I'm here because if you were to look at God's laws, they're in every instance designed to protect people from themselves. I think that that is the bottom line of God's law, that it's not a moral, rigid list of do's and don'ts just for the heck of do's and don'ts. It is indeed to protect us from ourselves. And the biggest self of self is, indeed, self; that sin is, in fact, grounded in this notion of what is it that I want as opposed to somebody else?
The assertion that "the biggest self of self is indeed self" makes a poetic sort of psychological and theological sense, I think, though I'm not quite sure how.
I thought this might be a (perhaps garbled) quotation or allusion of some sort. But I doubt that the governor is familiar with Gerard Manley Hopkins' unfinished fragment On the Portrait of Two Beautiful Young People:
21 There's none but good can bé good, both for you
22 And what sways with you, maybe this sweet maid;
23 None good but God—a warning wavèd to
24 One once that was found wanting when Good weighed.
25 Man lives that list, that leaning in the will
26 No wisdom can forecast by gauge or guess,
27 The selfless self of self, most strange, most still,
28 Fast furled and all foredrawn to No or Yes.
29 Your feast of; that most in you earnest eye
30 May but call on your banes to more carouse.
31 Worst will the best. What worm was here, we cry,
32 To have havoc-pocked so, see, the hung-heavenward boughs?
33 Enough: corruption was the world's first woe.
34 What need I strain my heart beyond my ken?
35 O but I bear my burning witness though
36 Against the wild and wanton work of men.
Bill Poser suggests that "the biggest self of self is self" might be a bad translation of some Sanskrit scripture; but if so, I haven't been able to locate the original. And in any case, that seems even further from Sanford's style than Hopkins is.
The audio for the whole passage is here:
Here's a more careful transcript:
But I'm- I'm- I'm here
because if you were to look at God's laws
uh they're in every instance designed to protect people from themselves
um I think that that is the bottom line of God's law
that it's not a- a- a- a moral r- rigid list of dos and don'ts just for the heck of dos and donts
it is indeed to protect us
from ourselves and the biggest
self of self is
is- is in- indeed self
that sin is in fact grounded in this notion
of what is it that I want
as opposed to somebody else
I see only one problem with the NYT transcript: the question mark at the end is inappropriate, since the what-clause, despite the subject-aux inversion, is not a direct question, but rather the complement of notion of.
But a lot is left out of a transcript. In this case, the performance of the phrase "the biggest self of self is indeed self" — especially the internal pausing — is consistent with the idea that the governor had something less poetic in mind, for example "the biggest danger to self is indeed self", or "the biggest danger to ourselves is indeed ourselves". Or maybe "We have met the enemy, and he is us".
The cited phrase by itself is here:
[Update — following a discussion with misterfricative in the comments below, I suggest that Gov. Sanford had in mind a phrase like "the biggest source of sin is indeed self", and then performed a rare double-anticipation speech error. ]
My vote for the best comment on the whole Sanford saga goes to the lolcat version offered by John Scalzi:
[But then, maybe the poem contributed by Salient at Crooked Timber is even better:
The biggest self of self is self:
A part that parts its part to be a whole,
The screw that once held stud to shelf
When loose, is held to have a sovereign soul
(and, so far as shear-stress will permit, gov’rnance of the whole.)
Rust to dust: but living flesh to coal,
which in its value must give of itself,
return to air what verdant Nature stole
(this too in bondage, each atom volatile while sole.)