South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford made a very large mistake a few weeks ago, and yet the national media has largely ignored his most egregious error. There have been hours of coverage about his affair with an Argentinean woman, and hours more calling for his resignation. But the biggest concern that comes out of the scandal isn’t a moral one. Sanford’s biggest mistake was abandoning his post as governor. From June 18 until June 23, he was absent from the state and hadn’t told anyone in his office where he had gone. He had a responsibility to his state to be there, or at least let his office know where he would be. But this mistake doesn’t necessarily mean that Sanford should be drummed out of office.

Sanford’s is just the latest in our nation’s history of political sex scandals. Americans are critical of our leaders, almost to the point of expecting perfection from them. While some might say we are merely holding them to a higher standard by criticizing their affairs as much as we do, what we are actually doing is depriving our nation of its best and brightest leaders. And because of this, Sanford shouldn’t be forced to resign just because of his indiscretion.

Not so long ago, this country had a similar issue with our commander-in-chief. President Bill Clinton has a long — and well-documented — history of affairs and lewd behavior with women stretching back to his days as governor of Arkansas. But the question is not how this obviously sexually irresponsible man was elected to the highest office in the land. The issue is whether or not his personal decisions impacted his professional ability. Clinton will be remembered for presiding over one of the greatest eras of prosperity in American history and balancing the budget, not his personal missteps. Would our country have been better if we had ousted Clinton from office because of some idealistic moral standard? I don’t think so.

Eliot Spitzer had a similar experience as governor of New York. The state of New York elected this young, ambitious Democrat in 2006. He ran on a platform of attacking corporate greed and curbing Wall Street’s influence. In 2008, he resigned as a result of a scandal involving a prostitute and apparent frequenting of a brothel. But recent incidents of corporate greed on Wall Street have showcased a necessity to address the issue. Perhaps if Spitzer had remained in office, his experience and knowledge could have helped the state solve these problems.

Of course, the most obvious example of a public official having relations while in office is President John Kennedy. It’s likely that he had at least one affair while in office, and rumors speak of several more. Still, Kennedy is consistently considered one of the best presidents this nation has ever had.

The most important lesson learned from all of these issues is that the abilities of leaders should be judged based on the policies they pursue, not on a rule of morality imposed by the media and people of this nation. This country can’t afford to pass up good leaders based on personal matters.

Genius often comes with a certain measure of irregularity and quirkiness. Many who are regarded as leaders in their profession have qualities that wouldn’t be considered traditionally good. Michael Jordan had a compulsive gambling problem, Vincent Van Gogh cut off his left ear, and President Barack Obama even snorted cocaine in his younger years. No one is perfect, and that includes our elected officials. Mark Sanford certainly made mistakes, but let’s leave dealing with the affair to his wife and family while the rest of us reprimand him for irresponsibly abandoning his position as governor for a week.

Asa Smith is an LSA sophomore.

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