There’s an historic strain of common purpose between France and the USA, not simply because both nations threw off monarchies in the 18th Century and adopted pretty similar presidential styles of government.
There are other parallels, not least in the type of ballsy females who exert immense influence on the guys or hommes who hold the keys to the White House and Elysee Palace, though that where the two nations diverge.
It probably began when Josephine was said to have told Bonaparte, apropos bedroom gymnastics, ‘Not tonight, Nappy!’ (she probably added, ‘I ‘ave zee ‘eadache and, frankly, for a Frenchman you are a beet saggy in ze sack,’ though that’s unconfirmed).
In fact, despite all the hype of Frenchmen claiming the mantle of the world’s greatest ‘loovers’, La Belle France’s politicians have had a pretty dicky time of it, so to speak, from their respective partners.
Francois Mitterrand was said to have been in awe of his mistress Anne Pingeot; neo-fascist Jean Marie Le Pen’s missus, Pierette, ridiculed his multiple infidelities by posing nude for Playboy; and Cecilia Sarkozy got her retaliation in first…by eloping with a lover before the petit but perfectly-formed Nicholas could get his hands on the presidency and Carla Bruni.
Let’s not forget, either, Anne Sinclair, who finally kicked out her adulterous husband, Dominique Strauss Kahn – he of the yo-yoing trouser zipper – notwithstanding unproven allegations he raped a New York hotel chambermaid.Now, in the best traditions of French farce we hear the country’s newest leader, Francois Hollande – whose unassuming facade apparently hides a lusty seducer – is utterly intimidated by his volatile partner, Valeria Trierweiler. According to a new book, The Rebel, by two journalists who claim to know her snarling tantrums well, every time she throws a wobbler (often) he’s banned from her bed.
By contrast, on the other side of Le Pond, where politicians dance to the tune of US Puritanism, such scandals are rare as hen’s teeth (apart from the foibles of Bill Clinton, which were excusable, since he never had sex with Monica Lewinsky, even if she did with him).
Hence, in comparison with France’s political she-wolves, the likes of Michelle Obama and Ann Romney appear dutifully benign. Nonetheless, don’t mistake their mumsiness; the pair are ruthless tigresses, teak-tough power gals, who’ve made a telling impact on the build-up to the November 6th election.
Naturally, after four years exposure as the nation’s ‘Mom In Chief’, as she styles herself, the charismatic Michelle is familiar with the First Wives’ Club battleground, as much of a beauty contest as the one their husband are locked in.
Which is why you can read the indignation in her blazing eyes if ever Barak wilts in a verbal slug-fest, as he did in the first televised debate with Mitt Romney. Some even wonder if Michelle might have made a better boss of her nation than her sometimes ponderous hubby.
Meanwhile, Ann has campaigned as the archetypical, all-American wife, though, married to a multi-millionaire businessman and former Governor of Massachusetts, she’s anything but. Nonetheless, the story of her personal courage in overcoming breast cancer and multiple sclerosis, while bringing up five, feisty sons, resonates with the countless undeclared voters.
What both wives are accomplished at is ‘humanising’ their spouses, portraying them as something other than hard-nosed, combative politicos and, in Romney’s case, a robotic plutocrat, more at ease in a boardroom than on the hustings.
As new girl on the block, Ann, a vivacious, 63-year-old blonde who belies her years, actually stole the edge over Michelle, whose life story has been chronicled so often – the smart chick from a struggling, yet aspirant Chicago family, who wondered if Barak was good enough for their daughter – the handles have dropped off.
Ann talks of her roots, too; of how her Welsh grandfather worked down the pit from the age of six, until an industrial accident curtailed his career as a hewer of coal. So he emigrated to Detroit in the 1920s, founded the family fortune and realised the Great American Dream.
Michelle tells of how Barak ‘tucks me up in bed each night’ and boasts she’s the family gagster. Ann counters, saying she fell for Mitt at high school, married him at 19, and their early poverty forced them to live off tinned tuna and use the ironing board as a dining table.
Such anecdotes play well in the swing states of Florida, Wisconsin and Colorado, but rustbelt Ohio is the keystone, which is why both women have zeroed in there to use their schmooze and woo the hoverers.
So why Ohio? Because, quirkily, US Presidential jousts are not won by garnering an overall national majority – if so Al Gore would have taken the White House in 2000, not G-Dubya – but by winning individual states, each of which is allocated a number of Electoral College votes according to its population (i.e. Ohio has 18, Florida 29, Wisconsin 10 and Colorado 9).
Hence, out of the 538 Electoral College votes up for grabs, the first man to hit 270 wins.
According to early polls – maybe because of Ann’s influence – women voters tilted in Romney’s favour, men preferring Obama. There’s been a reversal since then, but, as the incumbent, the reigning President is marginally the bookies’ favourite.
There’s only one certainty: whoever wins, much of his success will be down to the power behind the Oval Office throne that wears a skirt.
Oh, how those masters of the French political universe must envy their US counterparts, with spouses who know the value of fidelity and adhere to the tacit American principle of standing by their man.