French President Nicolas Sarkozy's politically inconsequential quickie divorce, and the preposterous thought of the same thing happening to George and Laura, should simply point to lingering cultural differences across the Atlantic. In the context of the U.S. presidential race, though, candidates' positions have far-reaching consequences for most of us, especially the growing number who are not in traditional, child-rearing, married, heterosexual relationships.
The deeply Anglo-Saxon hypocrisy that permeates U.S. politics has produced a current crop of White House contenders whose marital wretchedness would make President François Mitterrand blush (he who fathered a child with his mistress while he was running for president), while they pose as defenders of American morality (and slayers of gay marriage, single parenting, sex education, birth control and straight cohabitation).
The moral corruption on both the right and left is best summed up by Rudy Giuliani and Hillary Clinton. He believes marriage should be "between a man and a woman," or, in his case, between a man and three women, Regina Peruggi, Donna Hanover and Judith Nathan. Clinton's own stellar marital record also gives her the confidence to be firmly "against gay marriage."
No one is asking these candidates to shack up French-style with their baby-daddy (or, in the case of unmarried French opposition leader Ségolène Royal, with the father of her four children). But for God's sake (really), let them stop casting stones and let them learn some humility from their failed relationships, adulterous marriages and illegal rapports.
Maybe the key to this breathtaking duplicity lies in a recent Ladies Home Journal poll projecting that the happiness of a presidential candidate's marriage will affect the vote of 35 percent of American women.
No one asked about respondents' attitudes towards past marriages.
This is fortunate for Giuliani who, whenever Judith is around, acts and looks like Uncle Fester in Addams Family Values under the spell of the cunning nanny played by Joan Cusack. Perhaps that will make voters forget the string of affairs that culminated in Giuliani's announcing to his then-wife and children on local TV that he was seeking a divorce (no one from family number 2 is now speaking to him).
It is also good news for Fred Thompson who looks appropriately, perhaps even charmingly, exhausted by his second wife and young daughter. He must hope that conservative Christian Republicans will not delve further into the vividly well-documented love life between his first marriage of 25 years and his current one.
As for John McCain, he would understandably rather voters dwell on his current relationship with heiress Cindy than on their wedding a month after his divorce from first wife, Carol.
The big winners at this game should be John Edwards, Barack Obama and Mitt Romney, all married to their first (and, they say, only) wives, and with no public record of infidelity. So why is it that, at least nationally, Clinton crushes her squeaky-clean Democratic rivals, and that Republican Romney (married to his high-school sweetheart) ranks fourth behind Giuliani, Thompson, McCain and their seven combined marriages?
Perhaps voters don't know the candidates' personal history well enough yet (Giuliani's opponents sure hope so). Perhaps they're in denial. Or perhaps they just don't care anymore (if they ever did), their disapproval blunted by their own moral fragility and by bigger and far more damaging state-sponsored ethical failings.
In the meanwhile, both Sarkozy and Royal acted more American than expected, waiting until after the French presidential election to separate from their respective partners. Perhaps neither wanted to take a chance on the French being as French as the rest of us assume them to be.