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Joan Z. Shore

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Sex and the Single President

Posted: 05/10/2012 10:24 am

The election of Socialist François Hollande to the French presidency shouldn't come as a surprise.

The Socialists have been out of power for 17 years. The country slogged along under Jacques Chirac for 12 years. (His first term was the usual 7 years, and then he proposed, and passed, the shorter 5-year term.) That was followed by Sarkozy's frenetic five years, punctuated by his mercurial temperament and the financial crisis. Obviously, the French were ready for a change. But what a change! The outgoing and incoming presidents couldn't be more different, politically and temperamentally.

However, their personal lives seem equally chaotic. Sarkozy's victory in May 2007 coincided exactly with his wife's departure -- she had agreed to stay with him through Election Night and leave the following day to join her lover in New York. So his victory was bittersweet. He was visibly devastated, and his good fortune was to meet Carla Bruni a short time after. But until they were married, Sarkozy couldn't travel with her to certain places -- Muslim countries, for example -- and she only accompanied him to London and met Queen Elizabeth after their marriage.

For the French, these nuptial and extra-nuptial events are merely subjects for dinner conversation. There is amusement, but no moral indignation. And now, the fact that president-elect Hollande has fathered four children out of wedlock and is bringing his girlfriend (not the mother of his children) into the Elysée... this is not viewed with any moral indignation either.

Can you imagine this happening in America?

We manage to skewer our libidinous politicians before they get into the White House, not after. (Bill Clinton was the one exception.) And when did we ever have an unmarried president? It seems bachelors simply don't qualify for our highest office.

Strangely enough, along with this puritanical attitude, we have entered an age where private lives are invaded and publicized, where discretion and respect have disappeared. (John Kennedy escaped this, but became fair game many years after his death.) Honestly, can you imagine Franklin Roosevelt or Dwight Eisenhower being hounded by the press and impeached because they had mistresses? Which they had. And so did Thomas Jefferson, very openly. Ben Franklin, even in his later years, was the darling of Parisian ladies, who fawned upon him.

So I shall venture a theory: Many of our best presidents have been sexy. And some of our worst ones have been un-sexy: Calvin Coolidge, Richard Nixon, Jimmy Carter, Gerald Ford, George W. Bush.

Perhaps, instead of judging a candidate by his policies, his education, his origins, his constituents, his wealth, his family, we should simply measure his level of testosterone.

Or avoid the issue altogether and elect a woman!

 
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