Let us presume that Gov. Mark Sanford (R-SC) will indeed return to work today, safe and sound, fresh from a long hike along the Appalachian trial, and that the state government figures out why so much misinformation about the circumstances surrounding his absence was spread. That still leaves us with the question: what's with this guy?
Number one: he's eccentric. He's especially eccentric about his schedule and his privacy. He has apparently checked out in this way before, particularly after bruising battles. That's his way. That's sort of admirable, if you think about it. Very few of us have the resolve (or, to be sure, the economic latitude), to schedule a few days of complete downtime after a really tough week at the office. We don't value our free time; we don't wind down. Sanford does.
Number two: as the executive officer of a government, he has, in essence, a formal and probably legal responsibility to the people of his state to be in office at all times, and short of that, to find a way to responsibly and transparently and temporarily transfer power to a subordinate. That's a basic, and usually obvious, cost of seeking public office. Even if South Carolinians support his choice to check out, it is rather arrogant of him to presume that his executive authority is untethered to his interactions with other human beings.
Number three: he is private. He keeps his schedule to himself and often keeps key staff out of the loop. His wife is OK with that. It invites titillating speculation, even if there is no foundation for it. The speculation is beneath his dignity, but he is its direct cause.
Sanford was not popular among Republicans lawmakers in South Carolina when the year began. His bruising battle with the state legislators and courts over the federal stimulus package was just one of many significant political defeats. (The legislature overturned 10 vetoes on its final day in session.) It's understandable that he wants to get away from it all. But the people of South Carolina didn't elect him to take breaks or feel sorry for himself. They're not dictators of his time, either. But by disappearing without a trace, without a security detail, without a transfer of power plan (even to his hated LG), without any word of his whereabouts, he evinces a disrespect for South Carolinians, for everyone who works for him directly, and for every other government actor he interacts with.
It's great for journalists, though!
Marc Ambinder is a senior fellow at the USC Annenberg Center on Communication Leadership and Policy.