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Posted at 10:30 AM ET, 05/16/2012

Hanky-panky? Viva la difference


I start the morning by reading about Valerie Trierweiler. She is the new first lady of France, a working journalist, who is not — as it happens — married to the new president of France. He is Francois Hollande, who for 30 years lived with another woman. She is Segolene Royal, with whom he had four children. Four years ago, Royal ran for president of France herself and lost to Nicolas Sarkozy. At the time, Hollande was having an affair with Trierweiler who, in case you’re taking notes, had been married twice before and has three teenage sons.

I think Sarkozy was doing something with somebody, but whatever the case, his wife left him for another man and he, as it happens, married Carla Bruni soon after becoming president of France. In France, all of this is considered merely interesting — not a scandal.

A moment later in my morning, I catch up on the travails of John Edwards. He is accused of breaking some campaign financing laws that nobody, but nobody, takes seriously anymore — the Supreme Court having essentially gutted the old law — but the law he truly violated was the one promulgated by the late writer Nelson Algren in his novel “A Walk on the Wild Side.” His “three rules of life" went like this: "Never play cards with a man called Doc. Never eat at a place called Mom's. Never sleep with a woman whose troubles are worse than your own." Edwards fell afoul of the last — a misdemeanor punishable by a life sentence.

Edwards is an indefensible cad, as intellectually light as your random Kardashian (although with better hair), who nonetheless is mainly guilty of carrying on an extramarital affair that produced a child. In other words, what he did was little different than what the first families of France have done over the past several years or, by deduction, since time immemorial. They have a brood of children among them, only a few of whom were born to married parents, and yet they seem to be doing just fine … as far as we know. (In fact, we know very little since the kids are largely shielded from the media, which is always a dandy idea.)

Clearly, if Edwards were French, he would not be prosecuted-persecuted by the government. He is a rich man who could afford to support another child (and a mistress), and while this might produce a certain amount of private grief, it would not compel him to hide the affair and the child. Everyone would sooner or later make some sort of accommodation and get on with their lives. If there is one thing that the French know — besides how to make wonderful bread — it is that one’s personal life is an imperfect predictor of one’s public life.

The cultural differences between the United States and France are greater than France’s inexplicable taste for snails. But after keeping one eye on the public torture of John Edwards and the other on the blasé treatment of the French first couple, I have to conclude that we could learn something from the French. They provide more space for love — a greater freedom and liberty. The heart will lead us astray and will routinely break. This is life. The only question is which wine to drink to it — white or red?

By  |  10:30 AM ET, 05/16/2012

 
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