Politicians of both parties routinely paraphrase Abraham Lincoln's mantra that "my concern is not whether God is on our side; my greatest concern is to be on God's side." But in fighting his own civil war to hold onto office, disgraced South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford has turned Lincoln's maxim on its head. Proclaiming in an opinion piece Sunday that He will make him "a better and more effective leader," Sanford in essence declared God is on his side.
Sanford's misappropriation of the Almighty was featured prominently is his latest apology to Palmetto State residents. Among the lowlights:
"It is true that I did wrong and failed at the largest of levels, but equally true is the fact that God can make good of our respective wrongs in life. In this vein, while none of us has the chance to attend our own funeral, in many ways I feel like I was at my own in the past weeks, and surprisingly I am thankful for the perspective it has afforded...
It's in the spirit of making good from bad that I am committing to you and the larger family of South Carolinians to use this experience to both trust God in his larger work of changing me, and from my end, to work to becoming a better and more effective leader."
By "changing me," Mark Sanford does not mean steering clear of the C Street residence in Washington, an apparent den of iniquity which produced fellow Republican adulterers John Ensign and Chip Pickering. Instead, he seems to suggest God apparently will provide the playbook for Sanford's political survival.
As the mushrooming scandal over his "soul mate" Argentine mistress and other women keeps pressure on him to resign as South Carolina's Governor, Sanford insisted God wants him to stay in office. Just three days after comparing himself to King David, Sanford in a message to supporters three weeks ago announced he had the Almighty, if not his wife, by his side:
"Immediately after all this unfolded last week I had thought I would resign - as I believe in the military model of leadership and when trust of any form is broken one lays down the sword. A long list of close friends have [sic] suggested otherwise - that for God to really work in my life I shouldn't be getting off so lightly. While it would be personally easier to exit stage left, their point has been that my larger sin was the sin of pride...
Their belief was that if I walked in with a real spirit of humility then this last legislative term could well be our most productive one - and that outside this term, I would ultimately be a better person and of more service in whatever doors God opened next in life if I stuck around to learn lessons rather than running and hiding down at the farm."
Of course, Mark Sanford is hardly the only current high-profile Republican claiming to be part of God's plan. Soon-be-former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin declared her state's $30 billion pipeline project to be "God's will," called the Iraq war "a task that is from God" and insisted the victory of the McCain/Palin ticket last November was "in God's hands." And Joe the Plumber, who through seeming divine intervention has extended his 15 minutes of fame, announced he would not be running for office:
"You know, I talked to God about that and he was like, 'No.'"
Meanwhile, Mark Sanford is hoping his faith-based PR plan will keep angry Republicans and disappointed South Carolina voters at bay. Butchering Lincoln once again, Sanford no doubt believes you can fool some of the people all of the time, and that's his target market.
(This piece also appears at Perrspectives.)