Chris Verner column: Lost in the political wilderness

Published 12:00 am Saturday, June 27, 2009

I’ll say at least this much for noted outdoorsman and S.C. Gov. Mark Sanford: He’s suddenly made former N.C. Gov. Mike Easley look a whole lot better.
A couple of weeks ago, Easley couldn’t have gotten himself elected dogcatcher if he’d rolled around in Alpo and hung a ham bone from his neck. Now, the guy is starting to appear positively statesmanlike, especially if you consider how many of our statesmen attract the attention of federal investigators. In fact, his political fortunes have improved to the point that any day now, I expect Easley to follow the example of numerous other prominent N.C. Democrats and announce he won’t run against Sen. Richard Burr.
At least when Easley spent gobs of taxpayer money on “trade missions” to foreign countries in the company of a lovely woman with expensive tastes, she turned out to be his wife. When Easley decided to vanish from public view ó which pretty much describes his daily schedule during his second term as governor ó he wasn’t wandering the pampas like some love-sick gaucho but was holed up in the catacombs of the executive mansion, helping Mary Easley polish her resume. And when he wrote e-mails, they didn’t read like something pulled from the reject pile at Harlequin Romance.
Sample Sanford e-mail to his Argentinian mistress:
“You have a particular grace and calm that I adore. You have a level of sophistication that so fitting (sic) with your beauty. I could digress and say that you have the ability to give magnificent gentle kisses, or that I love your tan lines or that I love the curve of your hips, the erotic beauty of you holding yourself (or two magnificent parts of yourself) in the faded glow of the night’s light ó but hey, that would be going into sexual details…”
Thanks to Governor Sanford’s e-mails, we now know the tragic consequences that result when a family-values conservative starts channeling Fabio. I really don’t care whether he continues as governor, but can we at least get a court order taking away his Internet privileges?
By contrast, here’s a sample Easley e-mail to his wife:
“Spent morning doing woodworking in basement, then vacuumed and swept out garage. Spent afternoon wrecking race cars ó love the curves at Lowe’s Motor Speedway! Also bought some beach property and test-drove new Honda that Rick Hendrick dropped off. Sweet! Any word yet on new contract?”
OK, I made up the Easley e-mail, but I had no choice because the governor is a modest man who is reluctant to bare his private thoughts and hence encouraged his staff to delete old e-mails taking up valuable public space on their hard drives. Later, Easley clarified that he meant for them to delete only “frivolous” e-mails. I think that’s the same term Richard Nixon used in his directions to Rose Mary Woods just before she obliterated 18 minutes of the Watergate tapes.
Actually, in the interest of fairness and balance, I think we need to include another excerpt from Governor Sanford’s e-mails to his South American honeyó one that reveals a more earthy, grounded side to this Low Country Lothario:
“Though I have started every day by 6, this morning woke at 4:30 … and I went out and ran the excavator with lights until the sun came up. To me, and I suspect no one else on earth, there is something wonderful about listening to country music playing in the cab, air conditioner running, the hum of a huge diesel engine in the background, the tranquility that comes with being in a virtual wilderness of trees and marsh, the day breaking and vibrant pink coming alive in the morning clouds ó and getting to build something with each scoop of dirt. … Enough about my love of heavy equipment and woods at sunrise …”
As you can see, Governor Sanford is not simply some molasses-tongued middle-aged fool who writes embarrassingly bad mash notes. He’s a middle-aged fool who retains his love of the great outdoors and diesel fumes. In fact, I suspect he didn’t concoct his story about hiking in the mountains out of thin air. Initially, he probably had every intention of firing up his excavator and driving it onto the Appalachian Trail because, really, what could more closely connect a man to unspoiled wilderness than sitting atop a throbbing diesel excavator at dawn with the air-conditioner blasting and George Strait’s “Let’s Fall to Pieces Together” wailing on the stereo? If Thoreau had gotten his hands on a diesel excavator, he wouldn’t have settled for any mere Walden Pond. He’s have scooped out 10 miles of Walden Canal and at least a couple of Walden Lakes.
Yes, clearly Governor Sanford is one of those manly men who loves nothing better than to rise at dawn, observe the great beauty of wilderness and then get to work on it with his air-conditioned diesel excavator. If you don’t get this, you probably just don’t understand the way the political mind works. Or maybe you just don’t understand South Carolina, of which Gen. Robert E. Lee reputedly once said: “It’s too small to be an independent country and too big to be an insane asylum.”
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Chris Verner is editorial page editor of the Salisbury Post.