Nikki Haley Victim of Political Witch Hunt

Monday, 07 Jun 2010 10:05 AM

By Kathleen Parker

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When a long-ago South Carolina legislator described his state as "too small to be a republic and too large to be an insane asylum," he might have added, "but just perfect for a bordello!"

Perhaps it is the humidity. Throw in a cocktail, stir with human nature, and you've got that ol' fleeting magic.

But what's with all these kissy-boys spilling the beans on their paramours? Whither chivalry? Whither, alas, manliness?

The women in these romantic imbroglios are steel magnolias to the weeping willows of their undoubtedly regrettable (and perhaps forgettable) dalliances.

No one needs to be reminded of Gov. Mark Sanford's tearful confession of infidelity with his Argentine soul mate. Now-ex-wife Jenny Sanford has turned his betrayal into a cottage industry of feminine empowerment. She's written a book, appeared on talk shows, and become the ex officio leading lady of the tragedy formerly known as victimhood.

I am woman, hear me call my lawyer.

In a twist that would be ironic if it weren't so overpoweringly icky, Sanford protege and Jenny favorite-for-governor, Nikki Haley, is essentially being branded a harlot by two men claiming to have "known" her.

In politics as in love, timing is everything. These alleged trysts apparently came to mind just as Haley was leading the Republican pack in the final countdown to Tuesday's primary.

Haley, a married mother of two, has denied the claims of both men. One is former Haley political consultant Will Folks, who, for a time, was also Gov. Sanford's director of communications. The other is lobbyist Larry Marchant Jr., who until recently was working for Lt. Gov. Andre Bauer, also a contender for the governorship.

Like Folks, Marchant claims to have had an "inappropriate physical relationship" with Haley. He felt he had to tell because, oh, he just had to!

Bauer, who paid Marchant $50,000 in consulting fees (before firing him), has challenged Haley to a polygraph test to prove she has been faithful to her husband. Seriously, Mr. Hawthorne?

To outsiders, this is the sort of delicious material that allows comedy writers to sleep in. To South Carolinians, these unfolding events are a blight, a pox, a Deepwater Horizon of gushing shame.

It bears mentioning that the players in this little drama are not equals. I've known Folks, a take-no-prisoners political blogger, for years and take him at his word when he says that a story was about to break about his alleged relationship. Recently married and a new father, he says he was attempting damage control when he broke the story himself.

I don't condone or agree with his decision, but he's no Marchant, whose earnest confession reeks of the self-service to which he has now consigned himself.

I also know Haley and take her at her word when she denies the allegations. But let's get at the deeper truth and ask: Is this really where we want our politics to go? Are only perfect people acceptable for public service? As Bill Bennett once put it to me: "If perfection is our standard, then no one gets to talk."

This obsession with people's personal lives, including the hand-wringing analysis of Al and Tipper Gore's marriage, has turned us into a nation of purse-lipped old maids. No offense to purses.

I've resisted commenting on the Gores' decision to split after 40 years of marriage because, what could I possibly know? Apologies to the deeply conflicted, but the Gores' divorce has no bearing whatsoever on my life.

I reluctantly decided to weigh in on the Haley story because therein lie issues of more general consequence. This isn't only politics at its worst. It's a persecution, a witch hunt, a political rape.

"All I know to do is fight," said Haley by phone Friday. "Just stay strong and keep a smile on your face . . . I refuse to let this distract me."

Of greater personal concern than what may or may not have happened between consenting, if misguided, adults is, what has happened to men? The South has managed through the past 150 years of regional shame to cling to the one admirable trait of its antebellum past: the Gentle Man.

He, too, apparently is endangered. With notable exceptions, the once-honorable protector of women's virtue is just another gossip-monger.

Perhaps this is the legacy of our egalitarian times. When men succumb to their inner Oprah, weeping and telling like slumber-party girls, it may be time for the stronger sex to lead.

Kathleen Parker's e-mail address is kathleenparker@washpost.com.

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