Bring back Mark Sanford

There are probably more kinds of stupid, but two especially come to mind: stupid of the head, like Chuck Hagel’s visions of Israel, and stupid of the heart, like Mark Sanford's. Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal said recently that the Republican Party is in danger of becoming the “stupid party.” (Possibly sinfully, irretrievably stupid: See Bill O’Reilly’s upcoming book, Killing Jesus.) 

Sanford’s sin is not of the head, but another place. Press today say that Sanford will be running for office again in spite of his recent “peccadilloes” — not the word I would have chosen. He feels reformed enough to reenter politics. He should be allowed back into the world. Because before there was a Tea Party and before Texas Gov. Rick Perry chanted “states’ rights, states’ rights, states’ rights” at the Alamo, there was one man standing alone in opposition: South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford.

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And his campaign should certainly feature that one moment — an historic moment captured on C-SPAN, when the then-governor traveled alone to Washington, D.C., to politely and genuinely plead to a congressional committee that it stop sending him money. It was destroying his state. They kept sending money and making him make things and build things that Washington wanted them to have, but it was not anything they needed or wanted. Then he had to pay the money back. “Who do you think you are?” they asked, hyperventilating contempt at Southern Man. Really. But soon other governors, starting with Rick Perry and Bobby Jindal, would join him. Then all in a night, Sanford disappeared.

Sanford’s greatest crime was in reading The Thorn Birds, a smaltsy love novel set on a fictional sheep station in the Australian outback, and feeling his spirit soar, the descent then to the deeper realms of burning love inevitable. But like oh so many men of his age — around 50 at the time of the “peccadillo” (classic) — his head was remarkably clear on the more professional matters. Indeed, had he not descended below the beltway, he would probably have been running for president in 2012. 

He was the first to publically warn that, hard as it is to believe, not everyone in politics wants a free lunch. In December 2008, Perry joined him on the pages of The Wall Street Journal and a movement was born when they asked other governors to join in with them:

“As governors and citizens, we've grown increasingly concerned over the past weeks as Washington has thrown bailout after bailout at the national economy with little to show for it. ... In the process, the federal government is not only burying future generations under mountains of debt. It is also taking our country in a very dangerous direction — toward a ‘bailout mentality’ where we look to government rather than ourselves for solutions.”

South Carolina is a very great state but still laboring under a redneck curse, and it badly needs a political makeover. As governor, Sanford has brought progress. I propose a package deal: South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley should prepare now for a run for the presidency in 2016 (Nikki Haley/Ted Cruz 2016). The brilliant and capable Jenny Sanford takes over the governor's office (and prepares for the presidency in 2020). And Mark Sanford goes on to the House. 

A better reading list for Mark Sanford: Willa Cather’s My Ántonia, Charles Frazier’s Cold Mountain and Ida M. Tarbell’s All in a Day’s Work.