INTERNATIONAL

Infidelities in International Politics: The New Acceptability of Unacceptable Acts

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You can’t help but wonder what would have happened to America had it known about the sordid infidelities of John F. Kennedy while he was U.S. President in the early 1960’s. Had there been an Internet back in that era, there’s no question JFK would have been impeached, sent onto the path of shame and oblivion as President as well as the U.S. Presidency being irrevocably changed forever. Similarly, the demands placed on the personal life of the Presidency would have been far too great for nearly every other candidate jostling to take his place.

We can base this on the revelations in more recent decades of surprising political infidelities of highly notable names taking place long before JFK was even considered worthy as a statesman or as a habitual womanizer.

But those who still consider the 1950’s and early 1960’s to be the most conservative era in American history still haven’t had a true peek behind the curtain. Even if some of our younger generations understand what was really going on, the world of the Presidency, Governorships and other esteemed political positions still are expected to have occupants with clean personal records.

Yes, we continually hope that the prestige and intellect of the person we vote in will be able to keep in check the perpetual human desire to abuse power.

After the Bill Clinton scandals of the late 1990’s, the divide was evenly split between those who forgave and those who wouldn’t ever forgive. It took uncountable more liaisons from American politicians or other notable individuals before that divide started to narrow. The discovery of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s secret love child(ren) a dozen years later brought plenty of media support for Maria Shriver. The act of Gov. Schwarzenegger’s infidelity itself, however, didn’t even garner a quarter of the angry public responses Bill Clinton received when he did(n’t) have sex with that woman, Miss Lewinsky.

It’s all enough to assume that Arnold Schwarzenegger has become the final straw for the American people in finding their supreme politician. Not that we can get a complete picture of how America feels about the matter. Nevertheless, the uproar over the reality he fathered numerous kids before and during his California Governorship has been processed more through a bevy of one-liners than anger. Even the more serious-minded in the world of social networking couldn’t discuss it without throwing in a punch line.

If that gives an indication that America has moved on to giving passes to the peccadilloes of politicians, it still depends on whether the liaison was consensual or forced. America was plainly livid at the IMF’s Dominique Strauss-Kahn and the accusations of his violent sexual acts against women in hotel rooms.

France, on the other hand, seems to have given the Strauss-Kahn case one giant shrug as if sending the message that it’s nothing but the reflection and essence of a powerful man.

Where that degraded thought originates in France goes back so far that most people in positions of power there likely couldn’t even tell you when it started. The most they can say is that it developed through the worst possible process: Being a proud country for a long length of time.
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Time is always the culprit for the degradation of principles and its close partner, ethics. Whole cultures have been brought down due to the very same situation or by living by their own rules for hundreds of years. And it’s no secret that France has existed within a different frame of mind long before its renaissance in the arts and culture during the 1700’s. By the 19th and 20th centuries, it became a more open rite of passage for a woman to go to France and expect to be romanced (or chased) by the French male species. Italy seemed to be running along the same track to outdo this aesthetic.

While that was thriving, America was in the throes of the Victorian Era where extreme conservatism was an expected way of life. Not that our British-influenced sense of mores weren’t sometimes destroyed behind closed doors, despite it being in the minority. By the time the Baby Boomer generation were publicly loosening up their mores in the late 1960’s, France had already become a caricature of itself in making sex as common as getting out of bed. All you need to see are the Looney Tunes Pepe Le Pew cartoons from the 1950’s to see how facetiously accepted it was already then.

It’s the concept of time again, though, that usually takes something accepted through a satiric prism and moves it over a line that takes everybody by shock. All it took was 50 more years for France to develop a philosophy on sex and the role of women in this arena to a point of expected capitulation. Even at the time of this writing, Dominique Strauss-Kahn himself has been taken into an odd sense of house arrest leniency from powers that be.

Now with the confluence of the Arnold Schwarzenegger and Strauss-Kahn cases, we have a chance to see if America ultimately caught up with France. If you go by our own timeline, 235 years as a country puts us at the equivalent to France’s earliest existence in the Middle Ages when they were still nascent in the formation of their culture. In a literal sense, the U.S. would require 800 more years to evolve into France’s recent philosophies on political infidelity.

Fortunately, time isn’t absolute, and it gets sped up with technology and the usual overwhelming temptations. Influence on cultures from our age of intense media is going to more or less put us all on the same path of time.

If that’s proven, then America may not be too far away from France in turning a cheek on things we realize we can’t control. Our 235th year as a country may be the starting point of voting in politicians we know are capable of having sordid affairs with those other than their wives. We may still vote them in with the hope they won’t let any peccadilloes out of the bag, yet keeping it in mind as a realistic possibility to avoid panic if it does happen.

In other words, America may have caught up with France without making it an ostentatious exercise.

Time also does other things other than staying static. If moving forward in time makes us more forgiving to human imperfections, it also can make the guilty politician able to put his own transgressions into greater perspective.

As we go into the future with ever-increasing mystery of what’s around the corner, having those unfaithful individuals putting their thoughtless behavior into a larger perspective in a shorter span of time would be our best outcome. The unknowns of the future may also hold things that help change life so power doesn’t become the so-called ultimate aphrodisiac.

Diana Saleem

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