What ‘penance’ has Mark Sanford done? What’s he sorry for?

Over the weekend, I got a text from my youngest daughter, who studies and works in Charleston. She said Mark Sanford and María Belén Chapur were, at that moment, in the place where she works. (I later asked how she knew that’s who it was, because I wouldn’t know the ex-governor’s friend if I saw her. She says she looked on Google Images while they were in front of her.)

I wrote back, “First Lady Gaga; now this.” (Long story, involving a New York restaurant where my daughter worked one summer.)

Then I didn’t think about it any more until I read this at the WSJ site this morning:

The Redemption Candidate 

Former South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford looked like a dead politician walking after an affair, a nasty divorce and allegations of using taxpayer funds to pay for his indiscretions.

But that was three years ago. Since then, Mr. Sanford has cleared his name, done his penance and is looking for a second chance from voters. He’s running for his old House seat in Tuesday’s special election in South Carolina’s first congressional district, which became vacant when Tim Scott was appointed to the Senate…

And I find myself asking once again, in what way has he cleared his name? More to the point, what “penance” has he done?

Really, I’d just like an example. And until someone comes up with one, I’d appreciate people not using the term so loosely.

What has he given up, aside from his wife and family? And it seems to me Jenny made that decision, not him.

He has famously made multiple “apology” tours, but for that to be penance, contrition must be involved. And what has he indicated he is sorry for? Nothing, that I can tell. He has simply put the onus on us — and more recently, particularly on the voters of the 1st Congressional District — to forgive him. As though it were all up to us, not him.

For his part, he continues on his own unflappable way, seemingly unfazed by it all. When I was at The State, the spellchecker on the version of Word we used kept trying to change his name to “Sangfroid.” And it has always seemed to fit. There’s no rending of garments or heaping of ashes with this guy. Sure, we saw tears the day of the famous confession, but a week later he was conducting phenomenally narcissistic interviews about his “soulmate.”

Which frankly, was none of my business. Nor is his private life today, except for the fact that he keeps publicly asking the world to forgive him for it. Even though I still don’t know what part he is sorry for.

For me, the things I can’t forgive are the public policy sins. The fact that he accomplished nothing in his previous six years in Congress, and little more in eight years as governor, thanks to his penchant for alienating his fellow Republicans in the General Assembly. I have trouble getting over his being, by the end, the only governor refusing the stimulus money that South Carolinians would be just as much on the hook for as everyone else in the country.

He has indicated no remorse for any of those far more relevant (for someone running for public office) sins. In fact, he’s still bragging about the stimulus thing.

The bottom line is, I just don’t know what it is about Mark Sanford that has changed since June 2009. And I find it odd that other people think anything is different.

72 thoughts on “What ‘penance’ has Mark Sanford done? What’s he sorry for?

  1. Doug Ross

    Yeah, he should repent for getting re-elected multiple times despite all the sin of not being a typical politician. I guess all the voters are sinners as well.

    Some people’s sins are other people’s virtues.

    1. Kathy

      Sanfraud is one of the few who can make the typical politician look good. He left the state with no governor (in case of a natural disaster or terrorist attack) while he hid out in Argentina and failed to answer phone calls from his own staff. For that and his lies about where he was, he should have been kicked out of office.

      While governor, he accomplished nothing except to put SC farther behind in many areas. He can’t even speak properly. Old “at the end of the day”/”I would say” Sanfraud can’t move permanently to Argentina fast enough. How sad that District One would elect this clown to another office. Wake up, voters, before it’s too late.

      1. Doug Ross

        Interesting… Mark Sanford apparently did nothing but was also the only person capable of preventing a natural disaster or terrorist attack from happening. Seems pretty powerful (almost superhuman) to me.

        Nothing happened while he was gone. Let’s not get all wound up over what didn’t happen.

    2. kc

      He runs for office repeatedly, for the last 14 years, but isn’t a “typical politician?”

      Please . . .

  2. Silence

    Why should a person who ends a loveless relationship be sorry or serve a penance? Shouldn’t we celebrate the fact that now he or she, or they have a chance to be happy, to live a fulfilled life, and to thrive? By “hiking the Appalachian Trail” and getting caught, Mark Sanford received the gift of freedom from Jenny, and ended up with the chance to start over. The chance for a new life, one filled with love. Who wouldn’t want that? We should be celebrating Mark’s courage and plucky spirit. Not all of us are fortunate enough to meet the love of our life when we are young and single.
    Sometimes, to make an omlet, you have to crack a few eggs.

        1. Silence

          I was purposefully going for “over the top” but to be honest, I don’t fault him for wanting out of bad situation. I do fault him for jilting her publicly, instead of just quietly filing papers after his term ended. I also fault him for abandoning his post, for dereliction of duty if you will, since he was the elected executive at the time.
          But I don’t fault him for wanting out of a loveless marriage, or for having the cojones to go “walk the trail.” Plus, Maria would make a great congressional wife/SC first lady. She’s a spicy chalupa! Ole!

          1. Scout

            The personal stuff, while appalling, really is none of our business. His abandoning his duties was very much our business. What was most troubling about the aftermath to me were several things – 1) That he never seemed to acknowledge what he had done that was the problem (abandoning his duties) and 2) that he arrogantly and egocentrically seemed to think that his personal ridiculousness was relevant to us all.

          2. barry

            Marriages are ofen “loveless” when one partner starts having an affair with someone else. It sort of makes the “love” part tough between a husband and a wife.

            IN other words- when he got married- he lied then too.

    1. Steven Davis II

      Some people just aren’t happy unless the see other people miserable. And I’m sure being married to Jenny Sanford would make just about any man miserable, she has the sex appeal of a folded up piece of cardboard… you can take that however you’d like.

      1. Kathy

        Are you trying to say that Marky Mark has sex appeal? He doesn’t unless you go for the Ichabod Crane type with a lateral lisp and a big dose of cheap.

    2. Brad Warthen Post author

      Folks, this is something that hits me in one of my most conservative spots.

      Jenny Sanford is the mother of his four children, and the person who got him elected. Without her, you’d never have heard of him.

      She deserves a hell of a lot better than she got from that guy. And she deserves our respect.

      1. Mark Stewart

        I’m not sure respect is quite the right word. Certainly she is worthy of our empathy for what she had to endure during Mark Sanford’s press conferences. But respect?

        I am sure that their marriage running into trouble was a joint effort; but of course the responsibility of his actions (and words, words, words) are his alone. I think it is more like that Mark Sanford deserves our disrespect for the way that he doesn’t appear to have learned anything from his folly.

        1. Mark Stewart

          Oh yeah, plus her media driven retribution campaign. Did you forget “the woman scorned” routine?

          Divorce isn’t anyone’s finest hour. We really should all avert our eyes and shut our mouths when these things explode.

      2. Steven Davis II

        She doesn’t deserve anything not earned. Did becoming First Lady help her agenda? Who’s to say she didn’t help get him elected to boost her position, socially and in the business industry.

        What does her being the mother of his children have to do with anything?

        Do you know everything that went on in their marriage? What are the odds of her being a “welcome home honey, how was your day” wife compared to being a “don’t touch me” wife. She doesn’t exactly come off as a warm an fuzzy person. If the husband has to go elsewhere to find companionship, there’s a reason for it… odds are he’s wasn’t getting that at home. I know married people who should be divorced and divorced people who should have never been married to the other person in the first place.

        Who do you feel has been more honest in front of a camera? Jenny “the victim” or Mark “the evil cheating husband”? She plays up the victim like a pro, he comes across and admits to everything and probably tells more than we need to know. The only reason Jenny wasn’t unfaithful was because I don’t think she’d find anyone who wasn’t interested in anything but her money.

      3. Silence

        Would you be willing to admit that Jenny Sanford hitched her wagon to the wrong horse? Or at least admit that she is a poor judge of character?
        Lots of people get involved romantically with people who are “bad” for them.

    3. muriel schnierow

      my x the father of my children divorced me behind my back and i boarded the NY-Chi train with 2 toddlers, $100.00, an eviction notice,suspension of health insurance ,and i had pneumonia. he went on yo marry the mistress/wife and much later went into business and made hundreds of millions which i am not “entitled to. i rebuilt my life, said nothing, got a good job, a great husband ,wonderful children. biodad
      decided a few years ago 50 years after the divorce to “explain ” the affair and divorce -he was in a “miserable’ marriage. so Sanford had 4 children and then decided it was “loveless’ and my X had 2 children and then decided he was “miserable”. this is a bunch of baloney. These men are selfish and unfit to be fathers.

  3. Bart

    Stranger things have happened in politics. This is just another example of the difference between politicians and ordinary people. Maybe Silence’s “irony” is closer to the truth than most of us would like to or are willing to admit especially in the world of the political and wealthy class who actually do live according to a different set of rules than most of us do.

    I don’t “excuse” (to overlook) Sanford for his actions but if the marriage was loveless as I think it was, then I can understand the “reasons” for his actions. Again, there is a difference between an “excuse” and a “reason”.

    As for voting for Sanford. Not sure I would vote for him given a decent candidate as a choice but if I could have voted, casting my vote for another candidate wouldn’t have been because of his indiscretion but because of his politics and position on issues.

    I live in a “glass house”; throwing stones and all that – enough said.

    1. Mab

      “… if the marriage was loveless as I think it was, then I can understand the “reasons” for his actions…”


      Love isn’t a feeling; it’s a commitment.

      (This is a paraphrased quote from some ancient required high school reading/book — circa 1970-something)

      1. barry

        Love is a feeling to most people. That’s why the stay married – for awhile- then it gets tough and they leave. Thank goodness my wie and I didn’t take that approach (married 15 years).

        Or my parents (married 38 years). – or my grandparents (were married 63 years- including his years in Europe in WW2), or my wife’s parents (40 years now), or her grandparents (61 years).

        statistics have shown that in the U.S. 50% percent of first marriages fail, 67% of second marriages fail. People just repeat the same mistakes over and over – and of course look to leave when they “feel” like it.

  4. Kathryn Fenner

    If you have children, I don’t care if your marriage is “loveless.” Stick it out until they are grown.

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      We’ll make a Catholic of you yet. 🙂

      By the way, we have a pretty cool new pope. He rides public transportation. Had I been a cardinal, I’d have voted for him on the basis of that alone…

    2. Steven Davis II

      So you’d rather see a child grow up where there is emotional, psychological, and physical abuse rather than have the child up in a setting where there are separate households without any of that abuse present.

      1. Kathryn Fenner

        There is no evidence of that here. A merely “loveless” marriage is not moral grounds for upending your children’s lives.

        1. Mark Stewart

          Not to sound too much like Juan, but Sanford did himself what “family law” attorneys usually do – scortchch the earth beyond repair.

          She didn’t have much choice, given his public statements. It kind of would have been immoral to stay in that marriage.

        2. Steven Davis II

          But having them live in a household where the two adults hate each other is. You don’t think kids pick this stuff up?

          1. barry

            Adults that value their children and love them – and are committed to that can make things work well enough – until the children are out on their own.

            A lot of adults aren’t committed to anything other than what makes them feel the best – at the time.

            I know too many families going through this now. It’s like clockwork it seems when couples have been married about 7-10 years. Man or woman leaves- they get a new bf/gf, sometimes they get married- the kids have to go along to get along – and all the time they are eaten up inside.

          2. Kathryn Fenner

            Studies show that kids are better off with their parents except in cases of actual abuse. Even if their parents hate each other.

            And their parents should just grow up and suck it up.

            And no disrespect to you who were unwilling participants in a divorce.

          3. Steven Davis II

            @kathryn and barry – I know several divorced parents who are raising children successfully in two separate houses without any emotional scarring of the children. I believe this is better than raising them in one household where mom sleeps in the bedroom and dad on the couch and neither wants anything to do with the other. Would you rather raise kids in two separate houses where there is love or one house where there is resentment and hate?…

          4. Mark Stewart


            I think that the children would tell their parents to suck it up and get along.

            Two houses are never better than one…

            I have never heard of a child who did not yearn to have one family – unless their was physical/emotional violence, serious substance abuse, or serious mental health issues. Even in some of these instances the kids would still probably choose one family.

            I think too many parents don’t realize the struggles ahead and are not willing to subsume themselves to their children when times get tough. A marriage is made by the daily actions and reactions of both spouses. I think a lot of people who want a divorce are blind to their own fallibility and responsibility for their own junk.

            I recently heard of someone give the following advice to his daughter and future son-in-law. Speaking to the man, he said that he could be a great husband, a great provider and a great father – but not all three. He had to choose which two he was going to focus on. Then he told his daughter the same advice – and told them to make their peace with their and their partners choices and reach an agreement. I thought it very good advice; we are all going to be better at some than at others – of course, everyone has to try their best at all three all the time. But we are human, and we fail.

          5. Steven Davis II

            @Mark – “I think that the children would tell their parents to suck it up and get along.”

            Yeah, can’t you see a toddler telling his/her parents that. Nothing like being in a loveless house for 16-18 years with two miserable adults.

          6. Mark Stewart


            I think the father was talking more about tempering the other’s expectations than about one not trying one’s best to be all three… As an easy out to not try to be all three, it is weak advice.

  5. Mark Stewart

    If it wasn’t an arranged marriage, it couldn’t have been a “loveless” one, neglected, but not hopeless.

    Unfortunately, people seem to be pretty good at self destruction, narcissism and victimization. Two out of three will sink any marriage…

  6. Kay Packett

    I hate the public policy sins, too, but is it wrong that what I hate most of all is more years of the royal “we”? As in “On a professional level, we have had a couple of months to talk about the issues,” from this morning’s newspaper. I can’t stand it. I just can’t stand it.

  7. Burl Burlingame

    Something I don’t know — was Jenny Sanford caught by surprise when this happened?

    1. Kathryn Fenner

      She says knew of the affair the previous January, but thought it had been concluded.

  8. Kathryn Fenner

    Look, you can cite anecdotes or “what a kid wants” but the research shows that kids who live in two parent homes, where the parents are estranged, are less likely to be sexually molested, engage in early sex, use drugs or alcohol, etc., than kids in two homes, no matter how seemingly peaceful. Girls with stepfathers are especially at risk. Objective outcomes are better when the parents stay together, even accounting for the fact that there is strife in the home.

    1. Steven Davis II

      Show me one parent who takes parenting advice from a non-parent.

      If you hated your husband, and he felt the same way about you, I mean couldn’t stand to be in the same room with each other, and had a child, would you stay in that household for another 15-20 years?

      1. Mark Stewart


        So you’re talking about yourself then?

        Personally, I don’t think people who “hate” each other marry. So the question is really what has evolved (or not) that lead to such a breakdown in communication and affection? Given that it arose during the marriage, would it not be at least conceivable that the relationship could be improved, if not strengthened? Marriages end because one spouse gives up. Simple as that. They may be right, or they may be wrong – but they capitulated.

        1. Steven Davis II

          Am I?

          Sorry but I’ll disagree, I know a few couples who absolutely hate each other who were once married.

          1. Mark Stewart

            And if they stayed together, maybe they would both one day come to the realization that the “problem” was themselves. Divorce let’s people fall into the trap of hatred instead of owning up to their own failings and responsibilities. Leaving is easy – easier. Yes, sometimes it is necessary; but we confuse “want” and “need” a lot.

            Owning up to one’s own shortcomings, and addressing them is the hardest of all. If two ex’s hate each other, neither did any of that.

    2. Doug Ross

      Sorry, but I don’t believe there is any way to “measure” the quality of life of the children who are living in homes where the parents stay together for the kids sake. How do you get those parents to self-identify anyway? It’s easy to track children of divorced parents… not so easy to get a couple to say “yes, we hate each other but figured its best for the children to have them think everything is fine until we divorce later”.

      Neither situation is “better” for kids.

      1. Kathryn Fenner

        You ask a bunch of nonobvious questions to assess the strength of the marriage, and you assess objective outcomes like teen pregnancy, brushes with the law, educational achievement…..

        Standard social science stuff.

      2. barry

        I’ve known quite a few folks over the years that stayed in a marriage for the kids. It’s usually not a big secret.

    3. Silence

      So, the solution is to ban divorce and outlaw being a single parent. It’s an easy fix. Book it, done.

      1. Steven Davis II

        That’s racist… Jesse and Al will be here shortly to set you straight about baby mamas and baby daddies.

  9. Silence

    Now we’re old and grey, Mark Sanford
    And since many years I haven’t seen a rifle in your hand
    Can you hear the drums, Mark Sanford?
    Do you still recall the frightful night we crossed the Rio Grande?
    I can see it in your eyes
    How proud you were to fight for freedom in this land
    There was something in the air that night
    The stars were bright, Mark Sanford
    They were shining there for you and me
    For liberty, Mark Sanford
    Though I never thought that we could lose
    There’s no regret
    If I had to do the same again
    I would, my friend, Mark Sanford

    1. Silence

      Mark’s had a few little love affairs
      They didn’t last very long and they’ve been pretty scarce
      Mark used to think that was sensible
      It makes the truth even more incomprehensible
      Cause everything is new
      And everything is you
      And all he’s learned
      Has overturned
      What can he do?

  10. Observer

    If you vote for Sandford, you get what you vote for.

    If he were in any other job, no one would trust him with more responsibility. The fact that voters are willing to send him to Washington, which I see as a political promotion, shows how apathetic and media frenzied these voters are. Integrity should mean something, but then that would require morals, and we can’t have that now can we?

    1. Silence

      I don’t wanna talk
      About things Mark’s gone through
      Though it’s hurting Jenny
      Now it’s history
      Mark’s played all his cards
      that’s what Curtis has done too
      Nothing more to say
      No more ace to play
      The winner takes it all
      The loser’s standing small
      primary victory
      That’s Mark’s destiny…

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