Guess who’s back
Right now you are undoubtedly asking yourself: What does the return to Congress of the disgraced ex-governor Mark Sanford mean to me?
Well, we now definitely know that 21st-century voters are willing to overlook not just a moral lapse but also bad judgment of epic proportions. This is useful information if you happen to live in a city where Anthony Weiner is thinking about running for mayor.
“I want to acknowledge a God not just of second chances but third, fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh, eighth chances,” said a jubilant Sanford in his victory speech Tuesday night.
So far, the voters — and God — have awarded Sanford at least five or six do-overs, what with the adultery, his decision to go to Argentina for an assignation without leaving his gubernatorial staff a phone number where he could be reached, that inclination to discuss embarrassing details of his sex life during press conferences, the ethics fine, the trespassing accusation, and so on. But talk about the availability of eight chances seems to suggest the newly elected congressman is leaving daylight for additional forgiveness opportunities in the future.
Still, this does not necessarily mean that Weiner gets to be mayor of New York City. People are way more careful about picking a mayor or a governor than they are a legislator. Because, really, how much judgment does it take to be a member of Congress? The House delegation from the state of New York is always losing people because of stupid sex tricks: marathon tickling sessions with the aides, the emailing of half-naked photographs or Weiner’s habit of texting pictures of his private parts to strangers. And life goes on, unchanged. But you want an executive to be better-behaved or you could wind up with ... Eliot Spitzer.
One surefire result of this special election will be a plethora of Republican candidates debating cardboard versions of Nancy Pelosi next fall. It looked stupid when Sanford tried it, but, by gosh, it really did seem to do the trick. To be fair, Sanford’s opponent, Elizabeth Colbert Busch, didn’t seem to come out in public very often, and he needed to argue with somebody. However, the demonizing of the House minority leader has its limits. Pelosi’s own opponent last year ran a very exciting ad depicting her as the queen of a zombie cult, and it had no effect whatsoever.
Everybody got excited about the South Carolina race when, at one point, Public Policy Polling showed Colbert Busch 9 points ahead. Clearly, that wasn’t the case, and, in retrospect, I’m afraid we may have to revisit the PPP poll last year that showed that 15 percent of Ohio Republicans believed that Mitt Romney had killed Osama bin Laden.
In the end, Sanford’s victory was just about a very Republican area picking a Republican member of Congress. South Carolina’s Republican mapmakers have spent eons stuffing as many Democrats as possible into the House district represented by Democrat James Clyburn in order to keep the other six districts as deeply red as possible. Their party controlled the seats anyway, but you never knew when there might be some emergency, like a special election with a Republican candidate who was due in court two days after the balloting to answer charges of trespassing at his ex-wife’s home.
The political makeup of Congress will be unchanged; Sanford replaces Republican Tim Scott, who was promoted to the Senate to replace Jim DeMint, who recently retired to lead the Heritage Foundation and do war against the immigration reform bill. While Sanford was celebrating his victory, DeMint was unveiling a big study showing that immigration reform would cost the country trillions and trillions of dollars. Its methodology was ridiculous, and The Washington Post discovered its co-author had once argued that Hispanic immigrants would have “low I-Q children and grandchildren.” Truly, South Carolina politics is a gift that just keeps on giving.
Nobody outside the state seemed terribly thrilled by Sanford’s political resurrection. The National Republican Congressional Committee, which has a tolerance for screwing up that’s notably less extensive than God’s, had wiped its hands of his campaign awhile back. Gabriel Gomez, the Republican candidate in Massachusetts’ special Senate election, called him “pathetic.” And the House leadership needs another Tea Party zealot the way it needs another vote to repeal Obamacare.
“Mr. Sanford will have the opportunity to make a difference for his constituents as a member of the Republican House majority,” said a spokesman for John Boehner, in a statement that reflected the general euphoria over the ex-governor’s return.
So, Rep. Mark Sanford. Where do you think he’ll live? Sanford was in the House once before and he slept in his office. This was possibly about staying close to his work but more likely about the same qualities of thriftiness that caused him to give his then-wife a $25 used bicycle for Christmas and her birthday combined. And what committee do you think he’ll serve on?
Please God, let it be Foreign Affairs.
Gail Collins is a columnist for The New York Times.