When Bill Clinton’s affair with Monica Lewinsky confirmed his reputation as an adulterer, it was said that in Europe no one would have gotten so upset by a politician’s sexual peccadilloes. The ruckus was attributed to the American inclination to act like self righteous Puritans.
When the second ex wife of Newt Gingrich went public – just before the South Carolina Primary last week – with her claims that the former House Speaker wanted to have an open marriage, many thought she had sucker punched his campaign. But then he won. Does this mean that when it comes to sex and politics Americans have finally adopted European values?
At the risk of going tabloid, here are some recent scandalous European tales – and their outcomes – for your consideration.
Silvio Berlusconi has set the bar for bad boy behavior pretty high. The three term Prime Minister of Italy had two children by his first wife (they wed in 1965) and three children by the mistress (they hooked up in 1980) who became his second wife in 1990. She filed for divorce in 2009. Betwixt and between his wives, Berlusconi publically bragged about his sexual conquests. Only last year, the 76 year old hinted that he was slowing down because he had lined up a dozen women for sex one night, but could not get to all of them. Also in 2011, as Italy’s economy was tanking, Berlusconi faced charges of having sex with an underage prostitute whom he subsequently tried to pass off as the grand daughter of the now deposed Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. To the great relief of the people of Italy, Berlusconi voluntarily resigned last November.
The French, who enjoy a reputation as great lovers, have had several notable sex scandals commensurate with this image. Two years ago, Sylvie Brunel, the estranged wife of Eric Besson, the French Minister of Immigration, reacted to his infidelity – after 30 years of marriage – by publishing The Guerilla Handbook for Women and publically denouncing her ex husband while on her book tour. Besson seemed to be enjoying the extra attention he was receiving because of his ex wife’s book. He was also enjoying his relationship with a 24 year old Tunisian babe. By all accounts, none of this had any effect on his political career.
Dominique Strauss-Kahn was not so lucky. His brief encounter with a New York hotel maid became the stuff of nightmares when she cried rape and he was hauled off a plane and flung into jail. The twist in the DSK tale was that his very wealthy wife stood by him, but his chances for running against Nicholas Sarkozy in the next French Presidential election were shattered. Rumors persist that Sarkozy – or his agents – set up the maid sting in order to take DSK down. If true, this suggests that political rivals can be far more dangerous than an injured spouse.
Vicky Pryce, the estranged wife of a British politician, Energy Secretary Chris Huhne, is writing a memoir about their breakup. Huhne left her for another woman after 27 years of marriage. In addition to writing about his adultery, Pryce made the rather odd claim that her husband tried to get an aide to accept his penalty points for speeding so he wouldn’t lose his driving license. Huhne denied it and has remained in office without any apparent loss of face.
Ms. Pryce, it must be noted, is a rare exception among British political wives. Norma Major, Gail Sheridan, Mary Archer, Jane Clark, Ann Parkinson and Valerie Profumo (and probably quite a few others) all remained silent on the subject of their philandering husbands. But how about a philandering wife?
Last year, the press in Northern Ireland was very sympathetic to that nation’s most senior politician, First Minister Peter Robinson. His wife Iris (herself a member of the Belfast Assembly and a Member of Parliament) was caught committing adultery. Support for the hubby in this instance was the result of the glee which derives from exposing a hypocrite. Iris Robinson had made quite a big deal out of her born-again Christianity and angered many with her anti-gay positions. Even after she failed in a suicide attempt, the public was disinclined to feel she deserved a break. Like Berlusconi, Mrs. Robinson has since withdrawn from politics voluntarily.
Although it is slightly south of Europe, Turkey is experiencing a bumper crop of sex scandals.
In 2011, Deniz Baykal, the longtime leader of Turkey’s secular main opposition party, resigned after a secretly taped video proved he was having an affair. Baykal claimed he was set up by the government, but an investigation has turned up no evidence of a plot.
This week – hot off the presses – at least two sex videos were put up on the Internet causing another uproar in the largely secular but Islamic nation. In the wake of these home movies, six senior Turkish politicians have resigned and this will have a significant impact on national elections scheduled for June 12 of this year.
Earlier this month, four members of a nationalist party also resigned after videos of them having sex at a house party became public.
Like the Strauss-Kahn affair, rumors abound that these videos were instigated by political foes. Turkey’s ruling party was already widely expected to be elected to a third term. An increased majority position will allow it to spearhead the rewriting of Turkey’s Constitution. That may be a convincing motive for setting up the opposition, but the on screen action was real. None of the disgraced individuals is pleading a CGI (computer generated images) defense.
The only divorced man to be elected President of the United States was Ronald Reagan whose first marriage to Jane Wyman fell apart over Reagan’s shift away from his acting career and towards politics. It was not a matter of disagreement on the issues, but of life choices. Ironically, during his stint as Governor of California, Reagan introduced the nation’s first “no fault” divorce statutes.
As one of the seven professions with the highest rate of divorce, electing another divorced President seems statistically probable in the future. A 2011 survey of the private lives of politicians indicated that in a 24 hour day, he or she averages only 7 hours at home, 5 of which are spent sleeping. The percentage of those who are sleeping with their wives (or husbands) versus someone else was not recorded in the survey.
John Kerry was divorced and he lost in his bid to move into the White House. If Newt Gingrich becomes the GOP standard bearer and makes Obama a one term President, perhaps we can infer that American values are becoming more European. The recent outcomes of the misadventures of Arnold Schwarzenegger and Congressman Weiner indicate the fidelity factor plays out about the same on either side of the pond. If the outrage level is high enough, the result is almost always a resignation, not a lost election.