Tonight I can write the saddest lines.

Write for example, ‘The night is shattered
and the blue stars shiver in the distance.’

The night wind revolves in the sky and sings.

Tonight I can write the saddest lines.
I loved her, and sometimes she loved me too.
– Pablo Neruda

So take a letter Maria
Address it to my wife
Say I won’t be coming home soon
Gonna start a new life
– FM radio

Hey. Are you reading this at work? Do you want to go and make a coffee, get a butternut snap? I’ll wait. It’s really worth it. You back? OK here we go.

Today I was going to write about Democratic Senator Jim Webb’s new commission of inquiry into the American criminal justice system. This is one of the most exciting and important new developments in the Obama administration, a start to dealing with the cancer at the heart of US society, its incarceration of two million people, often for a single joint in the glovebox or similar – and the way in which this system is inextricably bound up with the private prison industry, and the economy of small towns.

But hey screw that, South Carolina governor Mark Sanford, missing for five days, has just confessed that he has spent the whole time with a mistress. No no stay here, it gets better. He was with his mistress in Buenos Aires. Not enough?

OK his initial excuse for being missing for five days – relayed by cell phone – was that he was hiking the Appalachian trail to “clear his head”. When did it all come crashing down? When his cell phone transmissions were traced to South America, and when his car was found at Atlanta airport. Really, still not enough? You are jaded.

OK to start from the start. Sanford has been touted as one of the rising Republican stars, a possible 2012 presidential contender. He’s Southern, got the whole family values thing going, but he’s also been an articulate spokesperson for dry economics, and gained kudos points for his initial attempt to refuse funds from Obama’s stimulus package – or to use it to pay off the state’s public deficit. Such is the addled state of right-wing politics that trying to deprive your state of funds makes you a hero, but there you go.

With a loyal wife and four strapping sons – dressed identically in family photos in that deeply creepy American way – Sanford was the goods. However, for Sanford, so was a woman named Maria “a dear, dear friend who became something more” over the past year. Sanford’s wife knew about the affair for the past five months, though the affair – “that whole sparkling thing” as Sanford described it — “and we’ve been working through it since then” ie I kept wanting to bang her but trying not to.

Eventually it got too much, and – while intending to go hike the trail and clear his head – he took a left turn and jumped on a plane down south to drain his nuts instead.

OK that’s too crude. As you’ll see from the emails – oh yes there are emails – Sanford was one smitten kitten (remember this is a button-down southern Christian):

“Two, mutual feelings . . . You have a particular grace and calm that I adore. You have a level of sophistication that so fitting 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 — but hey, that would be going into s-xual details …”

Faded glow of the night’s light?! Boy she opened up this guy like a can of cheap tuna. This was in response to the green light from Maria the day before (read in Spanish accent, it’s better):

“As I told you I shouldn’t have done this trip but I would have felt worst if I wouldn’t have come because it was too over the date, he [Maria’s husband] is a very nice guy, great heart … but unfortunately I am not in love with him … You are my love … something hard to believe even for myself as it’s also a kind of impossible love, not only because of distance but situation. Sometimes you don’t choose things, they just happen… I can’t redirect my feelings and I am very happy with mine towards you.”

Oh, man. The experienced adulterer will recognise this as nothing other than a challenge to create greater chaos, and friends if you can’t put yourself in Sanford’s head – hands clenched on the steering wheel, heading towards the trail, I will purify myself, I will walk this out and then scrrreeeeeccch, the hands moving ALL BY THEMSELVES pulling that wheel right and not stopping till Atlanta, just leaving the car where it stopped and paying four grand for the next flight to Buenos Aires on a state credit card – friends if that’s never been you, you’ve never lived.

Imagine Sanford on that plane, knowing that he is GOVERNOR OF SOUTH CAROLINA, no-one knows where he is, and the whole state is leaderless – but thinking of the days ahead, of Maria’s tan lines. Imagine how sweet that free rum and Coke tasted, pure nectar. Imagine how great the inflight entertainment was, even if it was a repeat of Everybody Loves Raymond (Todos se gustan Raimondo!).

Counting off the hours until he is once again in the curve of her hips, drowning in her hazel eyes – that delicious manic knowledge that he has just torched the last bridge leading back to sanity, and is seeing his mistress by the light of its dying embers. Imagine the days and nights in that cabin with Maria, the gentle rocking of the waves, champagne in an ice bucket, somewhere distant a tango playing on the deck, the lights of Montevideo playing across the black silk of the night sea…

Sanford can die now. His life cycle is complete. He lived the caterpillar’s life for forty-nine years – Christian, bible study, family man, republican blah di blah di blah – and for five beautiful days he was a Monarch butterfly, a rush of brilliant colours before falling dead into the forest undergrowth. There’s rumours now that he has made not just that trip but others on the state’s budget. God I hope so. If he has spent money that should have gone to kidney machines, then that is all the more magnificent. This is an A-grade Republican reptile.

Could it get any better? Yes there’s a press conference – or as the genre is now officially called, a ‘rambling press conference’ – which has to be seen to be believed. Breaking with tradition, he didn’t have his wife squirming beside him as he detailed the many ways in which she was no longer enough for him, but he began with reminiscences of hiking trips and then holidaying round the world on a dime as a teenager, and it looked like it would all fall apart completely before getting it back onto some sort of explanation as to why the governor of a coastal state was AWOL for five days at the height of hurricane season.

For the Republicans, this is a disaster of near-unprecedented proportions. Having little more than their religious right base, and their claim to be the party of values, and family, the GOP is faced with a young couple in the White House clearly still in love with each other, with a family to die for. The VP lost his wife, and raised his family even while being a senator and half-mad with grief.

The Republicans have had as their lead players John McCain, a serial adulterer, Sarah Palin, who couldn’t stop her daughter getting knocked-up, and more recent players such as John Ensign, who resigned the day before Sanford’s conference, after announcing an affair with a staffer’s wife. The Democrats have form too – Spitzer, Corazon in New Jersey (boys), Blogovitch (money only) – but hell, they’re meant to be the decadent party.

Sanford’s saga strikes me as a deal-breaker because it blows a hole – not just politically and culturally – in that most toxic combination of modernity, monogamy and monotheism. Everyone says that Sanford was a lonely, aggressive and vindictive type who was increasingly recommitting himself to Christian bible study. Jesus, deficit reduction and f-cking one woman till you die, of boredom, what a platform to run on. No wonder these people are tighter wound than a rabbit corkscrew. No wonder when it goes off, man it takes the waterfront with it.

These people are ridiculous. Their bizarre ‘monogamy’ theory has clearly been falsified by repeated experiment. Their religiosity is nothing but narcissism and psychological splitting, hoping they can preserve an insane self-image. Why not acknowledge that we are half-ape, half-angel and sometime the latter needs to let the former off the leash? Because then, as a form of identity, as something to believe in about themselves, such Republicans have nothing to offer – and nothing to save themselves from real reflection on the human condition, rather than happy Jesus stories.

Indeed, Sanford was wound so tight on this that he really did step over the line – going AWOL for this final fling on Father’s Day. That will sink him more than anything else — and is a really crappy thing to do in any case, to four boys. But obviously it was the very fact of Father’s Day that sent him crazy – having to once more play happy families, the whole family straining to fit their smiles to the ones in the family photo-portrait on the fake-fire mantelpiece, like a demented seaside funshow exhibit.

It was a bridge too far so he crossed it, then torched it. Silly bugger. A regular arrangement – one weekend a month in the pampas – and he’d still have the whole shebang.

But what’s weird – weirder even than the fact that his hiking alibi coincided with national naked hiking weekend (June 20-21) – is the way his life seems to have been taken over by that 70s song, ‘Take a Letter Maria’ by RB Greaves. In that one-hit wonder, the protagonist’s wife is the one cheating, so the guy hits on his secretary, who then types the Dear Jane letter:

Let me tell you what happened then
I packed some clothes and I walked out
And I ain’t going back again

So take a letter Maria, address it to my wife
Say I won’t be coming home, gonna start a new life
So take a letter Maria, address it to my wife
Send a copy to my lawyer, gotta start a new life

You’ve been many things but most of all a good secretary to me
And it’s times like this I feel you’ve always been close to me

I never really noticed how sweet you are to me
It just so happens I’m free tonight
Would you like to have dinner with me

So take a letter Maria….

OK not a perfect fit (Mrs Sanford is not in the scopes) but did Sanford hear that song on the car radio as he headed towards the Appalachian trail? Was that what made the whole thing snap, the goddam potency of cheap music? Would it have turned out differently if he’d left it on for the next song Torn Between Two Lovers.

Who knows? Meanwhile Sanford is hanging onto the governorship, though he has resigned his chairmanship of ha ha ha the Republican Governors of America.

What can you say? Let Charleston burn and the wide arch of the ranged empire fall, take a letter Maria. Play us out Pablo. Play us out? What does that mean play us out? F-ck it we’ll do it live, we’ll do it Live!:

Through nights like this one I held her in my arms.
I kissed her again and again under the endless sky.

She loved me, sometimes I loved her too.
How could one not have loved her great still eyes.

Tonight I can write the saddest lines.
To think that I do not have her. To feel that I have lost her.

To hear immense night, still more immense without her.
And the verse falls to the soul like dew to a pasture.

What does it matter that my love could not keep her.
The night is shattered and she is not with me.

This is all. In the distance someone is singing. In the distance.
My soul is not satisfied that it has lost her.

My sight searches for her as though to go to her.
My heart looks for her, and she is not with me.

The same night whitening the same trees.
We, of that time, are no longer the same.

I no longer love her, that’s certain, but how I loved her.
My voice tried to find the wind to touch her hearing.

Another’s. She will be another’s. Like my kisses before.
Her voice. Her bright body. Her infinite eyes.

I no longer love her, that’s certain, but maybe I love her.
Love is short, forgetting is so long.

Because through nights like this one I held her in my arms
my soul is not satisfied that it has lost her.

Though this be the last pain that she makes me suffer
and these the last verses that I write for her.
— Pablo Neruda.

Peter Fray

Help us keep up the fight

Get Crikey for just $1 a week and support our journalists’ important work of uncovering the hypocrisies that infest our corridors of power.

If you haven’t joined us yet, subscribe today and get your first 12 weeks for $12.

Cancel anytime.

Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey