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Love, the Heart, and Politics

May 8, 2010

Everyone has experienced a broken heart.

Or one day will.

The pain, anguish, and grief of it, are beyond words, and the lasting effects, are surreal.

Many years ago, I sought refuge from one of my oldest and dearest political pals, who gave me the following advice. “Robb”, he laughed, “Napoleon couldn’t conquer a broken heart.”

He was right.

There have been hit songs (What Becomes of the Brokenhearted) written about it; Love Story was a number one best seller and blockbuster movie, and now the issue of love and the heart is front and center in national politics.

It may have all started when former Georgia Governor Jimmy Carter interjected what was in his heart during a Playboy Magazine interview while campaigning for President in 1976.

He was quoted in the interview (rare for its day), as saying he had “looked on a lot of women with lust”, and he said, that he had “committed adultery in my heart many times.”

He went on to say that people should not necessarily condemn someone for leaving their wife, or “shacking up with someone out of wedlock”. This was shocking stuff for its day, yet for the first time, in modern politics, someone was talking about the issue of love, the heart, and politics.

Carter was referencing the Bible, where Christ said, “I tell you that anyone who looks on a woman with lust has in his heart already committed adultery.” He was also admitting the obvious, that he had looked at a lot of women with lust, at various times of his life.

There have been numerous political scandals since, and such interviews with candidates are blasé today, especially with a 24/7 news cycle.

Yet, the most intriguing story of this type is definitely the love story involving South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford, and his girlfriend “Maria” from Argentina. The Governor disappeared for six days last June (telling his wife and staff that he was hiking the Appalachian Trail) to go see Maria in Buenos Aires.

He tearfully recounted the purpose of the trip in a press conference upon his return – which was to end the romance. “I just spent the last five days of my life crying in Argentina,” he said.

The political class was aghast at the Governor’s candor, but for those who have felt the broken heart, it made all the sense in the world. He was not worried about his political career at that moment, or what his political friends and opponents might say, he was expressing himself just as any 17 year-old boy would, suffering the effects of a broken heart for the first time.

The political class didn’t understand how the Governor could throw away a good political career over someone he loved. After all, why would anyone do that, they reasoned.

The key to understanding the Governor, however, was not in political terms, but in emotional costs. He was in love, and that’s what mattered most to him at the time.

Here are two e-mails between the Governor and his girlfriend, where both lay out their feelings and emotions, in a such a way, known only to those who have loved, truly loved.

Governor Sanford to Maria:

“Since our first meeting there in a windswept somewhat open air dance spot in Punta del Este, I felt you had that same rare attribute. Above all else I love that inner beauty about you. That gift is going to make a tremendous difference in (sons’ name) – and in anyone’s life who is blessed to be touched by yours – you need to rest comfortably in that fact. While I did not need love fifteen years ago – as the battle scars of life and aging and politics have worn on this has become a real need of mine. You have a particular grace and calm that I adore. You have a level of sophistication that’s 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 in the faded glow of the night’s light – but hey, that would be going into sexual details.”

The e-mail continues, “While all the things above are true – at the same time we are in a ….. hopelessly impossible situation of love …. How in the world this lightening strike snuck up on us I am still not quite sure. “

Maria to Governor Sanford:

As I told you before, you brought happiness and love to my life and I will take you forever in my heart. I wasn’t aware till we met last week, the strong feelings I had for you, and believe me, I haven’t felt this since I was in my teen ages, when afterwards I got married. I do love you, I can feel it in my heart, and although I don’t know if we’ll ever be able to meet again this has seen the best that has happened to me in a long time. You made me realize how you feel when you really love somebody, and how much you want to be beside the beloved. Last Friday, I would have stayed embarrassing and kissing you forever.”

My heart tells me, they will yet, be together.

(Robb can be reached at