South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford
(June 2009)

South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford's weird six-day disappearance from the state fits a lot of Ethics Scoreboard categories. It could be an Ethics Dunce: could the Governor really think that it is responsible conduct for the elected head of a state to just disappear without letting his staff or constituency know where he is? It could be an Easy Call: there’s really nothing to debate. Is there? Going AWOL in any job is unethical, and for a leader, it is infinitely worse. Sanford’s disappearing act sets a terrible example for the state employees who work for him, and it is a major breach of duty to the residents of South Carolina

But I’ve decided to put him in the Liar of the Month category, in part because this aspect of his disappearance is in the process of being ignored by the media as they pounce on the tabloid juiciness of his extra-marital affair. Indeed, one member of the state legislature told CNN that the governor’s honesty about the real reason for his sojourn---that he was visiting a paramour in Argentina---would endear him to South Carolinians, who would then rally to his support. He’s human, you see.

But being governor of a state requires a bit more in the way of credentials than being the appropriate species. This governor abdicated his duties for six days and gave his staff false information that he knew would be passed on to the media and the public. No subsequent episode of truth-telling can alter that fact, which shows Mark Sanford to be devious, deceptive, and willing to mislead the public for personal gain. That is the primary significance of the whole absurd story.

The reasons for his disappearance? Secondary. Sanford would be a liar and an irresponsible, untrustworthy leader even if he had taken off to secretly play Dungeons and Dragons in the woods, or attend a model railroad enthusiast convention in Toledo, or to participate in a Gilbert and Sullivan festival in London. That he was visiting his own little Argentine firecracker ( Rest soundly, Wilbur Mills!) and cheating on his wife obviously make the governor less admirable than these other activities would, but even without considering what he was doing, we know that he can’t be believed or trusted.

You ex-Governor Blagojevich. And ex-Governor Spitzer. And ex-Governor McGreevey. And my personal favorite for duplicity and hypocrisy, ex-presidential candidate John Edwards.

How is Sanford different from these disgraced politicians? Only the ex- part of their titles, that’s all.

Let’s hope Sanford has that soon. He’s certainly earned it.

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