Former S.C. First Lady speaks out on Herman Cain and media’s scandal fixation



Jenny Sanford was speaking from experience when she penned her op-ed that appeared Thursday in Columbia’s State newspaper.  She was The Palmetto State’s first lady when her now ex-husband, then-Gov. Mark Sanford, was caught covering up an extramarital affair.  Ms. Sanford has seen firsthand what the spotlight from the media’s scandal-mongering can do to a family.

Her op-ed takes the alleged mainstream media to task for playing up the personal (perceived or otherwise) peccadilloes of candidates, instead of acting as a facilitator for an intelligent discussion of the issues:

History is filled with tales of newcomers running for political office or candidates who “don’t have a chance” and are written off by the media. Yet sometimes such candidates connect or spark a fire among the electorate and then actually get the attention of the media. Some persevere against the odds, shock the established political world and actually win. Time will tell if Herman Cain becomes the next political newcomer to be elected, and I, for one, am thankful he’s in the presidential race.

Herman Cain’s lack of political experience makes him willing to propose bold ideas, to try new solutions to the challenges that face our nation. There’s a sense among the people disconnected from the system (myself included) that our political leaders aren’t listening, or can’t feel our pain. Cain clearly isn’t part of the permanent political class, because he has proposed a tax reform that would simplify our tax code, ending deductions and closing loopholes. Details aside, he is willing to think big, to challenge the status quo. Sadly, we now get to watch as the players who make up the system try to rip him to pieces.

As government added layers of spending to our budgets and countless deductions to our tax code, it strengthened the establishment and biased itself further against common sense or meaningful reform, thereby distancing itself from the people it is meant to represent. That’s because each deduction in the tax code has its own constituency and is in fact a special interest, with reams of lawyers, lobbyists, consultants and bureaucrats working diligently to preserve its special status. I take advantage of personal deductions on my taxes but would readily trade them in for a flatter, fairer system that would save me on my overall taxes and certainly on my accounting bill. Cain’s willingness to propose something simple and sensible is his appeal.

Never mind that a more basic and fairer tax code with lower taxes overall would stimulate job growth, those in the political establishment see such a bold proposal as a threat to their own jobs. Now other candidates have been inspired to propose real tax reforms, and soon we will witness the good old-fashioned politics of fear. Special-interest groups will lobby to preserve specific deductions, other candidates will fight testily, generic political groups will work to preserve their power or influence, and personal allegations will abound, making it difficult to discern who is slinging which arrow and why.

And let’s not forget the media. Over-focused as they are on the small, the controversial and the sensational, they will focus on the arrows being thrown at candidates and their proposals instead of challenging others to propose new solutions. If the media would spend more time honestly airing detail on the thoughtful proposals that are put forth instead of highlighting the best debate quips or the newest allegations, perhaps we might have a truly interesting race with serious choices. Sadly, the media give air to the attacks, thus spurring more attacks.

I know this story well. A “fresh face” appears on the political scene and puts forth new proposals that challenge the status quo and then is attacked viciously on his proposals and then his character. Many of these challengers don’t make it; some shouldn’t. Others win and fight to improve things in our nation only to be worn down over time, to tire of fighting the system, becoming more cautious, political and hollow. Thus the system creates empty suits, adept at giving sound-bites to the media and talking points to voters and raising money to be reelected. Understandably, few modern-day politicians put forth big ideas or proposals to truly shrink or reform our government, preferring instead to obfuscate or to punt to committees. Thank you Herman Cain for running and for inspiring better dialogue.

We’ve had enough empty rhetoric and false hope and need honest political discourse. In making decisions this election cycle, ask what a candidate is for. Pay attention to the negative ads, but pay closer attention to the groups behind the ads, as they might want the status quo. Look for proof of personal allegations, and know there’s someone pushing that charge to protect his own political interest. Small ideas won’t bring about real change. If a candidate isn’t willing to think big in a campaign and to really engage in discussion of what ails us, how can we ever find real solutions? Big business and big government are the status quo, and they are sure to have their lobbyists, lawyers and representatives hard at work behind the scenes this election season. If we, the disconnected and common taxpayers, want to be heard, it is we who need to pay close attention, ask probing questions and then vote.

Amen.  Let’s take her last line to heart as we head to the polls next week and gear up for 2012.