Politicians in the US can start wars without reason, hand out goodies and contracts to cronies, even confess to a little flirtation with substances and evoke little more than a tsk, tsk from the public. But let a politician get caught with his pants down and the public really gets its knickers in a twist. The latest to be caught napping, for want of a better word, with the ‘wrong sort’ of companion is New York’s uber moralistic governor Eliot Spitzer. Old Eliot, it now transpires, was splashing out some serious greenbacks on the services of call girls even as he went after prostitution rackets with a vengeance. Needless to say, he has retired hurt from the fray. To be caught between the sheets with anyone other than your acknowledged partner is the kiss of death for an American politician. Only Slick Willy aka Bill Clinton managed to spread his affections around and still live to tell the tale. But not without trying to cover-up the naked truth with the famous line ‘I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Miss Lewinsky,’ arguing later on the exact meaning of sexual relations. Poor Carter, before him, went peanuts explaining why he had harboured lust in his heart.
America should take a fig-leaf out of the French book. The French truly believe that chastity does not begin at home. Of course, there is always a bit of nudge, nudge, wink, wink that goes on about the peccadilloes of politicians but it is always with wry amusement rather than any sense of moral outrage. So, after former president Francois Mitterand pegged off to the great romping ground in the sky, not too many eyebrows were raised when his long-time mistress and progeny popped out of the Elysee closet. The reaction was more in the nature of admiration for the old boy’s staying power well into old age. Current incumbent Nicolas Sarkozy, however, seems to make the French go up in a bedsheet of flame with his open flaunting of his sexy supermodel girlfriend, now spouse. The message is clear, no one grudges you a roll in the hay on the side, but for god’s sake don’t emerge dripping with the evidence.
We Indians have a much better way of dealing with the intimacies of our political worthies. We simply look the other way. A politico caught with his hand in the till evokes the most vicious rage but a little slap-and-tickle is quite acceptable. Some of our stalwarts have more than one spouse but are not considered any less than chaste than many among us. Now this may be taken as a sign of maturity and our ability to respect others’ privacy. Or it could be that we quail at taking potshots at the powerful on such risqué issues. Either way, a zip code that poor Spitzer would have been glad of. If only the Americans were contend as we are and the French are to let sleeping dogs lie, never mind in whose beds they may be.