Now that some time has elapsed and some things are clearer, let’s take a comparative look at the Mark Sanford tryst alongside some of the most recent cases of political infidelities and sex scandals. I think that in time, the Sanford episode could become a hit sellout movie, to which the lovelorn will be encouraged to bring lots of tissues, while all the other acts of unfaithfulness will be used as I use them here: to highlight the melancholy of the Sanford heartbreak.
The most infamous case is the one involving Bill Clinton. It caused pandemonium in the country and nearly led to the downfall of the Clinton Administration, but it would make a lousy movie, because it wasn’t about anything emotional. There was no romance involved; this was about power over an admiring subordinate and oral sex , commonly referred to as getting (or giving) some head.
Governor James McGreevey, of New Jersey, lived a lie all of his life until his paid Israeli male lover squeezed him for hush money. He came out of the closet with his wife at his side and declared himself a “Gay American.” His story was told in an honest and upright way, and the ex-governor has moved on by leaving his wife, getting out of politics and finding a male lover with whom he now lives. Although the ex-governor discarded his heterosexual mask in an honorable fashion, there is not enough here to make a movie for a general audience.
Then we have the cases of Governor Elliot Spitzer and Senator David Vitter, who purchased their sexual pleasures from prostitutes. These disclosures caused the downfall of the governor, who nearly swallowed his own face on television and brought great ridicule to the senator for exposing his wife to the press and the country in so shabby a manner. She looked dazed and stood apart from him, as if he had something contagious. I was in the army many years ago and got to understand why young soldiers in strange towns or countries turned to hookers on payday, but someone will have to explain to me why wealthy politicians with great power and many ambitious, admiring females turn to whores; the answer may be found on a psychologist's couch, but there is no movie here.
Next we have the taboo pair; Congressman Mark Foley and Senator Larry Craig. Foley, the newspapers said, had once been seduced by a priest when he was in his pre-teens. He went on to live a half-open, half-closeted sexual existence, until he was busted for sending sexually salacious emails to young male congressional pages, resulting in his resignation and disgrace. I don’t think there is enough there for a successful movie. The Craig thing comes close to being movie material, a comedy for sure, but one scene in a stall in a men’s toilet in an airport cannot fill the time required for a full length movie, wide stance or not. Nor does the spectacle of a US senator holding a press conference with his wife at his side declaring that he is not, and has never been, a homosexual. We’d need to know more. It may be odd, but there is no hint of Foley and Craig ever hooking up, politically or otherwise, and until there is some evident of this occurrence, there isn’t a movie here either.
John Edwards was seduced by an ambitious groupie in a weak moment (I like John Edwards) and made to behave in a particularly bad manner. Sexually cheating on a wife sick with cancer is really atrocious and nearly unforgivable for his wife, but completely unforgivable for those of us (like myself) who admired him and had hoped that he would have emerged in some role in the Obama Administration, working to alleviate poverty in America. There are many mysterious elements to this tale, such as is the baby his, but not yet the stuff of a good Love Story movie.
Senator John Ensign screwed his Chief of Staff by screwing his Chief of Staff’s wife. Now that’s some low-life stuff. Then his family paid nearly a hundred grand to the victimized family. That sounds criminal, but no movie here.
Of all the recent cases of political infidelity, Mark Sanford is the purest, and most wonderful; the one which would make a lovely movie. A middle-aged married governor, enchanted by a shapely Argentinean with marriage problems, is struck instantly and insanely with the recognition that she is his “soulmate,” the one person in the entire universe whose existence completes his existence; answers all the mysteries of the galaxies, proves the existence of God and perhaps, teaches him to tango. In the governor’s own words, “This is a Love Story.” And what a tearjerker of a movie it would make. This is also a story with multiple emotional dimensions which will hook the viewer’s interest.
Here are some of the components that the movie could explore: 1) A middle-aged man with a wife of nearly twenty years and four sons falls blindly in love for the very first time. So blindly in love is he that he mindlessly abandons his duties to his state and his family to fly off to see his lover. A father with four sons — missing on Father’s Day. 2) A successful careerist in government who is being talked about for the pinnacle position in American politics, risks it all to suffer the sometimes painful euphoria of true love. Just as the Duke of Windsor abdicated the crown of England to marry an American, Mark Sanford gave up a shot at the presidency by revealing his Love Story. 3) A self-proclaimed pious man, Sanford seems remarkably unrepentant that his infidelity rubs against his religious traditions, but is strangely comfortable quoting scripture to resurrect his reputation. 4) The combative relationship between the extremely conservative governor and his very conservative state legislature and what role his love interest had in his misjudgments in state business, he was prepared to lay off sorely needed essential school teachers and first responders needlessly. 5) The movie would employ flashbacks to Sanford’s days in the C Street house and whatever indoctrination he received from his membership in the secret group of Christian Bible-studying politicians. 6) The movie would also explore the role of the cult La Difunta Correa in Sanford’s predicament. Deolina Correa was a woman whose husband fought in the Argentine civil war in 1840. She picked up her baby boy and followed her husband’s battalion into battle. In San Juan, the dislocation caused by war created shortages of all sorts. Correa suffered from starvation and thirst and eventually she died. A group of soldiers found her body days later. Her son was still alive and nursing from her breast. Because of this perceptible miracle, people built shrines in her name in Vallecito, where she was buried. Her followers believe that Deolina Correa has supernatural powers and each year they make a pilgrimage to her grave, leaving gifts of food and water for miracles that they believe she performed. Did someone go to Deolina Correa with gifts of food and water to produce such bizarre behavior in Sanford? Look, what man would ask his wife for permission to visit his outside lover? What leader of a poor (in so many ways) state would reject money to help the people of his jurisdiction withstand a harsh downturn in the economy? Did someone enlist the aid of La Difunta Correa? 7) Finally, the movie would end with the great dilemma: Will the governor fall back in love with his wife of nearly twenty years and reconcile with his four sons, or, will he abandon his past to follow his heart and fly off to Argentina to tango in blissful harmony with his soulmate? Will he admit that he was wrong to reject the stimulus money and then use his final months in office to spend the money productively, creating jobs and improved schools? What a script!
Of course, the movie would have to deal with side issues, such as the governor lying to his staff, disabling the tracking device on his state-owned vehicle, using state money to visit his lover, and explaining about all those other women he admitted “crossing the line” with, but the central theme would be the Shakespearean nature of the love tragedy. I’m a South Carolinian, and I wouldn’t mind seeing the leader of my state portrayed as a vulnerable human, as we all are. So I’m making an appeal to anyone who can make this movie happen to please step up.
Marjory Wentworth is the Poet Laureate of South Carolina and a friend of Jenny Sanford. I have met Ms. Wentworth a time or two at different literary affairs in Charleston and we have exchanged emails. Ms. Wentworth’s husband is an award-winning film producer. I’ve never met him, but when I do, I will pitch the Sanford movie project to him. I hope he doen’t simply tell me to go take a hike.