The arrest of International Montetary Fund (IMF) head Dominique Strauss-Kahn for sexual assault in New York City has thrown French presidential politics into disarray. Prior to his alleged sodomy of a 32-year-old chambermaid at Manhattan’s Sofitel Hotel, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, who recently announced his resignation from the IMF, was leading in the polls to replace incumbent French president Nicolas Sarkozy. Most affected by the scandal is France’s Socialist Party, which must now find another candidate to replace its disgraced standard-bearer. In the meantime, leftists defending one of their own have been shameless, mixing equal parts of attacking the alleged victim with an odious denial of Strauss-Kahn’s long track record of “seduction.”
The onslaught has been relentless. French newspaper Le Monde and the French version of Slate Magazine have printed the woman’s name, with Le Monde adding information about the size of her breasts and the shape of her behind. A photo of the alleged victim has been revealed on Twitter, and a Facebook profile of her was linked to blogs and other social media sites before it was deleted. Bernard Henri-Lévy, who once called it “shameful to throw a 76-year-old man into prison for unlawful sex committed 32 years ago,” in reference to sexual predator Roman Polanski, is using one of the left’s favorite expressions when it comes to defending Strauss-Kahn. Henri-Lévy contends that Strauss-Kahn, more familiarly known as DSK, is a victim of sexual “McCarthyists” and “nothing in the world can justify a man being thus thrown to the dogs” which one would assume is a reference to the American justice system.
Leftist politicians were quick to follow suit. Socialist Member of the European Parliament (MEP) Gilles Savary, while admitting that “[E]veryone knows it’s true to say that Dominique Strauss-Kahn is a hedonist,” declared that the real problem is American culture “where everything is shaped by unforgiving Protestantism[.]” Socialist Party Member of Parliament (MP) Jean-Marie Le Guen contended, “[W]hat they are asking us to believe…it’s just hallucinations. I’m a doctor and I know this can happen,” adding that pictures of DSK in handcuffs are “hyper violent.” Socialist politician and Strauss-Kahn loyalist Manuel Valls described the handcuffing as “an unbearable cruelty…Political life in France, will now be remembered as being before and after this moment.”
Union pour un Mouvement Populaire (UMP) leader Jean-Francois Cope was worried about France’s international image. “Just think of this photograph being shown over and over again all over the world,” he lamented. ”In the space of 15 days the new idol of the French left has exploded,” he added. Christian Boutin, leader of France’s Christian Democratic Party believes Strauss-Kahn “must have been trapped,” an idea shared by Paris regional councilor Michelle Sabban who is convinced the alleged assault “is an international conspiracy,” adding that “[E]veryone knows that his weakness is seduction, women. That’s how they got him.”
Ms. Sabban is certainly correct about Strauss-Kahn’s “weakness.” His nickname is the “Great Seducer” which suggests that charm, rather than force, is how he gets his way with women. That may have been true with respect to a 2008 affair with married IMF subordinate Piroska Nagy, which Strauss-Kahn characterized as ”an error of judgment.” But Nagy herself described the encounter as one in which she was “pressured” to have sex, characterizing DSK as ”a man with a problem that may make him ill-equipped to lead an institution where women work under his command.”
Yet another story paints a far darker picture. In 2002, journalist Tristane Banon tried to interview Strauss-Kahn, but was allegedly sexually assaulted in the process. “He wanted to grab my hand while answering my questions, and then my arm. We ended up fighting, since I said clearly, ‘No, no.’ We fought on the floor, I kicked him, he undid my bra, he tried to remove my jeans,” she said.
Why didn’t she file charges? Her own mother, Anne Mansouret, a Socialist Party member, dissuaded her. She justified that decision, telling reporters she believed Strauss-Kahn’s behavior was “out of character,” a move she now regrets. ”Today I am sorry to have discouraged my daughter from complaining. I bear a heavy responsibility,” she said. Incredibly, during the same interview, Mansouret still tried to make excuses for her daughter’s tormentor, calling Strauss-Kahn ”an otherwise warm, sympathetic and extremely talented man.” Regardless of her mother’s misguided sentiments, Ms. Banon intends to pursue a legal claim against DSK.
It gets worse. El Universal, a Mexican newspaper, is reporting that Strauss-Kahn allegedly assaulted a maid in that country as well, basing the story on a book, “D.S.K.: The Secrets of a Presidential Contender,” written by a former collaborator of Strauss-Kahn’s who used the pseudonym “Cassandre.” The book also alleges he sexually assaulted another 14 women as well. The Daily Mail is reporting that Strauss-Kahn “also allegedly had relationships with several high profile French literary figures, including playwright Yasmina Reza..and Spanish writer Carmen Llera.” French Socialist politician Auriele Filippetti claims Strauss-Kahn “groped her” in 2008.
How has DSK managed to keep his reputation under the radar? Libération journalist Jean Quatremer addresses the issue, noting that “having written about [DSK's reputation with women] in July 2007… I incurred the wrath of some of my colleagues and part of the political class.” In fact, Mr. Quatremer’s blog was immediately and heavily criticized by the French press for “crossing a yellow line.” IFOP pollster Jerome Fourquet noted that France ”is not in an Anglo-Saxon country, and stories of cheating and affairs or adultery make us smile,” before qualifying that statement by saying, “a rape attempt — this is different.” And when alleged sexual victim Tristane Banon appeared on a French TV show in 2007 to talk about her 2002 ordeal, every reference to Strauss-Kahn’s name was bleeped out.
Prospect Magazine columnist Tim King explains the genesis of the French media’s “remarkable solidarity with a man who has been accused of attempted rape,” which has resulted in 57 per cent of French voters believing that Strauss-Kahn was the victim of a setup. ”France, as is widely known, is run by a small elite, educated in two or at most three very small, misnamed grandes écoles, taught by the same teachers and, in their pursuit of high marks, regurgitating the same ideas to please the same examiners,” he writes. “They graduate into France’s top jobs: administration, politics and the media. They remain close to each other. Some marry others from the same school. In later life, if they continue to please their examiners, they become senior politicians, top journalists, media editors.”
DSK was no exception. Despite leading in the polls, he had never formally declared his intention to run for president. But even prior to this latest episode, his poll numbers had been declining. Not because of his alleged reputation as the “Great Seducer,” but because his lavish lifestyle, reportedly underwritten by wife Anne Sinclair, a TV celebrity in her own right and an heiress as well, had alienated a large segment of the public.
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