Monday, November 23, 2009

Shock revelation! Single man has sex! Sack him!

Okay, it’s not quite that simple, but it’s not far off either. South Australian Premier Mike Rann, before he was engaged to his current wife – and many years after his divorce from his first wife – had, it seems, a racy affair with a foxy blonde Parliament House waitress. Michelle Chantelois was married at the time.

About six weeks ago, her estranged husband hit Mike Rann in the head with a rolled-up magazine at an ALP fundraiser in Adelaide. Since then, gossip has been rife as to his motives. And today, an interview with Chantelois was published in New Idea, following an interview on Channel Seven’s Today Tonight last night. In the interviews, she goes into great detail about where and when they had sex, how many times, what he did and said to her. I won’t repeat it here because I wish I’d never read it. I just don’t need to know – and neither does anyone else.

Rann seems to have gone into Clintonesque lawyer mode. He has admitted a ‘friendship’ with Chantelois, yet has not said what that means. Interestingly, he has not outright denied a sexual relationship with her, though he has said that the television program contained false allegations. (Presumably, not the basic fact of the relationship.)

Richard Phillips, the cuckolded husband, is calling for a parliamentary inquiry into the matter. He said: ‘Based upon what's been said, it is my opinion that Mr Rann has taken advantage of my wife's youthful naivety and vulnerability during a very difficult time for our marriage and our family and has shown that he lacks the personal qualities and character to remain in the office of the Premier.’

I hope – and suspect – that we have learned from the American experience. Bill Clinton’s ‘bimbo eruptions’, most notably the one involving a blue dress, DNA testing and Kenneth Starr, didn’t kill his presidency, but wounded it badly. When his anointed successor, Al Gore, ran against a reformed alcoholic and failed businessman with far, far more money than sense, the public humiliation of the Clinton era contributed to his only just failing to win the vote.

Because they were was sick of listening to descriptions of the president’s penis and semen-stained dresses, Americans chose a man now known for mangling the English language, starting the most ill-conceived and ill-starred war since Vietnam, and widening the gap between rich and poor to an extent that triggered the next world depression, over a man who has won the Nobel Peace Prize for his work to fight climate change. (Which the man who beat him for the top job doesn’t even believe in, incidentally.)

Mike Rann’s sex life has no bearing whatsoever on his performance as Premier. And at any rate, having sex with a married woman while single himself – while not the best behaviour – is more a reflection on the person betraying their partner than on him.

‘I knew it was wrong but I was attracted to him,’ she has said. ‘I don’t want people to feel sorry for me because I have made my bed and I have to lie in it. But Mike Rann used me to stroke his own ego and pride and unlike me he has suffered no consequences … ‘I don’t think he should be premier, it’s time he took responsibility for his actions.’

Generally I would agree that it’s unfair that the woman has to bear the brunt of the misbehaviour of two people. But in this case, she has suffered the consequences because she’s the one who was married and thus had more to lose. That’s the way it goes, surely. She says she lost her administration job at an Adelaide high school over the incident. The SA Education Department says that had nothing to do with it – her contract wasn’t renewed, as many contract workers’ jobs aren’t. In a time of economic crisis – a crisis that has been particularly pronounced in SA – this sounds plausible.

And I find it interesting that a woman who has detailed her sex life in excruciating detail in exchange for a great deal of money from the media can talk about using someone to stroke their ego. It sounds like revenge for a relationship gone wrong to me.

Both the public and Rann himself can learn from Bill Clinton. The public should judge their politicians on their politics. And Rann should take note of the fact that Bill Clinton’s real trouble was his dissembling – the tricky definitions of what ‘sexual relations’ meant, for instance. If Rann admits the truth and moves on, hopefully the public will, too.