hypocrisyIf the saga of South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford proved nothing else, it shows there’s more than one way to become a Gamecock.

Everybody knows by now that the Republican governor, once touted as a possible presidential candidate, did not disappear for a trek along the Appalachian Trail as alleged, but flew instead to Argentina to meet his sweetie, leaving his wife and four kids behind.

Turns out, he confessed in a tearful press conference, it was his goodbye trip to the Argentine lady, who he says he has known a long time.

These lapses from moral behavior by politicians are becoming so frequent they’re beginning to lose some of their news value, although even The Wall Street Journal saw fit to put Sanford’s story on the cover with a big mug shot. But his confession came just eight days after Nevada Sen. John Ensign revealed that he, too, had had an extramarital affair.

You almost need a scorecard any more to keep up with this growing string of miscreants that includes a former president (Bill Clinton), a former New York governor (Eliot Spitzer), presidential wannabes (John Edwards and Gary Hart) and assorted members of Congress (Barney Frank, Mark Foley, David Vitter, Larry Craig). Those are just the ones I can think of off the top of my head.

I am particularly chagrined as a South Carolinian at Sanford’s episode, since it’s just one more lightning strike against a wonderful state that attracts more than its share of lightning. Consider those other Gamecocks who play football at the University of South Carolina!

Sanford struck me as a bit odd, anyway, when he turned down the federal bailout, or assistance grant, from Congress. That’s not something a politician does, especially in the South.

But enough of Gov. Sanford. Being an optimist by nature, I see opportunities in this sad situation, a possible new career. Why not gather all the politicians whose extramarital affairs have been exposed in a televised Town Hall Meeting, the kind that President Obama does so often?

The idea, of course, would be to learn from each where he went wrong and got caught. Think of how useful that information would be to thousands of men contemplating an affair but still too timid to try it.

At a more practical level, there’s clearly a need for a new kind of political consultant, someone who specializes in guiding politicians through the rigors of public disclosure, who writes the script that will be used at the press conference.

You might ask, why not a consultant who helps keep the misbehavior secret, but that won’t fly. A politician’s ego is so big already, he (or she) believes that he will get away with whatever he is up to, forever. It’s only when the game is up that he will need help.

The “confession” of misdeeds always seems to follow the same script, which makes me wonder if somebody hasn’t already beaten me to this job. With appropriate sincerity and gravity, the president/senator/governor/Congressman/mayor confesses his deeds, apologizes to various constituencies, promises that it’s over, and may or may not resign from office.

Until Sanford, the politician’s spouse usually stands stoically by his side, satisfied for the moment that she has already taken revenge or is about to — think of John Edwards’ wife.

Now comes the politician’s greatest ordeal,  the one where a consultant may really be needed: Surviving the interminable round of jokes by late night comedy hosts, stand-up comedians and holier-than-thou TV commentators. There’s probably not much this hypothetical PR consultant can do for the client at this stage except keep him away from the TV, or else stand by and remind him that “this too shall pass” — unless you’re Bill Clinton, of course.

If there’s an upside to the misbehavior of governors and other top politicians, it’s that most of the damage is likely to be personal and political — harmful to that person’s career or the outlook for that person’s political party.

But our economy being what it is, there will be little or no financial fallout. Corporations don’t care how politicians behave as long as they don’t discriminate against companies, and give businesses the same chance everybody else gets to eat at the public trough.

Chances are, however, I won’t follow up on this public relations idea. I’ve never been entrepreneurial. So I toss it out there for anyone who agrees that it has possibilities. All I ask is please let me know if it works out.

This story has a soundtrack (“Don’t Cry for Me, Argentina”): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e7Ns1U0OnE8


Tom Walker

Born in Spartanburg, South Carolina Aug. 11, 1935, Tom Walker graduated from the University of South Carolina and did post-graduate work at UCLA. He started work at The State newspaper in Columbia, South Carolina in 1958 and later worked for The Columbia Record, the afternoon half of the State-Record Co., covering politics, courts, police and civil rights in the '60s. After a little more than a year at the Los Angeles City News Service, a local news wire service in L.A., he joined The Associated Press in Charlotte, North Carolina. In February 1967, he came to The Atlanta Journal and was persuaded (forced?) to take the job as real estate editor. When the then-business editor left in 1970 Tom became business editor. When the Journal and Atlanta Constitution staffs merged in the '80s he became a staff writer, a post he held until leaving for a career as a free-lance writer in 2007.