Dominique Strauss-Kahn: The American commentary on France's reaction to DSK's alleged sex scandal
News that IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn allegedly sexually assaulted a hotel maid in New York City has set opinionators' tongues wagging. The two leading trains of thought: 1) What was France's leading socialist doing staying in an upscale hotel, in a room that cost $3,000 a night, no less? 2) How are the French, who often have a high threshold for politicians behaving badly, reacting?
The Boston Globe's Derrick Z. Jackson takes on the first topic nicely in his column, "IMF chief's double standard."
Now for American reaction to the French reaction:
It's like a natural disaster! He was set up! Blame the women!
Responses to DSK's arrest in France and elsewhere in Europe have ranged from disbelief to despair. Several commentators have used the language of natural disaster -- Liberation titled its story on the arrest, "Shock. Political Bomb. Thunderclap," and political scientist Gerard Grunber said, "It's a political earthquake and a catastrophe for France." Ecology minister Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet even acted like the country had been sexually assaulted: "As well as the presumed victim, the chambermaid, there is a proven victim … France." […]
Some supporters go further, hinting at a conspiracy. Says Christine Boutin of the Christian Democratic Party, "that he could be taken in like that seems astounding, so he must have been trapped." DSK himself appears to have laid some groundwork for this interpretation -- in an April interview, he said "he could see himself becoming the victim of a honey trap."
Heather Horn of the Atlantic Wire points out another trend in European media: portraying DSK's assault allegations as a problem somehow caused by women. She finds headlines reading (in translation) "Strauss-Kahn, a career threatened by women" and "The parable of Strauss-Kahn, a powerful man haunted by women."
French philosopher Bernard Henri-Levy's "victim-blaming" reaction in the Daily Beast should be a national embarrassment
I don't know if he's guilty, and it would be imprudent not to consider the conspiracy theories in a case involving someone who until this week was the single biggest political threat to the sitting president of France, but the only decent way you can arrive at "nothing in the world can justify" Strauss-Kahn's treatment is if you oppose all perp walks equally. Short of that, it's just special pleading for a powerful dick. And another reminder that BHL is 10 times the national embarrassment to France than Jerry Lewis or even Johnny Hallyday ever was.
Even the French are dismayed
Had this been "merely" a report of a consensual extramarital affair -- such as the one Strauss-Kahn had with a subordinate colleague at the IMF –- the French would have turned over in bed and gone back to sleep. Certainly the IMF board did so in 2008, when it took no stronger action against this brilliant economist than to chastise him.
Private affairs are private, the French maintain. Why fuss over Bill Clinton’s philandering? Why be disappointed in former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who is now separated from his wife, Maria Shriver, over a child he fathered more than 10 years ago with a household employee?
DSK is a dinosaur
Commentators in France expressed shock, outrage and embarrassment. Even if the New York allegations turn out not to be true, the incident revived memories of an admittedly improper affair that Strauss-Kahn had with a subordinate. French newspapers quickly produced stories recounting what they described as Strauss-Kahn's long history of aggressive, obnoxious, even predatory behavior toward women.
It's useful to be reminded that there was a time when powerful men could expect such incidents to be dismissed as misunderstandings or indiscretions or peccadilloes, not prosecuted as criminal assaults. Yes, this sounds like the age of the dinosaurs. Dominique Strauss-Kahn gives every evidence of being one.
But there is a silver lining
If there is a silver lining to this sordid episode, it is that l’affair DSK provides an opportunity to shine a harsh light on the tacit condonement of sexual abuse in the world's theoretically-charitable institutions ranging from the U.N. to the Peace Corps. While the vast majority of the victims have suffered in anonymous silence, DSK can provide a very famous face and ample publicity to this dirty little secret that has been kept for far too long –- and if this case can force some much-needed reform and accountability then Strauss-Kahn may finally do some good, however unwillingly.
For a few more takes, check out:
How could Dominique Strauss-Kahn, a possible presidential candidate, so spectacularly betray his own self-interest? --Andrew Leonard, Salon
The Strauss-Kahn Case: Follow the Evidence, Not Immunity Rules --Andrew Cohen, the Atlantic
The political suicide of IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn is great news for France's embattled and unpopular president. --Eric Pape, Foreign Policy
--Alexandra Le Tellier
Photo: Dominique Strauss-Kahn, managing director of the International Monetary Fund, is arraigned in Manhattan criminal court in New York on Monday, May 16. Strauss-Kahn, accused of sexually assaulting a hotel housekeeper, was ordered held without bail by a New York judge after prosecutors argued he presented a flight risk. Credit: Shannon Stapleton / Pool via Bloomberg