Governor Mark Sanford (R) of South Carolina has gotten himself into a big mess of his own making. It came to light this week that Sanford has been cheating on his wife with an Argentinian woman. If that wasn’t bad enough, he spent his Father’s Day weekend in Argentina with his mistress while his wife and children were at home (apparently) not knowing where he was, and his staff were left (apparently) thinking he was hiking the Appalachian trail.
I am generally uninterested in the sexual misdeeds of our politicians. Of course, character does count—if a man would lie to the woman he has pledged his life to, would he have any qualms about lying to his constituents? But this is something that the voters should consider at election time. I don’t think it’s productive to blow these scandals out of proportion and hype them up, since they’re basically irrelevant to a sitting official’s public duties.
There is an exception though. When a politician commits a crime or skirts his responsibility to his constituents, it is a relevant issue—even if it is tied to a personal indiscretion that would otherwise be publicly irrelevant. I didn’t particularly care that President Bill Clinton (D) was cavorting with interns, at least not from a political perspective (my moral perspective of the man is a different issue). I did, however, care when President Clinton committed perjury—a felony offense—in a vain effort to save face. I’d have gone to prison if I’d done it, so Clinton should have been removed from office.
Similarly, Sanford’s indiscretion is not, in-and-of itself, an actionable offense (though the voters should consider the man’s character in future elections). However, Sanford’s several-day-long disappearing act is an absolutely inexcusable dereliction of duty. His own family and staff apparently didn’t know where he was and, had there been an emergency, there might have been a dangerous power vacuum in the highest levels of the South Carolina government. If laws were broken, he should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law (and impeached, if South Carolina law provides for impeachment). Even if laws were not broken, Sanford must resign—not because he cheated on his wife, which is a serious matter for him, his family, and his religious leaders to handle, but because he failed to act responsibly as governor.
Update 7/1/2009: I have done a bit of research (since I was looking at state constitutions for other reasons), and South Carolina’s constitution provides ina procedure for impeachment of governors and other officials “in cases of serious crimes or serious misconduct in office” (emphasis added). Impeach him!