he was to it, in the end - his embrace of human frailty.

If Sanford ends up repairing his marriage, in the long run he'll probably come out far the wiser than his contemporaries, and maybe a little less judgmental than he was back when Clinton was in office.

By: imdyinhere on 7/6/09 at 6:40

"centuries" = millennia

By: arkay61 on 7/6/09 at 6:56

A.C., you are exactly right, but you forgot to take in to account that we have become a society of perpetual adolescence. Live in the moment, immediately gratifying, drive-by fantasy relationships are preferred because real ones are too much work and take too much effort.

By: Kosh III on 7/6/09 at 8:01

Maybe the "family values" crowd should have spent more energy pushing constitutional amendments against divorce and adultery instead of gay-bashing.

By: cwage on 7/6/09 at 8:26

This is just another example of marriage ruining the institution of love.

By: sidneyames on 7/6/09 at 9:14

Well Klein, if this "While the spectacular exercise in self-destruction South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford has engaged in the past couple weeks has been embarrassing, what I've found most embarrassing was some of the reaction to it." is embarrassing to you, then Steve McNair's behavior and his subsequent fate, must really be embarrassing you. And I agree with Kosh III, that people who commit adultry and break the marriage laws should be prosecuted. A strong stand, but honestly, a logical one. Marriage is a legal contract between two adults. If a third party enters the relationship, then charges should be filed. After all if we have a business between 2 people, a 3rd party cannot come in and start running the business unless they are hired by both partners.

By: girliegirl on 7/6/09 at 9:35

And now you can add Steve McNair to the list.

By: marc0957 on 7/8/09 at 8:49

I appreciated your article about "love" and Gov. Sanford in the July 6 issue of the City Paper.

You know the problem with such behavior as that of Gov. Sanford is that such goes to the heart of ones judgement, a persons willingness to hide things, to evade common responsibility, and raises questions about loyalty and what one is willing to excahnge for illicit "love". Those in power are not entitled to such dramatic misteps without consequence. The list of those impacted negatively by such promiscuous behavior is as long as your arm-printed in the very smallest font possible. In my sometimes naive life...one thing has become certain to me: the center of all sinfulness is selfishness. Such behaviour distorts, extorts, exploits, injures and often brings pain and death to persons and/or transcendent principles. If we allow ourselves or allow others to behave in this way -no matter who they are- we are to that extent failing morally as a people and the consequences will be much greater that any single indiscretion.