South Carolina's disgraced and disgraceful Mark Sanford - who as governor lied to his staff and the public about his whereabouts by saying he was hiking the Appalachian Trail while he was wrecking his family with an extramarital affair - is running for Congress. He is madly playing for sympathy, telling crowds, "I am equally aware that God forgives people who are imperfect." This raises the question as to whether the people of South Carolina should forgive him, and moreover, whether forgiveness entails entrusting him with a new public office.

He'd like to characterize his misdeeds as "personal," but they were anything but. As you may recall, Sanford used public funds for a tryst. This is a small-government conservative careful with the taxpayers' money? Moreover, he doubled down on his misbehavior, insisting for some time that he had used his own funds. Eventually, he was forced to repay $9,000.

There is no reason taxpayers should feel obliged to put such a character back in government. It is a measure of how odd social conservatives have become that they would disown a candidate who favored gay marriage but rise to the defense of a home-wrecker and abuser of public funds.

Regarding another scoundrel, Newt Gingrich, Pete Wehner of Commentary magazine wrote about how we should evaluate infidelity in a candidate for office: "Facts and circumstances are crucial. Was the infidelity an isolated instance or a chronic pattern? Were the transgressions long ago or recent? What levels of deception and cover-up were involved? What was the position of authority the person held when the infidelity occurred? Was there an alarming degree of recklessness on display? What evidence is there that this person has changed his ways? Has this person shown other worrisome signs when it comes to character and trustworthiness?"

Under this rubric Sanford strikes out on nearly every point.

Conservatives who should know better engage in sloppy (or dishonest) thinking by asserting that personal forgiveness is indistinguishable from entrusting with public office someone with poor character and a proven track record of recklessness. It's hard to take these people seriously in other contexts when they are this confused about such a basic concept.

Jennifer Rubin wrote this for The Washington Post.

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