The Non-Expert

Poster by Phil von Phul

Letters to a Young Philanderer

Experts answer what they know. The Non-Expert answers anything. This week we channel our inner Governor Sanford to explain the ways of windbags nationwide.

Have a question? Need some advice? Ignored by everyone else? Send us your questions via email. The Non-Expert handles all subjects and is updated on Fridays, and is written by a member of The Morning News staff.


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Question: How do you get up in the morning and retain your optimism about the world after a long night of arrogant windbag assholes on television news? Please do not recommend turning off the television; that is unfortunately not an option for me. I eagerly anticipate your ridiculous assistance. Sincerely, Mike

Answer: I won’t begin in any particular spot. Let me just start by saying I had a conversation with Gina Smith this morning—do you know Gina? Truly, you should—when I arrived in Atlanta and I told her about my love of the Appalachian Trail. I used to organize hiking trips. Actually, when I was in high school I would get a soccer coach or a volleyball coach to act as chaperone, and then I’d get folks to pay me $60 each, or whatever it was, to take the trip, and then off we’d go and have these great adventures on the Appalachian Trail.

And I told her of adventure trips both in college, when I was a campus representative for Eastern Airlines and I could fly free, which meant I’d duct-tape $100 in singles to my legs and either find a job there with locals or come back, or come on home, or elsewhere.

And I told her about my years in Congress, and of different adventure trips like driving around Lake Baikal, or lizard ranching in New Zealand. Because what I have found in this job is that one desperately needs a break from the bubble. The lizard-hive, as it is said. Wherein these worlds in every word, every syllable is recorded, just to completely take a break is necessary. And I’ve found that to be true in trips to the farm, or in trips to places further far-flung.

And all those things were true.

When I spoke, I spoke about the profound frustrations that I felt over this last legislative session. Just listen to me here, because in the battle that was in place with the government stimulus package, right there on those fields with those men and that $700 million in play, and how at an emotional level I found it exhausting!

So I tried making as good a stand as I could—and not for further political office.

Anybody who has observed Jenny over the last 20 years of my life knows how closely she has stood by my side in campaign after campaign after campaign, domestically.Which was interesting. See this is always viewed as: Are you doing this to climb some further political office grandstand tier? Whereas it was always based, for me and yes for others, on that idea that I genuinely believed that it actually would be bad for the taxpayers, and I made that stand as I truly did.

So, are you listening? Are you getting on this frequency now? Because now we begin. All those things we talked about this morning, Gina and me, were true, but still for being true they are not the whole story, no. And that’s obviously why you are writing me right now.

Let me lay it out, that larger story. I’m a bottom-line kind of guy. You’ve heard that. Alright. Well I will lay it out on multiple tiers, but on one primary base plane most of all, and that’s true here and abroad.

It’s gonna hurt, and in so doing then we will let the chips fall where they may.

Let me begin first of all by apologizing to my wife Jenny, and our four great boys Marshall, Landon, Bolton, and Blake for letting them down. One of the primary roles well before being governor or man or member of this universe is being a father to those four boys who are absolute jewels and blessings that I’ve let down in a truly profound way. Full stop. And I apologize to them.

And though I may not like apologizing within this realm, understand me, given the immediacy of your wanting my advice and my proximity to them and you simultaneously, in the dead center between you and them—square in this eye as drawn—this is the first step in what many will consider to be a very long process on that front!

I would secondly say to Jenny—no, first listen.

Anybody who has observed Jenny over the last 20 years of my life knows how closely she has stood by my side in campaign after campaign after campaign, domestically, and literally by truly being my campaign manager in word and tooth and nail. And then the raising of those four profound, absolute boys, and also in a whole world and host of other things throughout the lives that we’ve built together here in this world now?

I lost my place. More than you will know or come to know.

Hear me now and hear me here.

I apologize to my staff, because as much as I did talk about going to the Appalachian Trail—that was one of the original scenarios that I had thrown out to Mary Neal—it isn’t where I ended up.

And so I let down in my fall those who by witnessing a fiction with regard to where I was going (and also by any subsequent suggestions pertaining as to what I would be doing, —which means concretely and with no minor smarting pain that I let down so many, many people, given as so many people relied on this information, here and before, across this blessed state and even internationally) were of a nation fooled, this great country of faith and golden plains whom I have, obviously, disappointed.

And so I want to apologize again. And I will not stop that wanting, and you will not stop me from that wanting, neither today nor tomorrow nor in days to come after that.

I have, today, in the most profound way I’ve witnessed, I have let down the Tom Davises of the world, and we and they know who they are through what means I cannot explain.I want to apologize to good friends. You know who they are in your life and I know who they are in mine. They bring us peace. So let us think of Tom Davis, that man who came over to the house today. He who drove up from Beaufort, and he who has been an incredibly dear friend for such a very long time.

In my first race for governor he lived in the basement and we called it “Jurassic Park.”

And all kinds of different folks were thusly living there during the campaign and he gave of his time and of his limitless talents and with his efforts for ideas that he believed in and that we used to smite those who opposed us, those who would not try and make a difference in and with and because of those ideas!

And so I have, today, in the most profound way I’ve witnessed, I have let down the Tom Davises of the world, and we and they know who they are through what means I cannot explain.

Michael, breathe with me. Listen now to me and hear me, please. On a ride this morning, prior to responding to your letter, I called the house. In the background I could hear my parents-in-law, who had come up to be with Jenny. These beautiful people, I’ve let them down.

You know, I had the most surreal of conversations with my father-in-law. Let him down, too, you know, but sure, I was laying some cards on the table, all hands on deck and such, and he was incredibly gentlemanly—as you cannot imagine—in saying here were some things I was struggling with in regard to where my heart was, where I was in life, those different kinds of things? I let him down.

I’ve let down a lot of people. That’s the bottom line, as I said.

Forgiveness is not an immediate process. It is in fact a process that takes time and I’ll be in that process for quite some weeks and months and, I suspect, years ahead. But I’m here because if you were to look at God’s laws, Mike, in every instance they are designed to protect people from themselves.

And in this regard let me throw one more apology out there, and that is to people of faith across South Carolina and this great golden nation or for that matter across the galaxy we exist in, because I think that one of the big disappointments in the grand scheme when—and look, believe it or not, that is your choice, see, but I’ve been a person of faith all my life—if somebody falls within the fellowship of believers, I think it makes it that much harder for we believers to say, “Well, where does that person come from?” Or folks that weren’t believers will say, “Where indeed was that person coming from?”

So one more apology in there.

But I guess, Mike, where I’m trying to go with this here is there are moral absolutes. That God’s law indeed is there in word and in cosmic wonder to protect you from yourself, and there are consequences if you breach that by your deliberate or accidental actions as you set them forth into continual motion. So this letter to you is a consequence.

Believe me.

And so the bottom line is the following: I’ve been unfaithful to my wife. I have developed a relationship with what started as a dear, dear friend from Argentina.

Hope that answers your question, Mike.

Mark Sanford
Governor, South Carolina


TMN Contributing Writer Clay Risen’s first attempt to build a website fell apart after he learned that had been bought by a hardcore Christian rock band. Clay is a senior staff editor at the New York Times and the author, most recently, of The Bill of the Century: The Epic Battle for the Civil Rights Act. He lives in Brooklyn. More by Clay Risen