No, it is not about the sex. Not precisely, anyway. There are several factors that I feel are related.
- One has to do with fidelity. I specifically mean fidelity to the mutually-agreed upon terms of a marriage. Open marriages do exist, however, I have no reason to believe that the Sanfords' marriage was such an arrangement, especially based on the way Jenny Sanford has responded. Actually, Sanford's case is more interesting than usual. Information has come to light since his confession that supports the idea that this woman was much more to him than just sexual release and stress relief. If he fell in love with her, I think that would be a much harder betrayal to forgive.
Clinton's anger, to me, seemed to have more to do with an attitude of, "I'm the king: why the hell do you care what I'm doing with my mistress?" I never thought he cared about Lewinsky. I never thought he cared about Flowers. And, frankly, going back to open marriages, I never thought Hillary cared much about his sexual addiction as long as they remained a power couple -- she had to have known. Their focus together was elsewhere -- the women Bill used were disposable gratification; a more enjoyable means of masturbation for him. No more; no less. I speculate that what angered HRC the most was him being careless, stupid, and getting caught so frequently. I think I would have had marginally more respect for both of them if Bill had said: "Yes, I screw around all the time. Yes, Hillary knows. We have an arrangement, and that's how it is."
- Here's where I get to the stepping-down part. In both Clinton and Sanford's cases, this occurred on the job. This part is crystal clear and extremely simple. Cut and dried. I view it as an employment disciplinary action. If I were caught boffing a co-worker on the job, I'd be fired. If I misappropriated funds for personal use, I'd be fired. If I were absent without leave for nearly a week without letting anyone know where I was going, I'd be fired. My job is nowhere near as important as leading a state or a country. In Sanford's case especially, if a statewide crisis, a hurricane or flood, for example, had occurred, he would have been unreachable. He actually totally disabled the tracing mechanisms in his car, according to an article I read (CNN, I think it was).
- Just briefly, I think the point that Leigh made is valid. You leave yourself wholly open to mockery if you take an unflinching hard line, because people are just waiting for you to fall. Somewhere in there, do unto others comes back to bite you, because if you're wholly intolerant, you can't really expect tolerance from others. Examples: A quote from an acquaintance of mine said, "We might need to impose a ban on Republican marriages as they seem to be ruining the 'sanctity' of the institution." Salon.com's Gary Kamiya writes, "Until Republicans abandon their judgmental moralism about all things sexual, their marital peccadilloes will inspire schadenfreude, not sympathy." Is it mean-spirited? Yes. Are they reaping what they've sown? Absolutely. If Republicans and/or Democrats want to go after Sanford in the same way he went after Clinton, I can't deny them an eye for an eye. If GLBT folks want to point out the irony of his comments about gay marriage threatening his marriage, I can't say that Sanford didn't hoist himself on his own petard. Heck, even I can't help thinking that Sanford is probably thankful for Farrah Fawcett and Michael Jackson right about now.
Here's a quote from Sanford about Clinton:
This is "very damaging stuff," Sanford declared at one point, when details of Clinton's conduct became known. "I think it would be much better for the country and for him personally (to resign)... I come from the business side," he said. "If you had a chairman or president in the business world facing these allegations, he'd be gone."
- I have a little more compassion today than I had yesterday. I'll admit, my first reaction was, "Dammit, yet another one? Wasn't John Ensign just last week or something? Jebus." However, Jim Davies' comments about impulse control got me to thinking, and I did a little further reading of interviews about Sanford. I do still think he should step down, but not just because he has engaged in conduct unbecoming, as it were.
I think he hates his job. I think he bit off more than he could chew, and I think the man is extremely depressed, and our impulse control is greatly diminished when we're unhappy. I don't think Maria Belen Shapur is some disposable intern who made him suddenly feel young again; I do think things built gradually, and that she was someone who could understand his world without being a part of it -- a point of escape for him. And, again, I think he fell in love: you don't leave over Father's Day weekend to spend five days in another country breaking up with someone you don't care for deeply. Is this a Wallis Simpson situation? Time will tell.
Given his misery, and the way he rambled all over the place in that press conference, I think the man has had a minor breakdown. For his own good, for his family's good, and for the state's good, I think he needs to go on and step back. This is completely outside of the fired-for-misconduct-on-the-job reason: this is a "you need to let go and take some time to get better and get your act back together." He cab't run for another term; he only has 18 months left, and he's made so many enemies within his own party in the state that I don't see how he really has anything to lose by resigning.
- Finally, I don't know why everyone seems so reluctant to say that cheating on your spouse is a bad thing when these things occur. If you don't have the aforementioned open arrangement, then the adulterer has broken his or her vow. I am standing up and saying it here: I believe taking that vow means something (and again, if he/she will break that oath to someone he/she married, how can we not doubt an oath to the faceless citizenry?).
I think that outside of physical abuse or infidelity, divorce should be much less frequent than it is. I think that if a couple has grown apart, that they should go to counseling before parting ways. Now, I don't think that should be mandatory, because I am one for minding my own business and not imposing my beliefs on other people. I don't believe in any sort of "you can't get divorced before a separation of 30 days" law, or something like that.
However, I do think that marriage vows should be taken way more seriously than they currently seem to be in our culture. I was horrified by people asking me when I got engaged whether this was my first marriage. Not only because it was incredibly tacky and rude, but also because of what it says about societal perceptions about the institution. I was saddened to read a recent interview with Melissa Gilbert where she says that her mother tried to comfort her when she was having doubts about marrying Rob Lowe by saying, "Oh, honey, he'll make a fine first husband." What about only? Whatever happened to the idea of until death do us part? Yes, people grow and change, but that's part of the package. In my idealistic heart, I think Parenthood is truly a wise and great movie. At the end, when Helen, Dianne Wiest's character, breaks it down for Julie (Martha Plimpton) after Tod (Keanu Reeves) has crashed his car in a race and Julie is too scared to go over there because she's freaking out that he might be dead, Helen is all suck-it-up-you-took-on-this-commitment:
Julie - l can´t.
Helen - What?
Julie: l can´t. This is too intense. This is--
Helen: This is marriage! Now, let´s get in the truck.
The words on the page don't really do it justice, but when I see that scene, I want to stand up and cheer for Helen.
I just feel, very simply, that if you keep no other promise in your life, you keep that one if at all possible. Marriage is work. If it's not going well, you at least give your very best attempt at mending it.
So, it's not precisely about the sex. It's about the breach of trust, it's about appropriate on-the-job behavior, and it's about a very sincere belief (this is one thing that my sister and I do have in common) that you don't go into marriage thinking you can always get divorced if things go awry. I'm not implying that people do -- I think most people go into it thinking their marriage is going to work, and I understand that people make mistakes -- it's just that I think that divorce is turned to too readily as a means of correcting a mistake. I don't think less of people who get divorced in most cases (situations that are not like Britney Spears' Vegas fiasco, I mean) -- I cannot know what transpired in their circle of two; it is not my business -- but it bothers me, especially when it happens to a couple that has been together for a long time.
Unfortunately for the Sanfords' marriage, the particular mistake that Mark Sanford made is, statistically, one of the hardest to repair, or at least it was back when I worked at the counseling center, according to Wayne Parker, Ph.D., one of our marriage counselors. Each person can make a truly earnest attempt, and sometimes, that loss of trust is a wound that just won't heal. Outside of a physical attack, it is the single most damaging thing a spouse can do.
For Mark Sanford, the only way off the Appalachian Trail is down.