WASHINGTON — As a South Carolinian, it befalls me to examine the peculiarities afflicting our former governor and now-congressman Mark Sanford, who, contrary to decorum and taste, continues to demand attention.
Yes, that Mark Sanford — the erstwhile Appalachian Trail wanderer who in 2009 found himself not out hiking, as his gubernatorial staff had reported, but befuddled and besotted in Argentina with his longtime soul mate, Maria Belen Chapur.
Fast forward through a tearful news conference, during which Sanford all but plummeted to a fainting couch confessing his infidelity, through his high-profile separation from his wife, Jenny, then next to his mysterious re-election to the congressional seat he held prior to becoming governor and ... wait, fire the writer!
Not even a credulous soap opera viewer would buy a tale so tawdry and ridiculous. Not only is it not credible, it’s pathetic. Moreover, leading men do not long hold an audience after they cry over themselves.
These events also remind us of two tropes in no danger of dismissal: Love is a form of temporary insanity; and anti-secessionist James Petigru’s 1860 assessment of his state as “too small to be a republic and too large to be an insane asylum.”
Fast forward again to a few days ago. Sanford, apparently finding unbearable his irrelevance and growing obscurity, decided to drop his manly charade and write a torturously long Facebook entry in which, among other true confessions, he announced the end of his engagement to Chapur.
”Dice que?” asked Chapur from Paris, where she had just spent a honeymoon-ish few days with Sanford.
Chapur knew they were no longer engaged, but she didn’t know that Sanford had announced it on Facebook until, like President Barack Obama’s occasional receipt of awful news, she heard it from the media.
In Paris, Chapur had hoped for a wedding date, but was offered instead another two-year engagement. In light of which, one wonders what ever attracted at least two women to Sanford, whose charms remain elusive.
In his global missive, Sanford explained that he simply couldn’t drag Chapur through any more of this nasty business with his wife (oh, he noticed?), which recently included a request that Sanford submit to a psychological examination before he is allowed to spend time with their youngest son, now 16.
This request is doubtless difficult for Sanford, but under the circumstances is hardly misplaced. Come to think of it, a state Department of Psychological Welfare might not be wasted.
“What is it about South Carolina?” is a question I’m frequently asked. From the former governor’s mindless meanderings to the recent assault of the reality show “Southern Charm,” starring former state Treasurer Thomas Ravenel, this baffling state seems determined to besaint the besotted and magnify the man-child.
With such public exemplars as Sanford and Ravenel, something, indeed, seems aloft — a shift away from the Southern stereotypes the national media love to exploit to a proud narcissism that knows no shame.
Traditionally, South Carolina has been stubbornly defiant, bellicosely belligerent and heartbreakingly wounded by the humiliation imposed by its invasion and conquest. Now that everyone suddenly loves South Carolina — at least its beaches, its plantations and its crown jewel, Charleston — the natives are busting to pirouette on a pedestal.
Add to these sudden tendencies the pestilential narcissism that breeds in social media like “skeeters” in the Lowcountry marshes and you’ve got the Sanford & Ravenel Show.
A combo more frat house than Statehouse, they are the new fine-feathered fellows in the aviary of flighty men.
Ravenel, who comes from an old, well-regarded Charleston family and made a fortune on his own, is inexplicably trying to unseat the soon-to-be venerable Sen. Lindsey Graham. (He isn’t quite old enough yet.) Ravenel doesn’t stand a chance of winning because, among other things, he’s not a serious person. Just watch the show, if you can stand it.
And then there’s that thing about Ravenel serving 10 months in prison after a drug conviction.
Thus one wonders, why run? The answer can only be to try to fill that bottomless trough of narcissistic need.
I have a better idea for these two that rids the public of a nuisance and also might satisfy them. Put the two of them in a house together, get the cameras rolling, and document their bro-ish exploits.
Call this one “Southern Smarm.” Or, better yet, “Gamecocks.”
Kathleen Parker is a columnist for the Washington Post Writers Group.