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Love, Shmove

I must admit I've been a little perplexed by all the cooing and ooing over Mark Sanford's being in loooooove. Awwww, look at him, we are urged. He's not just another self-important dirtbag with pants aflame. He's found his other half. He's found The One. He's found his Soul Mate. As the heart-sick governor so helpfully explained to the AP, "This was a whole lot more than a simple affair; this was a love story. A forbidden on, a tragic one, but a love story at the end of the day." (Nope. Nothing self-aggrandizing about that statement.)

OK. Fine. The governor fell in love. Although, from the sound of yesterday's revelation, he had to do a fair amount of trolling with not-quite-The-Ones before finally merengue-ing into his Beloved on the dance floor in Uruguay. The governor's insistence that he "didn't cross the sex line" with any of those other Other Women may make Maria feel special, but it also suggests that this is a guy who had been playing with fire for some time and basically clearing the path for fate to sweep him off his feet.

Still, let us allow that Maria is very special and does, in fact, complete Governor Romeo. Super. But that doesn't make Sanford special--and I contend that it's not the main reason many observers have gone all squishy over him. After all, lots of married politicians fall in love, as evidenced by the number of them who leave their wives for a newer model. Some of my favorite examples: Rep. Roy Blunt did it. Sen. Jon Corzine did it. Rep. Connie Mack did it. Former Sen. Tim Hutchinson did it. Former Rep. Billy Tauzin did it. Newt Gingrich did it. Twice.

What set Sanford's situation apart initially wasn't that he had fallen in love, but that he couldn't keep his mouth shut about it. Between all those rambling, purple-prose emails that leaked out and the man's verbal incontinence in talking about his Rendezvous with Destiny, he presented us with the old-fashioned romantic ideal of a man smitten beyond reason. You could almost picture him sitting by candlelight furiously scribbling out love letters to some Jane Austen heroine. Falling in love with one's Soul Mate isn't unusual, even in politics. Babbling on about it like an addled teenager is. 

Of course, as it turns out, verbiage isn't all that set Sanford apart. He is also somewhat special in that, once his star-crossed love connection was discovered by his wife, he handled everything so very, very pathetically. It's not simply that he couldn't choose between Jenny and Maria. We're talking about a guy who repeatedly asked his wife's permission to run off for a quick visit with her competition. Sanford not only wanted to have his cake and eat it too--he wanted his legally wed cake to tell him that it's ok to keep dipping his fork into his extramarital cake--excuse me, extramarital Soul Cake. In theory, of course, he was struggling to gently disentangle everyone from the ridiculous web he had woven. But he didn't disentangle. He just kept tangling and tangling and tangling. Until he tangled so completely that the entire world found out about his situation--which, in turn, only prompted him to spin more stories on national TV about himself as the tragic slave to love. And then a few days later--even more stories, with more talk about his commitment to his family even as his poor heart is shattered. Oh, boo hoo hoo. Say what you will about Gingrich, at least he never asked any of his wives to become an accessory to his betrayal of her and to his public deception--pardon me, his grand and glorious love story.

Now, of course, Sanford wants to be cheered, or at least pitied, for buckling down and committing to "falling back in love with" his wife--despite having announced to the entire globe that Maria is his true love. What nobility. What self-sacrifice. What moral fortitude. What utter nonsense. What now happens within the Sanford family should be an entirely private matter (as, indeed, this entire Love Story should have remained, if only the governor could have handled it less absurdly--and without taxpayer funding.) But however it ends, let's not kid ourselves: Mark Sanford isn't remotely special. He isn't even particularly tragic, at least not in the romantic sense. The man isn't a fool for love so much as he's just a fool. And his political future now largely depends on how gladly the voters of South Carolina will suffer having a fool as their leader.   

--Michelle Cottle