Vogue's squirm factor

As a magazine fan who does not consult Vogue about anything, I am quite happy to see that magazine give lengthy coverage to Jenny Sanford, First Lady (for now) of South Carolina.

Consider this byline-free article's punchy lede, which cuts straight to the quality that makes Sanford a heroic figure for so many women – and men, for that matter:

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.

To that list of long-suffering victims I would add Wendy Baldwin Vitter (wife of U.S. Sen. David Vitter, R-La.), whose expression of petrified vulnerability should end the sick tradition of a politician's wife standing by her man at a moronic press conference.

Vogue's treatment of Jenny Sanford's faith is another mater. She is, we are told, "pious without being smug." Her one-page statement about her husband's all-too-public adultery "mentioned God without making you squirm." A quote from a longtime friend drives home the point that Sanford's faith is so respectable because it's apparently so deep in the background:

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.

Yet by the article's own brief allusions, it's clear that Sanford's understanding of forgiveness has something to do with her faith:

"I am not in charge of revenge. That's not up to me. That's for the Lord to decide, and it's important for me to teach that to my boys. All I can do is forgive. Reconciliation is something else, and that is going to be a harder road. I have put my heart and soul into being a good mother and wife."

The article mentions that she saw her father kneel to pray each night, and says she attended "Georgetown University, the ne plus ultra for brainy Catholic girls," but makes no effort to explain how she and her husband became Episcopalians. There's no exploring of the rich questions about their political and social conservatism within a denomination not known for its conservatism. (In fairness, the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina is atypical in its theology.)

In this 2,800-word article, we read as much about Jenny Sanford's full-throttle days while working at investment-banking firm Lazard Frères & Co. and living on Long Island ("Sanford was not the Paris Hilton of the Hamptons, but neither was she a saint") as we do about what she believes and how it affects her choices during her public ordeal.

The turns of phrase are elegant, the piece is rightly admiring of this strong woman -- and yet a huge portion of her interior life is missing. Had Vogue assigned the piece to a writer not so prone to squirming at the mention of God, it could have published a more insightful work of reporting.

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