Hallelujah: Mark Sanford and the Abolition of GOP “Family Values” Trojan Horse

Paul Evans

The special election in South Carolina was about ideology, party, and power: it illuminated the façade of the so-called “Family Values” argument as nothing less or more than a political tool used by Republicans to champion the values of good character – when, and where, it is convenient.

Mark Sanford, David Vitter, and George W. Bush – proofs in support of a startling, surprising, and significant evolution in modern politics: The Republican Party has now officially, undeniably, and forever forfeited the “Family Values” argument.

Anyone, everyone, that argues differently – that this election was an abnormality – is either a liar or patently insane. Everyone involved understood the implications of reelection of this particular person at this specific moment in time.

Mark Sanford ran for office because he could – he knew the Republican Party needed a Republican member of Congress, and he knew that in the end – Republican voters would choose a man that put his own interests ahead of the state (and his family) and lied about it – over a professional, respected woman of good character that had the audacity to be a Democrat…

The special election in South Carolina was about ideology, party, and power: it illuminated the façade of the so-called “Family Values” argument as nothing less or more than a political tool used by Republicans to champion the values of good character – when, and where, it is convenient.

Truth be told, the election of Mark Sanford is more cancerous to the conservative wing of the Republican Party than the gaffes or ultra extreme perspectives on abortion, rape, and God’s benign neglect of sexual abuse and trauma.

Ironically, the most egregious utterances espoused in 2012 reflected heartfelt, albeit wrongly conceived, notions of faith. None of the men that said those things advocated rape – but their understandings of faith determined their interpretations. These men were wrong – stupid perhaps – but they said what they believed to be consistent with teachings familiar to the “Family Values” community.

In contrast, the election of Mark Sanford has changed the game: forever.

DUI, drug usage, and dereliction of duties during Vietnam: W.

Prostitution, illicit funding schemes, and a cover-up (about the prostitution): Vitter.

And now, an affair that is worthy of at least a made-for-television drama (if not a full length motion picture) one of the most Republican Congressional Districts in the US has elected a man to Congress that has repeatedly ignored court orders, was derelict in his public duties (as he was chasing a modern-day Evita in South America), and manipulated the truth in ways large and small for his own personal, political benefit.

It is redemptive absurdity; it is a watershed moment in our political development.

Sanford’s election demonstrates the Republican Party as able, ready, and willing to cast aside principle for the political exigencies of keeping a seat in “Republican” hands – whatever that means. It showcases that even in South Carolina - the hotbed of Family Values ideology - Republicans accept a "means justify the ends" approach to governance.

Let us be honest. Democrats have had our own challenges with the foibles of human behavior. And today, I will make claims about Democrats - as I understand the party, the imperfect but well-intentioned party, that I support.

We Democrats are no stranger to scandal - sadly. We have elected people to office only to watch crestfallen as the worser angels of our nature shattered lives and destroyed political fortunes. It is a rare thing, but it happens.

For good, or ill, there is not a political candidate alive (or dead) that hasn't broken most if not all of the Commandments in thought or in deed. But true-believers accept these struggles as part of a larger picture; we seek to overcome challenges; respect others that stumble along the path and seek to do better.

Democrats care about individual character - we value all aspects of an individual's character including personal choices, professional behaviors, and public service. We view people as a "whole person" and differentiate between the flawed but good hearted, and the flawed without heart.

Unlike the modern GOP, the Democratic Party never seeks to run campaigns or candidates on idealistic concepts of character perfection: we love each other, flaws and all. In fact, Democrats believe in the power of rehabilitation, redemption, and restitution – we even seek recovery and restoration when it is appropriate and sincere.

Democrats know that our candidates are flawed because all humans are flawed. Those of us comfortable in the Christian Faith applaud instances of contemplative redemption. We all fall short of our aspirations, and we must forgive, forget, and grow. As a person, I am heartened that Mr. Sanford has rehabilitated his life and wish his family well.

As a student of public service, I am concerned anytime a party uses character flaws as justification of voting for and against candidates – and then retreats from those standards when a political exigency arises.

Any and all that seek to wage total war upon the altar of "Family Values" and the individual morality of candidates must judge all by the same standards. And it is impossible to do this fairly; it is an unjust war that reasonable people recognize as such.

In contrast, Democrats always seek men and women of good character that are careful to avoid claims or promises of perfection. While our ideals are perfect, we know we are not. But we are self-aware enough to remember our failings instead of promising falsehoods.

Rather than attacking how a would-be opponent has lived a life, we generally focus upon how we can help everyone's life improve. We seek people of passion and substance; we seek men and women that are capable of helping us make our political Union “more perfect” – real people, for the real challenges of real life.

We do not excuse failings easily, but neither do we see personal failures through a public lens. We believe in the virtue of privacy; we accept that most people will learn from failure, most people will try to do better in the future knowing what they could not have known previously.

We value the power of experience – especially the tough kind. We seek men and women that have lived life and learned from mistakes made. And while we hope our elected leaders have an ability to control behaviors – we understand the daily, weekly, and lifelong struggles of wrestling with human nature.

Perhaps, this election has proven something else. Perhaps, the Democratic Party has always been the party of family values all along.

Democrats care not only about good policy, but about good relationships – we seek a nation, state, and community that values people – even flawed people – with the courage to address their individual shortcomings and remake their lives.

This faith in the promise of humanity is an important value: it is why we seek strong schools, a safe environment, equal rights, and transparency in our politics – we know we are flawed, fundamentally so, but we love each other anyway.

Sometime ago I told an audience I believed (and I still do) that if Jesus were alive today – and an American – he would be a Democrat. An experienced carpenter (he would be a proud member of the union) that spent his adult life fighting for those without a voice, Jesus would have identified with the inherent values of compassion, honesty, and redemption.

Jesus was unafraid of the dispossessed, the poor, and the unclean. He was a champion that could have used force to achieve his ends, but understood the enduring power of faith, hope, and love. And his faith was revolutionary – it was an unapologetic justification for rethinking the purpose of sacred and secular truths. His ministry remains a legacy of lifting people up – and tearing hypocrisy down.

In the end, the election of Sanford – taken in context with the decade-long reversals of fate and fortune within the Republican Party – have demonstrated at least one thing: “Family Values” has become a Trojan Horse for the Republican Party.

Sanford’s election has ripped the final cloth away from the façade – and we are all the better for it.

We should all write a letter of thanks for the return of the “Honorable Mark Sanford” from the Great State of South Carolina – the underlying truths about the GOP now revealed for the world to see – may actually save our Republic.

Let us remind our family, friends, and neighbors of what we know to be the truth now, of what has always been the truth about our America: we are stronger together than apart, we are better when we lift each other up than tear each other down, and that our values – our human values – are an essential part of the Democratic Party.

Forgiveness and redemption are powerful forces for progress; it will be interesting to see if the Republican Party (post-Sanford’s election) continues to foster these values or retreats to the hypocrisy of this previous decade.

The good news is that each, every time a Republican Party candidate, political strategist, or spokesperson dares to assert the absolute necessity of Family Values in practice as well as in principle... the example of Mark Sanford can, and will, be used to demonstrate the absolute hypocrisy of the present GOP.

Hallelujah - the truth shall set us free.

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