On hearing that his native state had seceded from the Union in December 1860, James L. Petigru, a unionist and opponent of secession quipped, “South Carolina is to small to be a republic and too large to be an insane asylum.”
I thought of that remark a couple of days ago as I got up early to take some medicine and switched on one of the morning news shows. The show gleefully led off with the latest on l’affaire Sanford, the fallout from Gov. Mark Sanford’s tearful public admission that he went AWOL from the state capital for a week in order to fly to Argentina for a tryst with his as yet unidentified paramour. The same show included a report on a South Carolina mother who has been charged with abuse and neglect for allowing her teenage son to grow to a gargantuan weight of 550 lbs.
The hosts of this program, who seemed more like gossip columnists than news reporters, interviewed the mother, and I must say, she didn’t exactly sound like the brightest bulb on the sign, so it’s easy to imagine how that unfortunate situation might have occurred. The Sanford episode, however, boggles the mind. I have to say this in my best Dr. Phil voice: What was he thinking? Did he honestly believe that it would somehow be OK if he sneaked off for a week of extracurricular extramarital activity without telling anyone his true whereabouts? Did he force his staff to put out the cover story that he was stressed out and had gone hiking along the Appalachian Trail, or did they concoct that one themselves?
So far, Gov. Sanford has indicated that he will not resign as governor, but the more I think about it, the more I believe he should. He says he wants to devote his remaining months in office to rebuilding the trust of the people of the state. I think, however the best way he can do that is to voluntarily surrender his office. It would demonstrate that he understands that actions have consequences. It would also remove him from many situations in which he might be tempted to make a similar monumental error in judgment that would have damaging consequences not only for him, but for the whole state. Finally, I think it would allow him to focus his time and energy on rebuilding his relationship with his wife and children, which, if I were in his shoes, would be my first priority.
I love the state of South Carolina. I was born in Georgia, but I’ve lived here since I was an infant. It’s my home. When stuff like this happens, however, I just have to shake my head and wish I were from somewhere else. South Carolina may be too small for a republic and too large for an insane asylum, but I’m afraid it’s just the right size for a national embarrassment.