Saturday, October 31, 2009

Does This Sound Familiar?

There are questions in France about why, two years after stepping down as president of his country, Jacques Chirac is standing trial for corruption charges stemming from his time as mayor of Paris in 1977 to 1995.

But the questions seem to have less to do with the substance of the charges than with an apparent French tendency to overlook bad behavior on the part of prominent people, especially if it goes back more than a few years.

Chirac's one-time opponent, Ségolène Royal, has responded ambiguously, “He deserves to be left alone, but justice must be the same for everyone.”

The second part of that statement reads like obligatory rectitude. But the first part sounds a lot like what many French leaders said when US authorities moved to extradite convicted rapist Roman Polanski from Switzerland. Polanski is older now, they said, leave him alone.

The statute of limitations may be up for some of the crimes Chirac is alleged to have committed, politics can't be dismissed as a possible motive for the charges, and financial corruption, as wrong as it may be, is, in a criminal sense, not as serious as Polanski's proven rape of a minor.

But the willingness to let old scoundrels off the hook, if, in fact, Chirac is an old scoundrel, seems endemic to French sensibilities.

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