This will probably seem outdated since it has been a week since the special election for the First Congressional District in South Carolina and in the current media age that is an eternity. However, I haven’t heard anyone make the argument that I’m going to make so that should make up for my tardiness.
The problem, from the social conservative’s perspective, is that Governor Mark Sanford never should have run for office in the first place. He cheated on his wife only a couple of years ago and he apparently figured that now is the right time to get back into public life. That, to me, sounds like a man who believes he’s entitled to an office. The problem isn’t that social conservatives are holding him to an impossible standard. It’s not like we’re talking about him smoking a joint when he was in college. We’re saying that if you do something as egregious as destroy your marriage you should probably not worry about running again for a long time. I highly doubt that in two years time he has even begun to repair any of the damage he’s done to his family and all the while he was thinking about when he can get out of the dog house and get into politics.
I think this also vindicates social conservatives by showing how character flaws cannot be compartmentalized and kept in the dark. It comes out. It will come out, and affect the public. Our founders knew that the people had to have the republican virtues necessary to protect their liberty and enjoy prosperity. It also matters that our elected representatives are people of virtue and character. The governor lost his job because of his adulterous relationship and the poor judgment it engendered. He was out of the country and his staff didn’t even know because he lied to keep his uncontrollable passions a secret. What if some emergency, like the one in West, TX, happened while the governor was out of the country? This is why Petraeus also lost his job, not simply because of the affair but the security risk that his bad decisions created. When you put yourself in that position you become a target. It is crucial that our elected officials remain above reproach.
Then there are the political problems. Can anyone be sure that when Sanford goes to Washington that he won’t get involved in another scandal that will cost him his seat? What does it say about the GOP that it cannot find one viable candidate to run who hasn’t cheated on his wife? I think that’s the difference between how social conservatives look at these issues compared to everyone else. I find it hard to believe that good leaders are in such short supply that the only people left to pick from are at the bottom of the barrel. What will Sanford say when there is a political debate about marriage and families? It’s no wonder the GOP can’t make the moral arguments for our views.
My short but growing experience with campaigns leads me to believe that candidate recruitment is such an important process that it can change the course of a party and the political landscape. If you want the good fruit you gotta pick it off the tree yourself. The candidates I’ve met and the stories I’ve heard about them are what depress me about the political process and I’m sure it’s what causes people to disengage. I think that with better candidates come more energy and involvement and eventually progress. Instead of going along with the conventional wisdom on successful candidates and campaigns let us do the hard work of throwing out the rule book and change the status quo.