Before Jenny Sanford came along, the options for wronged political wives were pretty poor. You could suffer silently (see Silda Wall Spitzer), deny everything (hello, Hillary), or make catty asides about the harlot who caused your husband to stray (Elizabeth Edwards). Then came Jenny Sanford.
Early this past summer, just as the world was savoring the news that yet another conservative Republican politician had tumbled from grace in a manner worthy of the best French farce—“hiking the Appalachian Trail” will never have the same meaning—there emerged an unlikely hero in the mess down in South Carolina. Petite, clear-eyed, strong-willed, pious without being smug, smart without being caustic, Jenny Sanford became an unlikely heroine by telling the simple truth. Her children were the most important thing in the world to her. She had kicked the lying bum out of the house when he refused to give up his mistress, but marriage is complex, life is hard, and if he wanted to try and make the marriage work, the door was open.
Her one-page statement saying as much was written without the help of spin doctors or media consultants. It came from her heart and her head. It mentioned God without making you squirm. The world took note. Newsweek dubbed her a “media genius”; The Washington Post hailed her as “a new role model for wronged spouses.” On television, Diane Sawyer called her classy, praising her “grace in the glare.” While her husband was giving overly emotional press conferences about soul mates and impossible love, Sanford kept her mouth shut and her head down. Just as the scandal was finally dying down, she agreed to sit with Vogue and set the record straight about what really happened in the low country of South Carolina.
The press has portrayed the 47-year-old Sanford as an heiress with connections to the Kennedys, but the Sanfords’ house on Sullivan’s Island, a small, laid-back beach community ten minutes from downtown Charleston, is a modest cinder-block affair, albeit one with million-dollar views of the ocean. The kitchen counters are Corian, the rugs sea grass. It’s a house for boys to knock around in and friends to gather in. The Sanfords are conservative Christians, but they’re not the teetotaling, proselytizing sort. There are bottles of wine on the kitchen counter. Ayn Rand is on the bookshelf, but so is Gabriel García Márquez. The Bible sits front and center on the coffee table, alongside Forbes magazine. “You could be friends with her for 20 years, and she would never bring up the religious stuff,” says her friend Marjory Wentworth, poet laureate of South Carolina and a self-described liberal who once worked for The Nation.
The full article can be read atNotes on a Scandal › Vogue’s Click to View: The Latest Trends and News in Fashion on Style.com.