Commentary: Sex overshadows real lesson of Sanford saga

Let's hope politicians around the country — especially here in Florida — don't draw the wrong lesson from the scandal involving Gov. Mark Sanford of South Carolina and his admitted dalliance with a woman from Argentina.

A tearful confession before TV cameras on Wednesday afternoon and repeated apologies to wife and family gave Gov. Sanford's revelation of an affair a soap-opera quality. The governor's self-promoted image as a strong upholder of family values and advocate of moral integrity added a taint of hypocrisy to make the melodrama juicier.

Ergo, the moral is likely to be that if you preach family values, either walk the walk or don't talk the talk. The true lesson of the Sanford saga, however, was overshadowed by the sexual innuendo and is a lot simpler: If you're going to sign up to be chief executive of the state, you can't just take a hike for a week without letting anyone know where you are.

As it happens, Gov. Sanford's staff thought he was literally taking a hike and told that to anyone who asked. He led them to believe he would be walking along the Appalachian Trail, an isolated path that extends through rugged terrain for hundreds of miles from the Deep South to New England. Instead, the governor secretly flew to Argentina to see his paramour, as he later disclosed.

Whether he was dancing a fancy tango in Buenos Aires or marching over the mountains is irrelevant to the larger issue. What matters is that he was incommunicado for a week and not only remained out of touch for days but failed to tell anyone where he was and how to contact him. He even turned off his cellphone for good measure.

In the private job market, that kind of bizarre behavior would be met with a strong reprimand from the boss, at minimum, possibly exposing the employee to the risk of being fired. Public officials should be held to the same exacting standard.

To read the complete editorial, visit The Miami Herald.

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