Eliot Spitzer, Anthony Weiner, Mark Sanford, and the Politics Of Second Chances


When my former governor, Mark Sanford, recently won South Carolina’s 1st congressional district seat this past May, I was shocked.  

Many political experts, citizens of the Palmetto State, and even some faithful Republicans believed that there wasn’t a sliver of hope for the former governor to woo us Southerners again. At the same time raise the enormous amounts money to support a high-profile congressional campaign against a female candidate with instant name recognition as Elizabeth Colbert Busch. (the sister of famous TV show host Steven Colbert).

Sanford had not only given South Carolinians a black eye on the national stage, but was clearly branded and viewed as CNN Politics put it eloquently, as someone “whose political career was left for dead along the Appalachian Trail after an extramarital affair.” If these weren’t strong enough reasons to believe the governor was wasting his and the voters time campaigning, a few weeks ahead of the special election the National Republican Congressional Committee backed out of their fundraising operations for him. With the NRCC deciding at a critical time in Sanford’s efforts to raise capital to not to fund anymore of his campaign, it would be seen by most as the final blow in his chances of getting elected, right?  

Well, you, me, and everyone else was then stunned when the South Carolina voters of the 1st congressional district selected Mark Sanford back as the congressman to represent their concerns in the district.

With the recent statement by former Governor of New York Eliot Spitzer announcing that he has officially decided to run for New York City comptroller and the former Congressman Antony Weiner who announced in mid-May that he would be running for mayor of New York City, it brings a new and invigorated discussion on the relationship between voters and the politicians they elect. As you might recall, all three of these men have something very distinctive in common, and it’s not that they are all three old white men or that in some way they have had sexual interactions that would be deemed by most people’s standards to be highly inappropriate.  

However, they have an even greater and more distinguishable flaw within their recent actions that links them together; they have all committed in some way or form the cardinal sin in politics, breaking of trust with the constituent.

But amid the win by Mark Sanford, the mayor poll in the NYC race revealing that Anthony Weiner is leading his opponents, and the media show that has been unleashed from Eliot Spitzer’s political announcement, you would never guess that this is an actual issue. Of course in today’s day and age the appetite for sensationalism and smut is at an all-time high for these individuals, groups, and companies covering the actual news. Now it seems that politics and sex are almost anonymous with one another, and with TV series such as the House of Cards glamorizing the relations of power and sex of political life on the hill it doesn’t lend to this idea either.

However, if you dig deeper, past the surface of the seductive titles and the perverse discussions of the politicians and their affairs, you will encounter an interesting and well worthy discussion of the back and forth dynamics between the politician and the voter. As George Packer of the New Yorker puts it, “politicians desperately need the embrace of the people.” And here he or she is, back from his hiatus and humiliation to the spotlight once again, face to face with the public but more importantly the voter, his community, his family, and his friends to get that affection he frantically desires. And when they return, because they always do, how is it that they so easily re-appeal and reconnect to their disenfranchised base and voters who they hurt and embarrassed? 

There is not one single love potion that pulls the politician and voter lip to lip once again. However, there is one area that each candidate has to focus on if they expect to win back the voters affections. The other reasons are handled free of charge thanks to our contemporary political system. 

Apologize! It really has become that simple. Admit your mistakes, take ownership of your actions or at least try and it sure helps if you ask for forgiveness or claim to be a changed man or woman who has most recently re-found God. Let’s face the facts, people love a comeback story. It’s the DNA that makes us human and has shaped many a perspective on what it is to be an American. A rags to riches redemption story where the star falls from grace or rises from the ashes, only to find his way home and his dreams made true by his determination, hard work, and humbleness. The other factors that pull this all together are the political geography of districts in the United States and the high percentage of people who vote for incumbents or past elected officials. The political landscape that the Republicans and Democrats have equally made with redistricting and gerrymandering have left districts literally only winnable by the republican or democratic majority who now reside there. Finally, the love affair the voter has with the incumbent rounds out this checklist.  \As Steve Daly of the Chicago Tribune stated, “last year, 98% of the House incumbents seeking re-election were re-elected.”

These numbers displayed by the voting booth show the contentedness with re-electing the incumbent. With the combinations of the comeback story, political redistricting by both parties, and the lackadaisical contentment with the incumbent combined, it ensures that the voter and politician will be in admiration for a long time.