‘Hypocrite’ isn’t the right word for Sanford

There’s a discussion about character going on right now on “Talk of the Nation:”

We’re often taken aback when a respected governor or political candidate, or our own husband or wife, cheats. But psychologist David DeSteno argues that a growing body of evidence shows that everyone — even the most respected among us — has the capacity to act out of character.

… and I was struck by the fact that the segment started off with Mark Sanford as exhibit A.

Inevitably, talk turned to his “hypocrisy.”

I don’t see him as a “hypocrite.” But then, I didn’t see him as a guy who would so brazenly and spectacularly cheat on his wife (or do so on Father’s Day weekend), so what do I know?

But I still don’t see him as a “hypocrite.”

That’s a word that gets bandied about a good deal in our politics, particularly by social liberals talking about social conservatives who turn out to be human (and, as I said, sometimes spectacularly). It tends to reflect a couple of mutually-reinforcing elements of a world view: People who espouse traditional moral values are not only wrong, but they don’t even mean it! I mean, how could they, really? So it’s relevant to discuss.

Andy Griffith’s character on “A Face In the Crowd” was a hypocrite — a super-folksy alleged populist with a deep contempt for the masses. But Sanford — I think he always believed what he espoused, including “family values.” And still does, in his own weird way.

However, there were OTHER things they were saying on the show that were dead on, with regard to Sanford and the rest of us. Yep, he is a towering monument to rationalization. And yep, human character does tend to be “dynamic.” In spite of the root of the word, character is not stamped on us as indelibly as the image on a coin. It’s something you have to work at every day. And just because you act inconsistently with what you say on Wednesday doesn’t mean you didn’t believe it on Tuesday. Or on Thursday.

What Sanford revealed in my own far-from-omniscient opinion was a startling lack of depth, mixed with narcissism.

The narcissism shouldn’t have been a surprise, given his profoundly Randian (as in Ayn Rand, author of “The Virtue of Selfishness”) political views. Actually, it WAS a surprise, but it shouldn’t have been.

As for the lack of depth — the guy’s analysis of himself and what he openly acknowledged as his sin didn’t even go skin deep. He went around apologizing to everybody, but with an unrepentant blandness that seemed to take it as a matter of course that we were obligated to forgive him, while he blithely went about continuing to consort with this mistress. Because, you know, that’s what he wanted to do.

But “hypocrisy”? That both oversimplifies, and misses the mark…

30 thoughts on “‘Hypocrite’ isn’t the right word for Sanford

  1. Kathryn Fenner (D- SC)

    Agreed w/r/t the infidelity–Sanford is no Newt “Impeachment” Gingrich –people who act once in contradiction to their stated ideals are not necessarily hypocrites, but w/r/t cheaping out when it came to his staff and other state workers, while flying in the fancy seats himself–busted.

  2. Brad

    Yes, THOSE instances seem more clearly to illustrate hypocrisy, as does our current governor’s practice of wrapping herself in “transparency.”

    But when one falls short of one’s own ideals, one is not necessarily a hypocrite.

  3. bud

    Seems like the word hypocricy fits the ex-governor to a tee. Here are the definitions from Dictionary.com:

    1. a pretense of having a virtuous character, moral or religious beliefs or principles, etc., that one does not really possess.
    2. a pretense of having some desirable or publicly approved attitude.
    3. an act or instance of hypocrisy.

    His parading of his family at all sorts of functions certainly qualifies for the pretense part of the equation. Frankly you could use these definitions to apply to most of the major GOP politicians. Look at ole Newt Gingrich. There’s the poster boy for hypocricy. The nerve pushing the phony, ridiculous impeachment nonsense while he’s having his own affair. Then there’s Mr. Ensign from Nevada. What a jerk. He could actually end up in jail. And the sanctimonious David Vitter of LA with his prostitutes on the side. And of course there is our own governor Haley. Is there really much doubt about her guilt in her personal or financial life any more? Maybe we should change the name of the party to the GHP, Grand Hypocricy Party.

  4. Brad

    OK, just to illustrate how hard it is to be a good “family values” guy these days…

    I went to get some coffee at Starbucks a little while ago. As I was leaving, driving down Saluda, a bearded guy in a Confederate officer’s uniform saluted me as I drove by. I nodded back, politely — what else is a Southern gentleman to do? Then I noted the incident on Twitter.

    Wes Wolfe answered, a few minutes later, “That was probably presidential candidate Robert Haines.

    Curious to see whether he was right, I did a Google Image search on “‘robert haines’ confederate uniform presidential candidate”… which did NOT show me anybody who looked like that guy. But on the very first row of images, much bigger than any other image, it showed me this.

    Try that search; you’ll see I’m not making this up.

    What’s a guy to do in a world like this?

  5. jfx

    Brad, I was just reading about this on the official Google search blog. It’s a new beta function in Google search called Google Transparency. Instead of showing you what you asked for, it shows you what you really want to see.

  6. Brad

    jfx — ha, ha. I think…

    Actually, your explanation is about as logical as anything else. It’s hard to imagine a greater disconnect between the kind of picture I was looking for (or THOUGHT I was looking for, or hypocritically TOLD myself I was looking for) and what I found…

  7. Kathryn Fenner (D- SC)

    So, if I Google Nikki Haley on Google Transparency….ooo, I’m caught in some sort of recursive loop…

  8. Kaye Koonce

    Brad, maybe one of the reasons Sanford is referred to as a hypocrite is because of his statements as a Congressman during the Clinton impeachment debacle. As you’ll recall, Sanford said Clinton should step down from office because of his infidelity.

  9. Ralph Hightower


    How big is your stack. Eventually, it’ll blow up and crash.

    Help! I’m stuck in an endless loop Googling SC Governot Nikki Haley on Transparency.

  10. Ralph Hightower

    Well, Sanford may not be a hypocrite in marital relations; but politically, he is a hypocrite. One example, asking state employees to save on travel costs by flying coach, and sharing a motel room, yet he flies first class to Europe, Japan, etc.

    Sanford is “Do as I say, not as I do.”

    Come to think about it, SC Governot, Nikki Haley, is doing the same thing. She’s all for this “Transparency Thing” except when it comes to her.

  11. Brad

    Ralph, that’s exactly what I said above.

    And Kaye, three points:
    1. Did Sanford want Clinton to resign because of infidelity, or because of the perjury? I ask that because there was nothing new in the infidelity. We all knew that about him, before he was elected. But the day I heard about him lying under oath, I said that’s it — if it’s true, he’s got to go. (I recall George Stephanopoulos saying the same thing that day.) And as soon as he admitted he’d been lying when he shook his finger at us and said, “Listen to me,” we editorially said he should resign. The whole impeachment should have been unnecessary at that point.
    2. If he DID condemn him for the infidelity, does that make him a hypocrite? I think not. Lots of people fall. Some people who fall sincerely condemned such behavior before their own fall.
    3. If he did condemn him for the sex (and a quick search as I work on this comment indicates that he DID condemn him for that, along with the lying), is that the same as condemning him for “infidelity”? Not necessarily. Basically, what Clinton did — having sex, at the office, with the least powerful person at the workplace where he was the boss — would get CEOs fired out in the world. Sanford seemed to be driving at that when he said, “I think it would be much better for the country and for him personally (to resign)… I come from the business side. If you had a chairman or president in the business world facing these allegations, he’d be gone.” Set aside the absurdity of his “I come from the business side,” when Sanford has actually spent very little of his life working in the private sector. What he said was true.

    As noted before, Sanford is a hypocrite for not applying his austerity measures to himself. But I haven’t seen convincing evidence yet that he was clearly misrepresenting his own actual beliefs with regard to sexual behavior.

  12. bud

    Did Sanford want Clinton to resign because of infidelity, or because of the perjury?

    That whole line of reasoning is irrelevant. The infidelity was unrelated to the Whitewater investigation and hence should have been off limits and hence not grounds for a perjury charge. Without the perjury charge there is nothing impeachable. And he damn sure shouldn’t have resigned. That would have been a disservice to the people who voted for him.

  13. bud

    But I haven’t seen convincing evidence yet that he was clearly misrepresenting his own actual beliefs with regard to sexual behavior.

    This is one of those statements that seems likely to be spoken in jest or to poke fun at the readers of this blog. Of course it can’t really be taken seriously since it’s so completely absurd. Let’s just assume that on some esoteric level this statement is a serious attempt to prove the unprovable and hence the writer actually believes it to be true. It is far, far, far, far more ridiculous than Bill Clinton’s statement about the meaning of what is is.

    Nevertheless for those who still take this kind of nonsense seriously it must be pointed out that Sanford’s behavior with his Argentine mistress is prima facea evidence that he was “misrepresenting his own actual beliefs”. It is simply not credible to suggest that Sanford considered his daliances as a violation of his “actual beliefs”. His “actual beliefs” were that he wanted to have a sexual relationship with his mistress and by doing so he indicated to the world that his “actual beliefs” were that it was ok to do so. The confessions (after he was caught) and all the other stuff was simply to say those words that would convey (falsely) to society that he regarded his actions inappropriate. The actions themselves serve as a necessary and sufficient condition that he, Mark Sanford, considered his behavior ok. Otherwise he would not have engaged in the behavior.

  14. Kathryn Fenner (D- SC)

    Not at all, bud. Some people–sociopaths, say, or people in “open” marriages– believe that what they are doing is perfectly okay. Others–say, Sanford–believe that what they are doing is wrong–and it adds a frisson of excitement to it all, perhaps. I really believe, based on how he looked and sounded and acted, Sanford struggled mightily–unlike Ensign, who appears to have not had a clue that anything was wrong with what he was doing–after the C Streeters ganged up on him to clean up his act, he broke it off–and then immediately told his (apparently unwilling) mistress his fingers had been crossed.

    I believe Sanford was truly emotionally involved–thought she was his soul mate–and struggled with whether or not that was justification to break up his family. He didn’t seem to be trying to play both sides–at least not for very long.

    I despise the man and his politics, but I do believe he was sincere in his struggles, unlike John Edwards or Bill Clinton–or Schwarzenegger, who seem to just think women on the side are just their due.

  15. Steve Gordy

    I go along with Kathryn on this one, although I’m not sure anyone as superficial and self-satisfied as Mark Sanford would have the ability to perceive a conflict between beliefs and behavior, if one existed.

  16. KP

    Sanford on Clinton:

    “The bottom line, though, is I am sure there will be a lot of legalistic explanations pointing out that the president lied under oath. His situation was not under oath. The bottom line, though, is he still lied. He lied under a different oath, and that is the oath to his wife. So it’s got to be taken very, very seriously.” [Sanford on Livingston, CNN, 12/18/98]

    Hypocrisy is a fine word for a man who holds himself out as superior to others, then does the same things they do. Arrogance works well too.

  17. bud

    Kathryn, your explaination would be more persuasive if he had if he had fessed up before he was actually caught. Further, he never resigned from office. He was embarrassed for sure but I believe in his mind he did not really consider his daliances wrong, only that he knew others would find it wrong. Perhaps there is a grey area here where there is a bit of truth to both theories. Either way I believe Mark Sanford is a hypocrit.

  18. Brad

    KP, do you really not believe that a man can (and often will) do things entirely contrary to his belief system?

    Also… and as a longtime professional critic of the passing scene, I suppose I’m particularly sensitive to this… do you think a person is saying “I’m perfect” when he criticizes the behavior of another?

    Personally, I think knowing one is inclined toward the same bad behavior would add a particular intensity to the condemnation of such behavior.

    Not that I think Sanford fits in that category. He’s not the introspective type, much less one given to self-criticism. He seems more and more like a guy who sort of coasted through life, largely untested. Someone who never really struggled or did without. Someone who was completely unequal to such a test of character.

    But when I say that, I’m not claiming to be superior. I’m just making an observation.

    We all need to realize what we’re capable of, so that we’re prepared to resist our own worst impulses.

  19. Doug Ross

    That Sanford DIDN’T resign was as much a failure of his character as his Appalachian Trail fiasco.

    I was a big fan of his right up until the news conference. He feel into the category of just another self-interested politician (which is most of them) at that point for me.

  20. Brad

    Which reminds me… another thing he is, is quaintly anachronistic.

    He thought he could get away with it. Nowadays, even super-competent Israeli assassination teams get detected. (Remember when I compared the two?)

    Sanford, big advocate of the private, hadn’t realized he lived in a post-privacy age.

  21. KP

    Brad: The great majority of men (and also women) definitely do at times behave in ways that are entirely contrary to their belief systems, but that’s my point. Believing that you are not just as vulnerable as the next person (which I do think Sanford implied in his judgment of Clinton) makes you arrogant. Holding others to one standard and yourself to another (Clinton should resign for an affair and a lie, but not Sanford?) makes you a hypocrit.

    I imagine that most of the politicians and preachers who have been undone by scandal of whatever kind sincerely want to do the right thing. The ones who bother me are those who pretend they are more capable of that than the rest of us.

    It reminds me of something my preacher said while addressing a petty dispute in our church: “Sometimes I think there are those of us who secretly believe God is lucky to have us.” That’s the hypocrisy.

  22. Kathryn Fenner (D- SC)

    He didn’t “steal” a SLED vehicle–he took it within the bounds of the law and parked it–I don’t think it even qualifies as a joyride–he fully intended to return it–you have to take with the intent to permanently deprive the true owner before it becomes stealing.

    Sanford totally thought Clinton should resign because of his infidelities, and then declined to do so himself. That probably does qualify as hypocrisy.

    Arrogance is certainly a gateway drug to hypocrisy,but not exactly the same thing, though.

  23. Tim

    I am not a lawyer, but I think if someone takes my car for a joyride for a couple of hours, his intent doesn’t matter much. He stole my car.

    And are you certain this was in the bounds of the law? I am pretty sure that only certified operators of emergency vehicles are allowed to operate emergency vehicles.

    38-022. Law Enforcement Emergency Vehicle Training Programs. [SC ADC 38-022]

    I really don’t think anyone ever looked into it. It was not assigned to him. It was an official SLED vehicle, that they laxly allowed him to use. Probably had blue lights, radio, perhaps firearms in it. It was not used for official duties. By that stretch of the definition, why couldn’t he commandeer a helicopter (if he could fly it), take a state patrol boat to Daufuskie for a break, take a fire truck to his kids birthday, or an ambulance for an emergency run to Wendys. Look what Eckstrom had to face when he used his “officially assigned vehicle” on a vacation to North Carolina.

    Sanford may have met the training requirements, if he was even considered a law enforcement officer, and may well have been authorized to use the car, but I would be willing to bet you no other law enforcement official in the state can take an official police car on vacation.

  24. Mark Stewart


    You are kidding, right? No law enforcement official has ever misused public property for a vacation trip? Seriously?

    As with everything, most people do the right thing. But if people believe no wrong could be done, that’s when it would happen.

  25. Kathryn Fenner (D- SC)

    Eckstrom took his family to *Minnesota* (!), if I recall correctly, and nothing happened to him–I think they may have changed the rules after him….

  26. Tim

    I wrote ‘can’, not ‘do’, implying they don’t have the right to. Try reading it again. Seriously.

    And we aren’t talking some small town police chief. Governor. Of a state. Or Insane Asylum.

    Eckstrom had to pay back the gas. The car was assigned for his use, and was just an old motor pool vehicle.


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