Mark Sanford's Appalachian Spring

In Praise of God, and the Many 'Angels'

"I want to publicly acknowledge God's role in all of this," declared a victorious Mark Sanford as he celebrated an unlikely political rebirth Tuesday night with a sermon praising the Supreme Being and the many "angels" who helped the once-disgraced former governor along the way.

Perhaps the Almighty did inspire those who drew the boundaries of South Carolina's 1st Congressional District. They packed it with so many Republicans that Sanford was able to engineer a comeback in the polls by debating a flat piece of cardboard bearing the image of House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi.

Voters in the Lowcountry may have been weary of a man who made a national spectacle of himself by covering up an affair when he was chief executive and then hanging around in office. But when called to arms against liberals and spending and big government, they were prepared to forget Sanford's hike on the Appalachian Trail, the one that never happened but was his attempt at a false alibi for being in Argentina to see his lover-now-fiancée.

His Democratic opponent, Elizabeth Colbert Busch, tried everything she could to shove party and philosophy out of the voters' minds and keep them focused on the man they had once loathed and laughed at.

She made herself relatively scarce when it came to campaign appearances and her advertising was out of a Chamber of Commerce promotion. "Elizabeth knows jobs" was the opener on a spot that touted her as a "Charleston businesswoman" and spoke of the importance of math and science -- hard to argue with that. She closed by telling voters: "I'm running for Congress to create jobs in South Carolina. That's what I know."

What she and her handlers did not know, or hoped wasn't true, was how deep our regional and partisan divisions are. You can run from ideology but you can't hide. Ironically, it is Colbert Busch's brother Stephen Colbert who became one of the era's most entertaining and astute political satirists by understanding the power of ideology. You might say that Sanford's whole campaign was drawn from a Stephen Colbert sketch.

And, yes, this was South Carolina. Remember that when Newt Gingrich ran for the Republican presidential nomination last year, he won only two primaries: in his home state of Georgia, and in the state where the Civil War began. It's funny, by the way, that Sanford's full-page ad defending his visit to his ex-wife Jenny's house in violation of a court order referred to the battle of the Alamo but misstated the year it happened as 1863. This would move that fight to the death into the middle of the War of Northern Aggression, as some Southerners still see it. Was this evocative error entirely accidental?

Gingrich has also led what we can politely call a colorful personal life. But he knew that South Carolina was one place where he could argue that Mitt Romney was a kind of crypto-liberal and make it stick. It was the perfect setting for a contest against a Pelosi photo.

In light of all the money the Democrats spent, it's still remarkable how loyal Republicans were to the man who once represented them. In the end, Colbert Busch ran only five points ahead of President Obama's 40 percent in the district in 2012. In two of its more conservative counties, Dorchester and Berkeley, she hardly gained anything on Obama's share.

Democrats insisted as soon as the results were known that Sanford's triumph will prove to be an embarrassment to congressional Republicans. It will be, at least for a while, especially since the newly minted House member has to show up in court Thursday on his wife's trespassing charge. Jesse Ferguson, the spokesman for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, was quick to note that there are one-hundred-and-nineteen Republican incumbents in districts more Democratic than South Carolina's 1st. Sanford's win, he insisted, does not tell us much about the 2014 midterm elections.

That's probably right. But it does say a great deal about America in 2013. God may well have moved Sanford to turn his life around and to run a scrappy campaign without any assistance from the big honchos in Washington. But his resurrection was a phenomenon not of the next world but of this one -- of a country so torn by party dogma that an imaginary walk along the Appalachian Trail counts for little when compared with the chance to beat the other guys, even when they're made out of cardboard.  

(c) 2013, Washington Post Writers Group

About the Author

E. J. Dionne Jr. is a syndicated columnist, professor of government at Georgetown University, and a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. His most recent book is Our Divided Political Heart: The Battle for the American Idea in an Age of Discontent (Bloomsbury Press).



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My congressperson is Nancy Pelosi, an Italian  Catholic, centerist grandmother. It's a shame that her name can be used by a fraud to scare knownothings  3000 miles from her home.

Ed, considering Nancy Pelosi's policies, her name should scare all of us, as she is a disgrace to both her faith and the taxpayers.

As for Sanford, if the Dems were thinking like reasonable people, they would have put a big hitter in, heck, even someone with real values and integrity.  It's their own fault that they ran an unkown and actually thought they could win on the coat tail of a brother celeb.

And yes, shame on the R's for giving power back to a man who has already proven he can't handle it.  Forgiveness is one thing, stupidity another.

Both choices were so bad, everyone should have just sat this one out.  But then, God always gives us the leadership we deserve.  Enough said.


God always gives us the leadership we deserve?

No, the electorate does.

Mr.Dionne's "who made a national spectacle of himself by covering up an affair when he was chief executive and then hanging around in office. sounds like a perfect description of William Jefferson Clinton the darling of the liberals, progressives and the media. In fact it is an apt description of  several New York democrats, Weiner, for one who aspire to public office as making a spectacle of oneself is worn like a badge of honor by democrat politicians.

Dear E.Patrick Mosman,

I think you meant to write "Democrat" politicians. I would like to think that you probably meant to write "Democratic politicians", as that is the term by which Democrats choose to call themselves. Otherwise, you have fallen into an ad hominem attack, which is, no doubt, beneath the standards of a Christian (Catholic?, thoughtful person who reads Commonweal?) and upstanding American, which, no doubt, you are.

At some point, our country must demand respect for differences, and that can start with respectful discourse. For if one side eventually  does "win out", what kind of society will it be if the winners are disrepectful people? I think it starts with us.


God always gives us the leadership we deserve?

No, the electorate does.


Helen God giving sinful nations "Bad leaders" is very biblical, especially throughout the Old Testament and in some of the  Psalms.  Has a lot to do with "eyes to see and ears to hear" of which only people who live in God's word are entitled.

It would be fair to say, that our country, mired against many things of God, is both largely "deaf and blind."  Consequently, devoid of God's wisdom,  we get what a deaf and blind electorate will elect.

South Carolina was just a great example.

Dear David Stewart,

"At some point, our country must demand respect for differences, and that can start with respectful discourse." Of course you are right and you might have started with the columnist that I quoted whom you chose to ignore, failed to admonish and finally completely ignored the point I raised while raising an accusation of an " ad hominem attack" over a small 'd' or capital a "D". Is that what you consider "respectful discourse"?



Fair enough, Patricia. God giving sinful nations "Bad leaders" is biblical. But I think that the early Christian martyrs would have had a different idea about the Roman emperors.

At any rate, it seems that you and I may have different understandings of biblical interpretation, modern democracy, and free will.

This is not a blog, so I will refrain from further comment.

Dear E. Patrick,

We can find hypocrisy on both the right and the left. You are right to point out the author seems to point only to the right. Though, to be fair, he was talking about a singular race. You widened the lense.

I was not really addressing the little d, but rather your use of the noun form "democrat" in place of the adjective "Democratic" because people on the right seem to take some offense to the Democratic party's "appropriation" of the word "democratic" as if words can't have more than one meaning. Pundits on the right were the ones who initially began using this form of the word, lacing it with antipathy towards Democrats. If that was not your intent, I do apologize, but if you felt yourself correct in using it as such, it would only prove that those self-same pundits of the right have poisoned the well of the debate, as their adherence insult their adversaries without even knowing it. Words are of no little import, as they set the tenor for any discussion that might result.

I for one am not surprised by the SINNER Mark Sanford winning. AFTER all, South Carolina voted for another ADULTER named Newt Gingrich. It just goes to show that the "people" of South Carolina would rather be the modern version of "The Devil and Daniel Webster",who also sold his soul to the Devil.

 MAYBE South Carolina is the new SODDOM and GAMORRA? AND they  call themselves Christians? HOW? BY putting in a congressman who may do jail time for violating a court order? OR, maybe the judge will give him a slap on the wrist like Rush Limbaugh got for having thousands of illegally purchased pain pills? It just goes to show the mindset of some people. They will complain about a politician,but they will not vote to keep him out of office.

 AS for someone mentioning PRESIDENT CLINTON, remember that Sanford called on him to resign but Sanford did not want to do the same thing he preached.


Dear Mr.David Stewart,

"Though, to be fair, he was talking about a singular race. You widened the lense." Mr Dionne was not talking about a race but the individual and it is fair to point out the hypocrisy of the writer when having a respectful discourse. Unless one is allowed to do so there is no basis for a discourse.



Patricia.. you say Pelosi policies should scare us. I guess you believe Sanford is pro-life and for the poor? Philanderers are the money source for abortions and no GOPer is for the poor.

vry nice article about prais of GOD ,i have ever read.great information you provide us by this magzine  news,i would like to know more detail about this topic.thanks for share it.

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