One Man's Case For Sanford And Palin

Just when the Mark Sanford and Sarah Palin moments seem to be at a close, Stanley Fish, offers a defense of the two beleaguered Republican governors in the New York Times. His point is that their rambling, televised speeches--both so criticized--represented genuine, authentic moments without guile or cunning. Palin was hurting; Sanford was in love. "So what's the bottom line story?," Fish, a literary theorist and legal scholar, notes "Simple. Sanford is in love. Palin is in pain. Sometimes what it seems to be is what it is." Fish acknowledges that he'd never in his right mind vote for Sanford or Palin but he saves his scorn for the pundits and critics who tried to discern deeper meaning in the statements of the two governors. Was Palin really running for president in '12? Was this how Sanford thought he'd resurrect his national ambition? It was clear amidst their rambling, unstructured statements, Fish observes, that there was no master plan. 

The Sanford and Palin cases would seem to me, to be alike in their bizarreness and their personal agony but different in more fundamental ways. Sanford's actions were clearly his own, the betrayal of his wife and family, the confusion about his Argentine liasion, the deception offered his staff and thus the citizens of South Carolina. Palin's resignation from the governorship was something considered, made collectively, she acknowledged, with the help of her husband and family and, presumably, those political advisors who continue to counsel her. Sanford's a lone nut but Palin's moves were more calculating.

That's not to diminish Fish's point that she probably abdicated the governorship because of personal pain rather than a circuitous plan to become president. But it makes her actions more considered and thus more ripe for inspection and scrutiny than those of Sanford who acted alone.

Still, Fish's point is a useful reminder that sometimes there's less artifice in politics than it seems. Yesterday, a CNN anchor asked whether Peter King, the Republican congressman from Long Island, was using Michael Jackson as a wedge issue for the Republicans. King had attacked the excessive coverage of the Jackson death and noted the entertainer's infamous behavior with children. But King's comments, initially given at a July 4 event with veterans, seemed like a normal citizens rage against Jacksonian excess and not some GOP masterstroke. Besides, who's to say how Jackson fans break down along party lines. It seemed more like a case of one many ranting than a political scheme. As Freud said, sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.

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Matthew Cooper is a managing editor (White House) for National Journal.

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