May 23, 2013
Anthony Weiner (/Richard Drew/Associated Press)
Anthony Weiner (/Richard Drew/Associated Press)

Say what you will about Anthony Weiner — and I have — he is a stereotype buster. Until he announced this week that he would run for New York City mayor, it was still possible for anyone, particularly the French, to talk of American provincialism when it comes to sex and compare it to French sophistication, the prime example of that being François Mitterrand, president of the republic from 1981 to 1995. In addition to running the country and what was left of a once-vast colonial empire, Mitterrand kept a mistress with whom he fathered a daughter, Mazarine. This, not a baguette, was supposedly the essence of France.

Now, though, things have changed. Weiner is running for mayor only about two years after he was forced to quit Congress after tweeting pictures of himself in his undies to women across the county, none of whom he had met and some of whom might have been Republicans. The uproar over what he had done — he calls it a “mistake” — and his hounding from Congress fits very nicely with the old American stereotype about sex, but not his attempted comeback. Now we have become Frenchest of nations, and Weiner is running second in the polls — maybe on account of name recognition, maybe on account of recognition recognition.

Okay. We are talking New York. The front-runner is Christine Quinn, a lesbian who recently admitted to having been an alcoholic and bulimic. Another contender is Bill de Blasio, who is white and is married to Chirlane McCray, a black woman who in 1979 wrote an article for “Essence Magazine” entitled “I Am A Lesbian.” Presumably, she is now bisexual. Her husband should sweep the biracial bisexual vote, but only — because this is New York — if he is anti-police. On the other hand, Rudy Giuliani, who is definitely pro-police, opened his private life to public inspection back in 2000 when he ran — briefly — for the senate. He had had, like almost everyone, an affair.

Yes, New York is different — “The Bronx is up but the Battery’s down.” Still, take a look at South Carolina, not all that long ago a secessionist state. (You think I forgot?) There, Mark Sanford was elected this month to Congress after admitting an extra-marital affair while governor and disappearing from office. (He said he had gone hiking on the Appalachian Trail.) Like Weiner, he had to resign from everything while he was condemned, censored and ridiculed. But the voters, as opposed to the politicians, are more, well, French in their approach to such matters and cared more about Sanford’s loathing of taxes than his love for his once-mistress.

And then we come to David Vitter. He won re-election to the Senate from Louisiana in 2010 after being identified three years earlier as a client of a Washington, D.C., prostitution service. Without even Googling it, I can tell you that Vitter said he made a mistake and begged forgiveness. He also said the usual things about God. None of that matters. What matter is that he did a sex thing — and got away with it.

The most storied extramarital affair (or whatever) in American history has to be Bill Clinton’s whatever with Monica Lewinsky. He survived the attempt to oust him from office and left the presidency with highest ratings of any president since World War II. I have no doubt he could win election to any office in the country, including the presidency. (Okay, maybe not.)

As for the French, they are becoming more American. Dominique Strauss-Kahn was clearly relying on his country’s laissez-faire attitude toward sexual matters when he got caught giving a hotel maid an inappropriate tip and later admitting to a rambunctious sex life that had nothing to do with his wife. Not only did that abort Kahn’s political career — at least for now — but his extremely sophisticated wife divorced him. How thoroughly American of her!

Given the Frenchification of America — and given the dreariness of the mayoralty field in New York — Weiner might well win. He already has a $5 million war chest, but his chest, as we all know, is the least of him.

(I couldn’t help myself.)

Richard Cohen writes a weekly political column for The Washington Post.