The French show Americans how to handle a presidential sex scandal

Hollande affair apartment
A photographer on Monday shoots video of the building where French President Francois Hollande allegedly met with French actress Julie Gayet, located at 20 Rue du Cirque, near the Elysee Palace in Paris.
(Thomas Samson / AFP/Getty Images)

If President Obama were photographed coming and going from a younger woman’s apartment at all hours of the day and night, would most Americans care?

Uh, yeah. I mean, see Clinton, Bill, and Lewinsky, Monica.

In France, though, President Francois Hollande is knee-deep in just such l’affaire, having been photographed coming and going from the apartment of a younger woman, actress Julie Gayet.

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And do the French care? Well, according to a poll published in the Journal du Dimanche, 77% of respondents said the affair was a personal matter. And 84% said it had done nothing to change their opinion of Hollande.

And that’s even though news of the affair sent Hollande’s partner, Valerie Trierweiler, to the hospital with “un gros coup de blues.” (Admit it: That sounds so much better than “depression” or, shudder, “nervous breakdown,” doesn’t it?)

Trierweiler doesn’t get much sympathy because even though she is France’s unofficial first lady — living in the “madame wing” of the presidential palace — she was also the reason Hollande left his first partner and the mother of his children, politician Ségolène Royal. (At least Hollande has avoided the messy divorce side of infidelity.)

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Also, the French seemed to have shrugged off allegations that the ownership of the apartment used in the trysts was somehow tied to the Corsican mafia (and yes, I suspect that somewhere in Hollywood, someone is yelling “Get me a screenwriter!” right about now).

Mostly, the attitude of the French reflects their president, who, when caught, reportedly fessed up to his partner — but then blasted the media for invading his privacy.

So, who has it right when it comes to politicians and affairs of the heart, Americans or the French?

Sorry, my fellow Americans, but the French win hands-down.

You are, of course, free to not approve of what, in Hollande’s case (and in Clinton’s, for that matter) might be called a certain moral looseness. You are also free to infer from that same moral looseness that the person may have certain character traits you might want to consider when marking your ballot.

But at least the French are realists. They know that politics and sex go together like, well, sex and politics. From Clinton, to Newt Gingrich, to JFK, to FDR, to — well, the list is veerrryyy long — we don’t lack for examples of politicians behaving badly, sex-wise. That doesn’t mean that they were bad altogether, though.

Look at it this way: Richard Nixon was faithful to his wife. Bill Clinton was not. On the whole, which one did a better job as president?

Heck, Hollande’s real problem today is not hanky panky but that many French just don’t see him as a very good president.


Which, it seems to me, really is a better thing to focus on than his love life.

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Follow Paul Whitefield on Twitter @PaulWhitefield1 and Google +

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