A reader has urged me to lift the following comment on Frédéric Mitterrand out of the comments section, so I am doing so with a few modifications:
On the age of Mitterrand's Thai partner: I believe him when he puts the young man's age at 20. Why not? The words garçon, gosse, and ephèbe in the mouth of a 50+-year-old writer apply perfectly to someone of that age. So, Kirk, I think the charge of pedophilia is misplaced, and in this respect Mitterrand is right to allege that there is "un amalgame" between the two cases (his and Polanski's). He is guilty of sexual tourism, not statutory rape (a crime that Finkielkraut seems to be unaware is a crime).
Now, when it comes to sex between the old and the young, for cash, in foreign climes, I suggest that we put things in perspective. Anyone who has served in the military in a poor country or been on a mission or business trip to the Third World knows that this sort of sin is hardly uncommon. That's not the issue. I agree with Brent that Mitterrand admirably represents the "complexity" of one man's thoughts in regard to such behavior, in this case his own. He finds it sordid and yet cannot help himself. Reading him, we understand why he thinks of his own life as an example of "la mauvaise vie," and here I take the definite article to mean that he regards The Bad Life as an antithesis to The Good Life that is beyond the reach of the fallen sinner he represents himself as being.
For me, his primary error as minister remains his defense of Polanski, not his sexual tourism: there is probably not a colonel in the French army who has not indulged in some questionable sexual escapade abroad. Even the supposedly "puritanical Americans" tend to run wild when serving abroad. The sexual tourism issue is a problem for the government, not for Mitterrand (except insofar as his personal demons are involved). The government has in the past prosecuted behavior like his.* Can it maintain him as a minister and continue to brand behavior to which he has confessed as a crime? I put that as a question. I haven't made up my mind, but at the moment I am inclined to think that Sarkozy is right to resist the denunciations of the FN, elements of the PS, Christian Vanneste, et autres Savonarole des temps modernes.
*Kirk points out that sexual tourism is not a crime prosecutable in France, only sexual tourism that results in sex with minors. I don't know much about these matters, but I have spent enough time in the Third World to know that, for me, the unconscionable thing is the way in which the juxtaposition of wealth and abject poverty at once creates temptations and opportunities and subdues moral compunctions. Sexual exploitation is condemnable as such, and whether the exploited is 18 or 17 does not strike me as an exculpatory distinction.
This is a moral rather than a legal issue, however, and France rightly prides itself on maintaining a distinction between private and public life. If we dismissed all ministers guilty of immoral behavior, we'd have a hard time maintaining a government. Mitterrand's mauvaise vie may nevertheless be a public issue, however, because France, in prosecuting sexual acts committed abroad, is now in the position of having to clarify just what kinds of sexual exploitation--and even Mitterrand admits that his behavior was exploitative, referring to les miettes left for les gosses by les ripoux who manage the sexual traffic--it is willing to countenance.