It is not without some irony that I note that South Carolina's special election is being held two days after the world celebrates the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ for our sins. His promise of true Hope is not just for congressmen who sin, like me, or for my friend Mark Sanford. It is for all of us, because there is no person on earth who does not need forgiveness and grace.
That said, forgiveness is not the same as promising no consequences for sin. When you are a public official, elected as I was in 1994 and served 16 years in Congress, an affair is certainly grounds for some skepticism, at least as it relates to one's private life. I personally felt that because I had been a leader in fighting for family values, and an outspoken evangelical Christian, resignation was the proper decision. It was necessary to save my marriage, which was solidly-based, and spare the correct worldview - that I had advocated and continue to know as true - additional embarrassment. Because we struggle to follow what is right, does not change what is the truth.
After my election in 1994 I became one of Mark Sanford's many friends in Congress. In fact we became close friends and firebrands in the Class of 1994. As a small band of hard-core activists who decided to aggressively take on the Washington establishment, it was clear that Congressman Sanford was specially knowledgeable and interested in budget issues. With his personal financial background and passion, he quickly became a leader.
Mark had a special drive to tackle the most pressing challenge of all: entitlement programs. Simply put, entitlement spending exceeds all revenue collected. No real reform comes without courage, to avoid the type of fiscal crisis Europe already is facing.
Now to be fair, Mark Sanford favored cutting about everything, and not just when trying to save our retirement programs. Mark Sanford is far more libertarian than I. In fact, we had friendly jousts, and sometimes less friendly, on many issues. To me, without a social and cultural order based on Judeo-Christian values, all this debate about budgets is irrelevant. I am a traditionalist conservative with libertarian streaks.
Mark Sanford doesn't disagree with me on most of issues in general but his libertarian focus was reducing spending and the size of government. This is illustrated by the fact that for years Mark Sanford slept on a futon in his office. I rented a ridiculously over-priced apartment, even though his personal financial assets dwarfed mine. He was just tight.
This election presents an interesting choice to South Carolinian voters. I am a social conservative first, and I believe if the Republican Party abandons those voters (as it seems determined to do) it will become the Whig Party. Mark Sanford presents the other challenge. Must every candidate be judged by moral issues, both public and past mistakes?
I also believe that in Washington right now we have a large group of well-meaning, somewhat wandering-around House Members who could use a guy guts and very specific skills. Every major experience that Mark Sanford has gone through would be helpful. Mark knows the coastal South Carolina area, and has already represented it in Congress. He has a proven public record of being a tightwad. He has demonstrated that he would stand up to the House leadership to force spending controls, as he also did at his political peril as governor of South Carolina.
He combines intelligence with political courage, which in Washington at times tend to be disconnected. The voters he asks for support have given it to him overwhelmingly in the past.
So let's don't kid ourselves. Mark Sanford is fighting only one issue: will his personal actions be forgiven? Just because God forgives you, and Christians are mandated by God to do so as well - hopefully people learned something over Easter weekend - doesn't mean you are promised the right to have your old job as a public leader back.
When I first saw Mark Sanford on the House floor shortly after his infamous, lengthy confession, he was a beaten man. He wondered what was left for him after making a mistake so big. Was he ruined? Mark always was probing about this and that, challenging assumptions.
But this was different: he was vulnerable, searching in a different way, concerned about his boys, embarrassed among peers, supporters, friends and strangers. Most people have experienced shame at some time in their life, but not the depths of international humiliation. Let me assure you, it is miserable.
When Mark represented South Carolina before, he was not a social conservative leader, so this is not new. I would argue that, ironically, Mark Sanford is still the same talented leader South Carolina sent to Washington before only chastened by the fruits of his sin, there is a humility and understanding of grace that would make him more influential than ever. We conservatives get furious at those moderates who refuse to back candidates who lead with pro-life issues. I would hope social conservative voters practice what they preach, because there is no question that Congress could really use Mark Sanford right now.
Mark Souder (R) represented Indiana in the U.S. House from 1995 to 2010. He is an adjunct professor at Trine University, a WOWO News political analyst, and columnist for the Fort Wayne News-Sentinel.
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