Very little perks up public interest in politics faster than a sex scandal. Anne Michaud’s book WHY THEY STAY: SEX SCANDALS, DEALS AND THE HIDDEN AGENDAS OF NINE POLITICAL WIVES deals in the women scorned, and why, in each of these cases, they stuck to their powerful partners.
Synopsis: Politics from a fresh angle, WHY THEY STAY offers a slightly cynical yet deeply affecting take on nine powerful relationships, examining philandering husbands and the fallout from their actions in largely US politics.
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Have you ever wondered why Hillary Clinton stuck around after Bill’s infamous cigar incident? Or why Jackie Kennedy put up with JFK? Perhaps you’ve never even heard of former Israeli leader Moshe Katsav, but why has his wife stood by him through rape convictions? It’s amazing how often the upper echelons of politics have mixed power and sex, and how often the powerful have strayed from their loyal partners, only to see the marriage limp on.
Columnist Anne Michaud has watched these personal dramas unfold, and while her book deals in the facts of each scenario, there’s no doubt there’s also an element of well-informed speculation on offer alongside her analysis of each character and the darker moments of their lives.
Take Hillary, the most topical, for example. Like each of her contemporaries in this particular powerful emotional wasteland, she’s analysed by a number of traits, from how traditional she is, to her patriotism, need for security, and personal ambition. In Hillary’s case, Michaud identifies the ultimate combo, essentially saying the recent Democratic candidate for President resigned herself to accepting Bill’s well-publicized womanizing, but ironically, eventually paid for it when unable to attack Donald Trump for similar behavior in 2016. Oddly, many of Clinton’s other life choices, as examined in detail here, are distinctly feminist in nature. Michaud explores each of these (almost invariably pretty dysfunctional) relationships in a similar way.
Marion Stein’s ten-year refusal to end her marriage with George Lascelles (despite his repeated requests for a divorce and openly flaunted affair, which included a child with his lover), and its subsequent impact on her marriage to British liberal politician Jeremy Thorpe is one particularly memorable example. Stein later stuck with Thorpe throughout an ongoing saga around a gay relationship that took place before homosexuality was legalized in the UK, with Thorpe eventually pushed to resign due to the scandal.
Another deeply affecting chapter examines Gila Katsav, and her husband Moshe Katsav, a former Israeli Prime Minister who was released from a seven year prison sentence for rape only last year. Gila stuck by him, with Michaud citing - amongst other things - patriarchal traditions that have led to a lot of Israeli men, according to the author’s stats, not seeing forcing sex on an acquaintance as rape.
There’s plenty of pretty horrifying stuff in here, then, with the lesser-known (in America) cases seemingly included for what’s almost invariably a greater shock value. It’s well researched, thoroughly cited, and put together with a notable tinge of darkness to it.
WHY THEY STAY is definitely not a flippant read, then, but a memorable one, and one from which few of the characters at the heart of the stories come out particularly well. You’ll find scandal, shock and a deep sense of discomfort at times, and many will not like the pretext, but the question is a valid one. Why did they stay? The reasons vary, naturally, but this tells the real-life tales, and gives a sense of how each scenario came to be.