In the weekend WSJ, Gerard Baker tries mightily to raise the double standard. The scene might not make quite as good a monument as the statue of the soldiers raising the flag on Iowa Jima, but it ought to count for something in the journalism profession.
The article is titled Sex Americana. Subheadline: “Infidelity is no longer a career-killer for politicians. Bur weirdness, mendacity and ineptitude just might be.” The article is of course about Sen. Mark Sanford. (Why that topic rates a full page on the front of the Weekend Journal, and the firing of Gerald Walpin does not, deserves a front-page article all its own.)
Especially since the Clinton days, the media have a hard time hounding someone out of office for marital infidelity. They need an angle to show why this one should go, while in the case of the other guy we need to move on so he can stay. And Baker thinks he has found one:
For all the talk of yet another politician dragged down by an uncontrollable libido, it may well be the sheer strangeness of Mr. Sanford’s behavior, rather than his original sin, that will do him the most political harm.
Though adultery was, and still is perhaps for a minority of voters, an automatic disqualification for political office, the fact is that the moral rules by which American politicians are judged are complex and changing.
There you have it. According to Baker, Sanford didn’t follow the usual pattern:
There was, for once, no adoring wife, standing by her man, gazing dewy-eyed at the flawed hero. There was no attempt by the sinner to explain his sin in artfully phrased self-exonerations; no references to some inner demon, an abusive father, an addictive personality or the indescribable pressures of working so hard for the good of the American people.
Therefore, goes the innuendo, Sanford needs to go because he is weird.
To tell the truth, the weirdness is one of the things I liked about this whole affair — especially the part where Sanford was out of touch for several days. We need more of that in our executive officers.
As to the apology in front of the cameras, I didn’t see it and don’t plan to watch it on YouTube, either. My entertainment comes from mocking the newspaper coverage, which hardly leaves time for watching the actual events the professional journalists are writing about. But Dorothy Rabinowitz saw it, and she didn’t seem to think it was weird at all, as such things go. To her it was the same old, same old:
We can now add the sad-eyed Gov. Mark Sanford, making his tearful public confessional, to the galaxy of similar fallen stars we have seen in this state before. The question no one has ever answered is how they all fell into the grip of the same delusion: namely, that the way to retrieving dignity is to go before the microphones to issue craven apologies to a list of purported victims.
So she seems not to have seen the same apology that Gerard Baker saw. But maybe Baker isn’t even convinced by his own innuendo, because towards the end he seems to have changed his mind about what it might take to get Sanford booted:
[He] seems to have spent state money on furthering the affair. If anything undoes him, it will be that.
Well, yes, that would do it. But I suppose if we’re going to be concerned about how state money is spent, we might also have to be concerned about the abuses that Gerald Walpin was trying to stop, and we couldn’t have that now, could we? Better to stick with the weirdness angle.