Simon Says

Simon SaysSimon Says

NPR's Scott Simon Shares His Take On Events Large And Small

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

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's now running for mayor of New York. This week, Eliot Spitzer, the former governor who resigned following a scandal, announced 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. Ha, 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 a American politician so shattered, he'd have to become a lobbyist.

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 you 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've 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 they say that it builds character.

If any group's 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. Turns out that not even the Puritans were such puritans.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "IT'S A SIN")

PET SHOP BOYS: (Singing) It's a, it's a, it's a, it's a sin. It's a sin. Everything I've ever done, everything I ever do, every place I've ever been, everywhere I'm going to, it's a sin. At school, they taught...

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Simon Says

Simon SaysSimon Says

NPR's Scott Simon Shares His Take On Events Large And Small