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Opinion: Columnists

Noemie Emery: Please don't embarrass us again, Mark Sanford

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Nowhere in the Constitution is it written that among the qualifications one must have to hold office is to be a good father, a good husband and a faithful adherent to marital vows.

This has been fortunate as, had it been otherwise, we would have missed out on a number of indispensable people and perhaps lost a number of wars. In theory, virtue is one seamless web, but practice says otherwise.

So from time immemorial, men such as Alexander Hamilton and David Petraeus, who would have died many times over before betraying their country, didn't flinch at betraying their wives.

Benjamin Franklin and Gouverneur Morris, two notorious rakes, helped launch this republic. Martin Luther King and John Kennedy had dissolute streaks that ran contrary to their strong sense of duty as citizens.

Their "kin under the skin" was the British statesman Duff Cooper, who (according to a memoir by one of his illegitimate children) was a serial adulterer on the JFK level, which did not stop him from resigning from Neville Chamberlain's Cabinet in protest of Munich and being one of the small group around Winston Churchill who helped to save England and, perhaps, the world.

This being said, one must say too that former South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford is not one of this number, and that his decision to run for his old House seat, along with the insistence last year of Rep. Todd Akin, R-Mo., to run for Senate, an ego trip of insane dimensions that should have never been taken at all.

Hamilton graces the $10 bill despite his affair with Mrs. Maria Reynolds (and Franklin the $100 bill), and all the above are now thought of kindly because of one critical fact: For all of their flaws they were true to their vows made to their causes and countries, and stood by them all to the death.

They didn't let private affairs leech into and complicate the business of governance. Whatever they did, they were stoical in public. They vowed to tend to the public's affairs, and they did.

They didn't disappear for six days, claim to be "hiking" and turn out to have been in a faraway country, give weepy press conferences about midlife crises, vanish, reappear, and use a runoff victory after a primary as a coming-out party to spring a new fiancee on the world.

"GOP frets Mark Sanford could blow it," Politico reports. "GOP pols don't like him. Neither do female voters. His campaign is largely an exercise in seeking forgiveness. ... [His] liabilities could force outside groups to spend precious resources doing his dirty work, all to salvage a district that Mitt Romney won by 18 points."

No one in his state's delegation has backed him; two of the House members backed one of his rivals, and Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., the rising star whose appointment opened up the House seat in question, attacked him four years ago when Sanford refused to resign his position as governor, signing a letter that criticized him for bad judgment, worse leadership and the "disarray" he had brought on his state.

Note that "disarray" is applied to the state, not to Sanford's family, the private part of the story of which no mention is made. No one takes a vow to be faithful or chaste when he assumes office, but it is assumed he understands he is not to disgrace it, serve as a laughingstock or make himself and his party an object of ridicule.

It seems a small thing to ask, and most people in public life understand it. Now and then, we are learning, someone appears who does not.

Examiner Columnist Noemie Emery is contributing editor to The Weekly Standard and author of "Great Expectations: The Troubled Lives of Political Families."

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Noemie Emery

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The Washington Examiner