It's the first rule of adultery redemption: minimize the affair.
Bill Clinton did it 11 years ago:
I did have a relationship with Miss Lewinsky that was not appropriate. In fact, it was wrong. It constituted a critical lapse in judgment and a personal failure on my part. … Now, this matter is between me, the two people I love most—my wife and our daughter—and our God.
That's the ticket: The only woman you love is your wife. The mistress is—er, was—just a "lapse in judgment." As John Edwards put it last year:
In 2006, I made a serious error in judgment and conducted myself in a way that was disloyal to my family and to my core beliefs. I recognized my mistake and I told my wife that I had a liaison with another woman, and I asked for her forgiveness. … I was and am ashamed of my conduct. … But that misconduct took place for a short period in 2006. It ended then.
That's even better. The "error in judgment" is over. Long over. And it was short. Really, really, really short (even if, in fact, it wasn't). You're ashamed of the lapse. It was a betrayal of who you are. It wasn't the real you.
Here's Sen. John Ensign's version, issued a week ago:
Last year I had an affair. I violated the vows of my marriage. It is the worst thing I have ever done in my life. If there was ever anything in my life that I could take back, this would be it. … I know that I have deeply hurt and disappointed my wife Darlene, my children, my family, my friends, my staff and others who believed in me. To all of them, especially my wife, I am deeply sorry. I am truly blessed to have a wife who has forgiven me.
See? You love your wife. She's all you ever cared about. And all those tender moments you spent with what's-her-name? They're the worst thing you ever did. You wish you could take them back.
Sticking to this script is your best shot at salvaging your career and maybe your marriage. That's why adulterous politicians normally talk this way. But Gov. Mark Sanford isn't normal. Here are excerpts from his press conference today: