Is South Carolina Turning on Jenny Sanford?

Yesterday I took a break from reading about health care reform to flip through Rebecca Johnson’s story about Jenny Sanford in this month’s issue of Vogue. I’m not alone in admitting my repulsed fascination with her husband’s tawdry adventures. And I’m certainly not the only person who admired Jenny’s grace and resilience in those tumultuous days after her husband’s emotional circus of a press conference. Which is why I was so surprised to read the vituperative criticisms of her written by readers of South Carolina’s The State newspaper.

State reporter Gina Smith posted a summary of the Vogue piece online yesterday. It was the most read piece on the site and has attracted hundreds of comments. I was curious to read what others thought of the piece. I wanted to see if people shared my reaction─a sense of hope in the possibility of reinvention after tragedy; sadness for a woman who had to live this humiliation publicly. Judging by the comments, I’m probably in the minority.

Now I’m not one to argue that comments on Web sites are a truly accurate barometer of public opinion. Most readers don’t comment. On many sites, it’s those for whom a piece has sparked emotions who bother to leave a remark. Often it’s the angriest people who, shielded by the anonymity of the process, leave sharply worded responses. Still there are usually elements of raw honesty in those reactions, which tells you something important about the piece of journalism or the subject that provoked them. In this case, it’s the sympathy of South Carolinians for Jenny Sanford is drying up.

To be sure, there were folks who expressed their respect and admiration for Jenny. Some want her to just outright leave the lying scoundrel; others want her to run for office herself. But a large number were just annoyed and sick of hearing about her. She’s criticized for talking about the affair after saying she’d wanted privacy. Readers allege that she’s obsessed with fame; that she should have recognized her marriage was in trouble for a long time; that she’s a sexual “ice princess”; that the photo of her in a coverup and sun hat was shameless. Some readers were angry that she’d chosen a national fashion magazine to air her reflections, rather than a local newspaper. Many people are fed up that the Sanford drama is still playing out while unemployment rises and ordinary folks (a cadre the wealthy Sanfords have never been part of) struggle to pay their mortgages and save for their children’s education.

I guess I’m out of touch with South Carolina. To me, Jenny’s desire to appear in a magazine that epitomizes glamor and beauty is perfectly reasonable. What woman wouldn’t want a gorgeous Vogue shoot to restore her shredded self-esteem after her husband’s missives about his mistress’s delectable curves have been read throughout the country? I don't agree that Jenny's talked too much about her sorrow. It's not like she's gabbed about it on Oprah. The few interviews she's done have been careful and measured. I think her decision to discuss it is appropriate. Yes, millions of Americans are struggling against crushing financial hardship right now. But Jenny’s silence wouldn’t change that. Her words, on the other hand, can help others with marital troubles realize that their heartbreak is manageable. It's human nature to find solace in other people's stories. The Sanford's story was never just a local political scandal. It isn't owned by South Carolina. It was a sad drama that, in its telling, revealed much about the human condition. And I for one am glad to have been able to read Jenny's reflections on it.

Source: Newsweek blog

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