Saturday, June 27, 2009

The Argentine Firecracker

Gail Collins on the mark.

The only good news this week for Gov. Mark (“I love your tan lines”) Sanford is that all those celebrity deaths have knocked him off the top of the news cycle.

Poor Farrah Fawcett got knocked off the top of the page by Michael Jackson.

For the rest of us, the whole vanishing-governor-sneaks-off-to-visit-Argentine-squeeze has had a number of side benefits. The Appalachian Trail has certainly gotten a well-deserved shot of publicity. And I have to believe that business is booming for call-forwarding services.

Another big plus is that Governor Sanford has provided us with a chance to revisit little-remembered historical precedents for scandals involving American politicians and Argentine women.

O, yes: Fanne Foxe, “The Argentine Firecracker," who took a hysterical leap into the Tidal Basin after a fight with her inebriated escort, the House Ways and Means Chairman Wilbur Mills of Arkansas. I remember.

Foxe was a stripper at the Silver Slipper nightclub in Washington, and the married Mills began escorting her around during a period of major-league alcoholism. They were speeding past the Jefferson Memorial when they were stopped by police. Foxe jumped out, took a dive into the Tidal Basin, and pretty soon Mills was in the headlines and in disgrace.

Years later, after he had retired, dried out and returned to Washington as a tax lawyer, Mills told a Times reporter that during his Firecracker days, he was drinking a half-gallon of vodka a night and had hallucinations that buzzards were chasing him. As a result, he said, he lost control of his committee and failed to report out a bill in which he had a great interest.

“I had President Ford convinced on national health,” Mills said. “I could have passed it on the floor. But hell, I couldn’t get the damned committee to go with me. They had never failed to do that before, and I know now it was because of my drinking that they didn’t.”

All of that I didn't know about.

Now South Carolinians will have to decide if they want their state run by a man who can’t remember to leave a forwarding number when he scampers off to make whoopee in a different hemisphere.

While most people in the state seem to feel as if it would be swell if Sanford just resigned, the governor isn’t showing any signs that he intends to quit. It isn’t entirely clear why he wants to hang on. He’s term limited. And whatever presidential ambitions he harbored were pretty much quashed when he vanished and aides started explaining that he took a hike (well, not really) because he was emotionally exhausted from his fight over the state budget. You had to ask what he’d have to do to get over North Korea.


So far, it appears that Sanford is going to devote his career to apologizing. On Wednesday, he held a press conference and apologized to everyone from his father-in-law to American Christianity. On Thursday, he was closeted with his wife, which undoubtedly involved heavy-duty apology time. Friday, he called his staff together for more apologies, including one to the leader of the Commerce Department, to whom the governor conveyed his regrets for having undermined the dignity of a state trade mission by having sex on the Buenos Aires stop.

It was right about then that Sanford compared himself to King David, who “fell mightily, he fell in very significant ways, but was able to pick up the pieces.” I will end here so we can all ask ourselves whether the entire course of the Old Testament would have been different if David and Bathsheba had had access to e-mail.


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