Sometimes U.S. politics seem like a ludicrous soap opera.
Remember when the Republican Party and its fundamentalist wing sanctimoniously declared that "family values" are the heart of public life, requiring strict fidelity between spouses?
Remember when GOP members of Congress led by House Speaker Newt Gingrich spent $50 million of taxpayer money in a futile attempt to remove President Clinton because of his tacky dallying with a White House intern (that didn't involve actual intercourse)?
Well, family values took a shellacking when GOP leader Gingrich betrayed two wives in succession, handing divorce papers to one on her cancer ward bed.
And now Republicans are jubilant over the congressional victory by loathsome former South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford, who betrayed his wife and sneaked off to South America to visit a lover.
The missing governor left a message saying he was "hiking the Appalachian Trail" -- which spawned a national joke: Hiking the Appalachian Trail became sarcastic code for visiting a mistress.
After winning a congressional seat Tuesday night, Sanford said: "I want to publicly acknowledge God's role in all of this." Good grief. This should cause 90 percent of Americans to snort in derision. Republicans formerly said God wants family values -- and now they say God wants wife-cheaters to win.
Columnist Jennifer Rubin said Sanford's win shows that the GOP is "obsessed with 'traditional marriage' only when it comes to gays."
Conservative columnist Ross Douthat scoffed at the disgraced governor's "swift and shameless comeback."
American Conservative magazine commented:
"From the moment he decided to run again, Mark Sanford was always going to be taken as a demonstration of Republicans' hypocrisy. After he won, [a GOP South Carolina legislator] took to twitter to say the voters of South Carolina have no moral standing to oppose gay marriage anymore."
Of course, Democrats have plenty of wife-cheaters, too. John Edwards, Eliot Spitzer and the like made headlines. But Democrats never made puritanism the heart of their platform.Sanford's victory finally may squelch remaining "family values" lectures from the right. Meanwhile, it's a sobering time for Democrats in Dixie: If they can't defeat a creep like Sanford, what chance can they have against scandal-free Republicans?