Commentary: There are worse thing Sanford could have done

Governor Sanford of South Carolina admitted he had an affair.
Governor Sanford of South Carolina admitted he had an affair. Erik Campos/The State/MCT

Look on the bright side, South Carolina. Our governor wasn't locked out of the executive mansion by the first lady, as Rudy Guiliani was while he was mayor of New York.

Nor did our governor pay for extracurricular loving, a la former N.Y. Gov. Eliot Spitzer.

Thank goodness, also, he didn't take a page from former Idaho Sen. Larry Craig's playbook and get busted for playing footsie in the men's room of the Buenos Aires airport.

Give him credit for not blaming South Carolina public schools for staffers' not knowing the difference between Argentina and the Appalachian Trail.

Most of all, we're relieved that Mark Sanford didn't deliver his teary confession of marital infidelity accompanied by a boom box blasting "Don't Cry for Me, Argentina."

Just about the point when the Palmetto State ceases to be a national laughingstock, some ninny emerges to give David Letterman or Stephen Colbert fodder for ridicule.

Sanford has contributed more than his share to the embarrassment.

It wasn't enough for him to carry two piglets into the Statehouse, where one pooped on the carpet. He appeared on a "20-20" segment, "Stupid in America," proclaiming that South Carolina public schools were so terrible he wouldn't enroll his sons. Next, he self-destructed on CNN when asked to articulate a single point where John McCain's economic policies differed from George W. Bush's.

Excluding last week's mea culpa, Sanford's most recent run on the national embarrassment stage took place over the several weeks he campaigned to reject $700 million in federal stimulus money.

A friend put it this way: "No wonder he could turn down federal money! He had his own stimulus package."

At this writing, Sanford has given no indication that he intends to resign as governor. I'm betting he will, eventually, if not right away.

Even the dimmest bulb in the pack has a glimmer of light now and then.

Sanford has no shame, but cruel he's not. He'll succumb — if not to pressure from supporters, then out of a sense of decency to those he loves. He'll realize that stepping down is the only way to free Mrs. Sanford and their children from relentless media scrutiny.

And if he truly cares for the "other woman," he'll come to understand that publicity could destroy her life as well. Just wait until Fox News pundits ramp up into full dudgeon. They're already sputtering over what they see as betrayal by one they were grooming for a run at the White House in 2012. (Are we ready for secret video footage of "Sanford's Pampas Princess"?)

Nor would Sanford's resignation as governor necessarily bode well for South Carolina citizens. Lt. Gov. Andre Bauer, next in line, is not without baggage of his own.

(Please don't give that leadfoot the keys to the SUV. South Carolina highways are dangerous enough, already!)

Bauer, a high-energy guy and the most relentless political campaigner this state has seen since Strom Thurmond was a pup, could be an improvement over Sanford.

A pragmatist by nature, Bauer likely would want to work with the General Assembly on the budget and other important legislation, but don't count on reciprocity. Legislators know that after over a year as governor, Bauer would be the front-runner in the next gubernatorial race. He could be elected — not once, but twice — making him the first person to occupy the Governor's Mansion for nearly an entire decade. Don't expect our power-envying Legislature to do anything that might help Gov. Bauer look good.

In the end, we South Carolinians have no one to blame for the embarrassment of Mark Sanford but ourselves. We elected an ex-congressman whose proudest accomplishment in Washington was sleeping on a futon in his office for six years!

Hey, he sported a tan and looked cool in his button-down blue shirt and sock-less loafers, so how were we to know he'd fritter away his first term, quibbling with the Legislature and pushing for subsidies for rich retirees, corporate big shots and families that chose not to put kids in public school?

Fool us once, your fault. Fool us twice, our fault.

Perhaps next time, we'll pay more attention.

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