- The Washington Times - Saturday, July 4, 2009


As loyal readers of this column no doubt noticed - and let me just say you are half a dozen of the best people around - I was away from the office for five days last week.

Apparently my staff - well, I don’t exactly have a staff, but the person who answers the office phone - told callers I was out hiking on the Appalachian Trail.

This was a misunderstanding. I am not one to be walking through the woods with bears - shaggy, smelly beasts always looking to steal food. I get enough of that at home with my dog.

No, as it happens, I went south of the border down Argentina way for a seminar conducted by a “writing coach” named Maria. We had met in a media hospitality tent a few years ago, and she persuaded me that my style needed brushing up. Who could argue with that?

She invited me to come down to master the special techniques employed in that region of the world. “You are an old groucho,” she said, her long eyelashes fluttering like Venetian blinds in the hands of a nosy neighbor. “I teach you to write like a gaucho.”

Unfortunately, somebody hacked into my newspaper’s steam-driven computer system, risking a severe scalding, and latched onto e-mails I exchanged with Maria. One e-mail in particular has caused public consternation, and I need to explain the situation to restore your trust.

“You have a particular grace and calm that I adore,” I wrote. “You have a level of sophistication that [is] 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.”

While some of you have naturally become concerned about this note - for example, Mrs. Henry - your fears are groundless. You see, under Maria’s direction, I was practicing the exaggerated literary style favored by the gauchos, the wildly romantic cowboys who traverse Argentina’s sea of grass known as the Pampas.

They write these notes to cattle. I understand it gets mighty lonely out there on the prairie and nothing makes a cow happier than a good reading of Pampas prose. Of course, this is entirely innocent.

By strange coincidence, it seems that the governor of South Carolina, Mark Sanford, also was down in Argentina and has been similarly pilloried for being away from the office.

I don’t know what sort of seminar he was attending - perhaps something in the biology field? - but he felt the need to apologize for it.

Now I am wondering whether he was the uptight American guy I met in that steakhouse in Buenos Aires, the one who was telling me how terrible gay marriage was while his female companion tickled his ear and snapped her thong. No, that would be too much of a coincidence.

Though our positions are not identical, I do sympathize with his predicament. It seems a bit unfair to me. He has been lecturing people sanctimoniously all his political career. Yet at his first sign of being human, people get on his case.

I never understood why people want politicians to reflect their moral values in the first place. I wouldn’t want a leader who reflected my values. Heck, free cold beer dispensers in public places are a great idea but probably not good social policy.

Moreover, there seems to be no relationship between good morals and effective leadership, as the history books bear witness. Jimmy Carter was a most upright character, but he couldn’t organize a booze-up in a brewery because he lacked the requisite friskiness. If only the lust he admitted was in his heart could have been extended to his whole body, he might have done better.

Although passion is no respecter of parties, I recognize that conservative politicians such as Mark Sanford are especially susceptible to temptation. All women have to do to lure such men is whisper, “Obama is a Marxist” or, “Global warming is a hoax,” and their loins become inflamed.

Though not morally superior, liberals are better placed to avoid illicit affairs. They always require potential lovers to fill out consent forms in triplicate before any romance. This and their prohibition on the traditional after-act cigarette tends to discourage would-be partners.

That is what I’ll tell my wife, anyway. If I write her a gaucho love note, maybe I can get out of the doghouse.

Reg Henry is a columnist with the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service.

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