Like 'Lazarus,' Mark Sanford Returns To Office

May 10, 2013

Transcript

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

This is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. I'm Michel Martin. Coming up, even for devoted Christians reading every word of the bible may be a once in a lifetime challenge. In a minute, we'll hear from a man who decided to copy the entire book by hand. And he tells us he's not even particularly religious. We'll think you'll be intrigued by what he has to say in a few minutes.

But first, we want to check in on some of the top political stories of the week with two of our seasoned political observers. Keli Goff is a political correspondent for theroot.com. That's an online publication that features a variety of African-American voices. Here with us in Washington D.C. is Mary Kate Cary. She's a former speech writer for President George H. W. Bush. She's now a columnist and blogger for U.S. News and World Report.

Welcome back to you both. Thank you both so much for joining us.

KELI GOFF: Great to be back.

MARY KATE CARY: Yeah, thanks for having us.

MARTIN: Let's start with a big win in South Carolina for the former governor Mark Sanford, a Republican. He left office, I think it's fair to say, in disgrace, after an extramarital affair became public. He became an enduring late night talk show punch line after he disappeared for almost a week saying he'd been hiking the Appalachian Trail.

But it later turned out that he was lying because he was, in fact, visiting his mistress in Argentina. This week, though, Sanford won a special election for a congressional seat that he once held and here's a clip from that victory speech.

(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)

REPRESENTATIVE MARK SANFORD: Some guy came up to me the other day. He said you look a lot like Lazarus.

(LAUGHTER)

SANFORD: And I say that because if it was just about market-based ideas and limited government, this campaign would've been easily won a long time ago.

MARTIN: You know, speaking of that, Mary Kate, interesting ironies here. Speaking of late night punch lines.

CARY: Yes.

MARTIN: The Democratic challenger was Elizabeth Colbert Bush, who is Stephen Colbert's sister. But this is also a district that hasn't elected a Democrat in three decades. So should we be surprised or not? And are you popping the cork, another Republican win?

(LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: Or is it a little bit more icky than that?

CARY: Well, a win is a win.

GOFF: Technical term: icky.

CARY: Icky. High tech political term. No. I think a win is a win and Sanford ran a great campaign. And what he did was - he was right to recognize that this wasn't just about fiscal conservatives versus an Obama liberal. What he realized was this was about forgiveness. And his line, for example, that he wanted to thank the god of second and third and fourth chances, that plays well in South Carolina.

It probably wouldn't have played well in New York City. So he understood his electorate. He was smart when the national establishment kind of turns its back on him. He went and got the endorsements of Nikki Haley, Tim Scott, Lindsey Graham and that made it safe for local Republicans to vote for him. And that was very smart.

He ran an Avis: we try harder kind of campaign. A lot more turnout, a lot more events. He just did a great job.

MARTIN: Keli Goff, how do you read it?

GOFF: Well, I have to say I met, actually, Governor Sanford at the Republican National Convention and it was really interesting, the turn of events, because at that time he certainly wasn't a superstar. So he was just milling about the crowd. And I stopped him and asked him about his wedding plans. He wouldn't give me any scoop about when those would be taking place or what she'd be wearing - because I did ask - but he was charming and, you know, a nice guy.

I have to say, though, that I think a tweet from Daily Kos, sort of, summarized my feelings and those of a lot of others, which is that it's not that we're against forgiveness. It's not that I actually believe that someone's personal life in terms of what's going on with their spouse should always be used as a measuring stick in terms of whether or not they'd make a great elected official.

Because, you know, I'm sure we've all voted for plenty who are great on the job and not so great personally in their personal lives. But what the tweet said is, well, this makes it official. When Republicans say they are for family values they're really just saying they're against gay families. And I think that that - we have to talk about that, right?

Because for some reason when people say we support family values, we want people who are good god-fearing Christians in their family lives, and then you support someone who behaves this way; but then you turn around and say either a gay candidate is not appropriate or gay people shouldn't be able to adopt children, it really does raise the issue of hypocrisy and where that fits in the whole conservative idealism about family values.

MARTIN: Is this any different than Bill Clinton, though? I mean there are a lot of people who said...

CARY: Right.

MARTIN: ...I don't approve of his personal behavior, but since I don't approve of his personal behavior, I'll just be sure not to date him.

GOFF: Well, but the thing is, I don't think Bill Clinton ever used his personal life to define his politics. And I think that's what a lot of people have a problem with, is if someone like Newt Gingrich wasn't saying I don't consider gay families the same and therefore in terms of adopting children or having the same benefits as married couples, I think people would say, hey, it's not my business.

It's just not my business. Let him work it out at home. When people make that a part of their policymaking decisions it then screams hypocrisy and it makes it hard to ignore.

MARTIN: OK. Go ahead and take on...

CARY: The only thing I can say to that is...

MARTIN: A final thought there? Mm-hmm.

CARY: Mark Sanford's known as a fiscal conservative, not necessarily a social conservative. So I'm not sure he was leading with his chin on this by putting himself out there as a good example for everybody else.

MARTIN: But did he vote for Clinton's impeachment, though? Was he in the House at the time that President Clinton came up for impeachment?

CARY: You know, I'd have to check.

MARTIN: That's the other question...

CARY: Yeah.

MARTIN: ...sort of I think to a lot of people.

GOFF: I also think we know where he stands on gay marriage. So I'll leave it at that.

MARTIN: OK. All right. Well, speaking of, you know, kind of that line between what's personal and what's political, the current governor Chris Christie was in the news this week, the New Jersey governor, because he disclosed that through lap band surgery in February, he shed some 40 pounds. Let's listen briefly.

(SOUNDBITE OF STATEMENT)

GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE: I turned 50 years old and it made me think. I got confronted with, you know, your own, you know, mortality as you start to age. And so from my perspective, you know, this is about Mary Pat and the kids and me. It's really not about anybody else and it shouldn't be about anybody else.

MARTIN: Keli, I'll go to you first on this. This is one of those things that intrigues me, because on the one hand, we are all women in this conversation at the moment. Any woman who's been around - in or around politics at any point has talked about this, sort of, the unfair double standard that women seem to face. Their appearance is scrutinized in ways that just seem never to happen to men. And yet here's a man whose appearance is not just scrutinized, but constantly discussed.

GOFF: Yes.

MARTIN: With no shame at all. And so how do you feel about this? Should he have even had to have had this conversation?

GOFF: Well, you know, look. Obesity seems to sort of be the great equalizer, right? Because we know the studies in terms of how that affects people's perception. I will throw out something else that I found interesting in coming to the show today. Is that there is a book called "Beauty Pays" where an economist actually found that being more attractive actually ends up benefitting men more, professionally, in the long-term, than women.

Which I was shocked by, but he talked about this in the Wall Street Journal in terms of pay. Now, how that translates on the campaign trail, I'm not so sure. But we do know that there's sort of a perspective on people who are obese in this country and it's not a flattering one. And so I think whether you're a male candidate or a female candidate it would present a challenge.

We saw Mike Huckabee do something similar when he was prepping for a presidential run. So I think that, you know, he has - it's for his family but I also think he had strategists who were saying if you really want to do this, if you're serious, you need to address this issue.

MARTIN: But Mary Kate, is the difference, though, that people are talking about him running for president and is there a legitimate question about whether he would have the stamina...

CARY: Right.

MARTIN: ...to fulfill that office?

CARY: Right.

MARTIN: And so if you're just joining us, we're speaking with two of our trusted political observers; Mary Kate Cary who served in the George H. W. Bush administration. She now writes and blogs about politics. Also Keli Goff, the political correspondent for theroot.com. Mary Kate, what do you think about that?

CARY: Well, you know, I interviewed with Dick Cheney to join his campaign in 1996, and then he ultimately decided not to run for president. And I think a lot of his decision was based on the fact that he had these terrible heart problems. And I think there was sort of a question with voters if I vote for this guy is he going to keel over?

And I think that probably come into the matrix of Chris Christie's decision making. And in Dick Cheney's case, he couldn't do anything to fix that heart problem, but Chris Christie could. And so I think if he had the opportunity, he's taken it, and this is probably one of the reasons why he's doing it. Just like Mike Huckabee before he ran for president.

And these are all men we're talking about. These are not women. Because in my mind, obesity is a health issue, not an appearance issue.

GOFF: Can I also say too...

MARTIN: Sure. Mm-hmm.

GOFF: By the way, I love her for saying the term keel over.

(LAUGHTER)

CARY: Thank you very much.

GOFF: But I also think, too, that the uncomfortable thing we're not supposed to say out loud - but it's reality - is that obesity, sort of, falls in the same thing of some of the other unpleasantries, like smoking which we, you know, know President Obama struggled with, which is that people perceive it as a discipline issue. And fair or not, I think that that does sort of linger in the back of the minds of some Americans.

And that's the other reason that I think candidates feel more compelled to sort of address it.

MARTIN: Let me just clarify one more thing before we take on our last topic, which is that according to The Washington Post, former Governor Mark Sanford did vote to impeach President Clinton in the wake of his now-known affair with Monica Lewinsky. So...

CARY: That's interesting.

MARTIN: Just for whatever that means. Just for whatever that means.

And finally, the big news this week - and I apologize that we don't have a lot of time to talk about what is a fairly complicated and emotional issue. The other big news this week were the hearings on Capitol Hill regarding the incident at the United States Embassy in Benghazi, Libya, which resulted in the deaths of three Americans. I don't want to imply that by using the word incident that I am trivializing what was, in fact, terrible, terrible event.

But it seems as though conservatives have been raising questions about this for a very long time. And Mary Kate Cary, you know, is it fair to ask - I think there are a lot of people on the left who would say that this is just political theater to embarrass the administration. And I'd like to ask whether you think that might be true or not.

CARY: Yeah, there is definitely a lot of people on the left trying to say nothing to see here, please move on. And the larger purpose though, beyond political theater, is the question of, is leading from behind in the Middle-East working? And that's where I think it's starting to become the answer is no.

They've got two narratives that are developing through all of this. One is: Is the administration soft on terrorism? And their initial response is when they first won't say something's a terrorist attack when it's pretty obvious to everybody that it is - whether we're talking about Boston or Fort Hood or Benghazi. And the second is: Can the administration get their facts right?

And those two things are coming together in a way that's making the White House and the State Department look very vulnerable. And it's spreading now beyond - originally it was sort of a Fox News story. And now NBC is on it. Lisa Meyers - what's the other one? I'm sorry.

MARTIN: Sharyl Attkinsson for CBS.

CARY: CBS, that's the one.

MARTIN: Sure.

CARY: And so it is gaining some momentum. And I think it's because of those two narratives about terrorism and the truth.

MARTIN: Well, everybody's blood sugar must be low 'cause we're all forgetting things. It was actually four...

(LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: This is not a joke, I apologize. There was actually four Americans who lost their lives in that incident.

And Keli Goff, your point of view about this?

GOFF: Look, it's a tragedy and I don't want us to ever forget that there were lives lost. And so I never want to come across as diminishing that, 'cause it's not something to be diminished.

I will say however, though, for me the most shocking sort of revelation to come out of all of this is how much our government is relying on the news media to help them define policy agenda.

I mean that's to me what's been really stunning to come out of these hearings, is that even the report from Senator Collins and Senator Lieberman - who are not defenders of the administration - was that the media was playing a role in how all of the elected officials, and even the intelligence community, were sort of talking about this.

What I will say, though, is, in terms of political theater, the reality is everyone knows that Hillary Clinton is unstoppable. Republicans have even, you know, said that on and off the record. And the only thing that could possibly tarnish her, in terms of gliding into the White House, would really be something like this, like being perceived as having a soft on terror role that cost the lives of Americans.

So while this is a serious story, I do believe the response to it was a debacle in terms of how it was publicly discussed in the media. I don't think Hillary Clinton was at fault. I do think people are going to try to tie it to her, because that's the only thing that would prevent her from making it to the White House.

MARTIN: Unfortunately we don't have time to talk more. I want to hear next time when we talk about why it's so important for the administration to say terrorist. Is that like a sort of a - do you get brownie points for being first to use a certain word? I don't know.

(LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: So you can explain more about that.

CARY: OK.

MARTIN: OK. Mary Kate Cary is a...

CARY: Stay tuned.

MARTIN: ...former speech writer for President George HW Bush. She's now columnist and blogger with U.S. News & World Report. Keli Goff is political correspondent for TheRoot.com; that's an online publication that focuses on issues of particular interest to the black community.

Thank you both so much.

CARY: Thank you.

GOFF: Thanks so much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.