© 2024 WFSU Public Media
WFSU News · Tallahassee · Panama City · Thomasville
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Retire The Phrase, 'This Wouldn't Be A Scandal In Europe'

Reporters swarm around former New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer as he attempts to collect signatures for his run for New York City comptroller.
Andrew Burton
Getty Images
Reporters swarm around former New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer as he attempts to collect signatures for his run for New York City comptroller.

I hope we've heard the last of people saying, "This would never be a scandal in Europe." They usually mean "sex scandal," and by now I think Americans are entitled to boast that we've become as blase about politicians with their pants down — or, in the case of Anthony Weiner, pec-flexing with his shirt off — as Europeans like to think they are.

Mr. Weiner is now running for mayor of New York. This week Eliot Spitzer, the former governor who resigned following a scandal, announced that he'll run for New York City comptroller.

One of his opponents on the ballot, by the way, is the madam of the "escort service" of which the governor was once a customer. I'll bet Martha Raddatz and Jim Lehrer would arm-wrestle to moderate that candidates' debate!

In recent years a whole string of briefly-disgraced politicians of both parties have run and won following the kind of scandals that were once presumed to leave an American politician so shattered they'd have to become lobbyists.

When the story of President Clinton's involvement with a White House intern broke in the 1990s, I had a sandwich someplace one night — some people might call it a bar — and heard a happy cacophony of accents, gossiping.

They were British, French, and Italian reporters chirruping, "You Americans are such Puritans. This would never be a story in our country," after which I wanted to ask, "Then what brought you all the way over here?"

President Clinton was acquitted at his impeachment trial; he still soars near the top of those Most Admired Person in America polls.

But we may not be blase in the European manner. A lot of the American politicians who have run for office following sex scandals say that enduring such public disgrace has deepened their character. As Mr. Spitzer told the Morning Joe show this week, "You go through that pain, you change."

So Silvio Berlusconi, Italy's former prime minister, is unapologetic about what are called his "bunga-bunga" parties. But American politicians stray and say that it builds character.

If any group is entitled to complain that they've been maligned by the press blaring about such scandals, it's not politicians. It's Puritans.

This week Edmund S. Morgan, the distinguished historian of early America, died at the age of 97. In The Puritan Dilemma and other books, Mr. Morgan, in the words of the Washington Post, "showed that the Puritans had a healthy interest in sex, despite their reputation for dour rectitude."

I guess you don't become Founding Fathers by "dour rectitude" alone. It turns out that not even the Puritans were such Puritans.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.