WASHINGTON — Here’s the simple love story of 15 year-old boy meets much older drama teacher in high school and eventually falls in love. His parents can’t keep them apart, so years later the mother of three eventually divorces her husband and marries her former student. They flourish and then he runs for president when he’s 39 and she’s 64.
It’s much sweeter as a love story when you tell it as part of the presidential campaign than say, when the boy is in high school and it could, depending on when the love blossoms, be the stuff of a criminal case in the US rather than a candidate’s biography.
We don’t exactly know, by the way, when Emanuel Macron’s love blossomed with his wife Brigitte. Suffice it to say his parents told her to stay away until he was 18 and shipped him off to Paris. Now, years later, they’re still together and he could become president of France after a run-off election with conservative Marine Le Pen Sunday.
Can you imagine a politician with a personal life like Macron succeeding in the US? Maybe or maybe not. In France, it’s met with a shrug.
There are a few interesting elements to this story:
First is that the husband is much younger than the wife, reversing the stereotype about older men and younger women. What’s more — they’ve been committed many years.
Plenty of people have pointed out that the difference in age between Macron and his wife, Brigitte, is about the same as it is for US President Donald Trump and his third wife, Melania.
Although Donald Trump was never Melania’s drama teacher.
There’s also the disclaimer that they’re French, and everything when it comes to the personal lives and relationships is different.
CNN had an interesting piece last month quoting all sorts of French people taking delight in the idea of a younger man and an older woman and shrugging off the idea that there should be a scandal of any kind. They shrug and move on.
Complicated love lives are nothing new for French presidents.
The current president, Francois Hollande, has four children by another politician and former presidential candidate, Segolene Royal. They split, however, and he took up with a French journalist until a tabloid caught him riding on a motor scooter to the apartment of a much younger woman in Paris.
Imagine an American president riding a moped around the streets of Washington to an affair. Insert your Bill Clinton comparisons here, but his extramarital relationship was a major scandal that nearly brought down his presidency. Hollande’s was not.
Neither was his predecessor’s; Nikolas Sarkozy divorced after he was elected. He then took up with Carla Bruni, a model and pop star, who he married while president.
Trump is only the second US president ever to have been divorced. Ronald Reagan was the first. But Trump’s colorful tabloid past is worthy of the precedent set by French presidents in a way that Reagan’s was not.
Most US presidents have one spouse and stick with them — Barack Obama and the two Bush presidents are examples of decades-long committed relationships without public problems.
The Clinton relationship obviously had its problems, but the Clintons stayed married.
Truth is, complicated love lives aren’t that new in American politics either. The fascination with politicians’ private lives is relatively new. The Roosevelts and Kennedys each had relationships you could see being picked apart by the modern media.
Among presidential candidates, there’s a longer line of complicated personal lives. John Edwards. Newt Gingrich, whose first wife, by the way, was his high school math teacher.
But for whatever reason — the importance of religious conservatives as a voting bloc, perhaps? — a candidate’s personal life has always seemed to matter more here.