Governor Sanford and the Failure of Moral Politics


It's satisfying to lambast a staunch social conservative for an extramarital affair on another continent. Governor Sanford voted to impeach Bill Clinton, has been a solid opponent of gay marriage and often invokes the "word of God" to support his conservative policies. I understand, those emails were hilarious and the press conference was pathetic and those of us without full rights in the United States certainly want Sanford's career to stay in the dumps.

But, all this hubub over an affair? As my parents would say, it's just inappropriate sex.

The real failure in this sad story is a political platform based on a personal moral code.

Laws are put in place, ideally, to protect the most vulnerable members of society from those stronger than them. It's why we have criminal law, tax law, family law, securities law, etc. A good law maker identifies a weak party and works to protect them, thus representing their constituents.

When law makers choose, instead, to identify a moral agenda, one that ignores the actual reality of people living in their district, and attempts to impose certain value systems based on that moral agenda, they target minorities and establish legal restrictions that fail to relate to problems voters face.

So, instead of working to find homes for children without parents, politicians like Governor Sanford oppose gay adoptions. Instead of ensuring that each taxpayer is given a credit for their dependents, Governor Sanford opposes the tax rights associated with gay marriage.

And like anyone who loses touch with reality, Sanford fell victim to his own fictions. His moral code bears no relation to the diverse country in which he lives. It turns out, his moral code bears little relation to his own life.

Moral politics ignore reality, they serve to ostracize and isolate vulnerable members of society and they are inevitably impossible to follow. Their separation from the messy human condition means that even the people imposing the morally based laws are sinners and transgressors.

We have a lot in common with Governor Sanford. We too have had to grapple with what we are taught is right and what we feel is honest and true. He's just learning the lesson a little later in life. Perhaps his tragedy will teach others the folly of moral political policies and encourage law making that addresses the diverse populations facing difficult and myriad problems in the U.S. today.