After Dominique Strauss Kahn was arrested charged with attempted rape he was paraded in front of the cameras looking disheveled and downtrodden, a man whose past transgressions had finally seemed to catch up to him. How could he not be guilty? Known as the great seducer in France, he himself had acknowledged his weakness with women and even speculated that a plot to bring him down might involve the accusation of rape by a women on the payroll of his political enemies. Then there is the supposed attempted escape to France, where extradition with the United States is a murky affair. He was in such a hurry that he had even left his cell phone in the room. This seemed to be the classic case of a man in power taking advantage of a hotel maid and believing he could get away with it; at least that is the conclusion that nearly everyone came to. The truth, it seems, is much more complicated.
Before I go any further, I must admit to being a supporter of DSK; his work at the International Monetary Fund was excellent and brought the organization back to relevance. Despite being labeled a ‘champagne socialist’, he was well respected among his party, would have undoubtedly been their candidate, and very likely the next president of France. From what I know of his policy positions, I found him to be sensible and someone who could bring much needed stability to the Euro Zone crisis as well as a rational voice to France’s growing immigration problem (although I must admit to thinking that Mr Sarkozy has done an admirable job on this issue).
For weeks after his arrest, we were bombarded with tales of his womanizing ways and how he was, as Mika Brzezinski put it, a sleazy guy. I remember the round table of that particular morning show comming to consensus that because France would tolerate such a man in high office, it was a clear sign of their depravity and lack of morals. And while its true that a man like DSK could not attain public office in the United States, this is more a negative on our country than on France, but more on that later.
France meanwhile was shocked at the treatment of DSK; they do not have the celebrated American tradition of the ‘perp walk’ and take the presumption of innocence very seriously. Indeed who wouldn't look guilty being shown in handcuffs, unshaven and clearly shaken by the ordeal? Then to put the man in Rikers island because of an apparent flight risk seemed to some to be cruel and unusual given the circumstances. During this time another women, a French author and daughter of one of DSK’s socialist colleagues, claiming that he had attempted to rape her as well. For many this left his guilt beyond any reasonable doubt.
Then came the questions of the maids credibility. It had come out that she had lied about being raped before; in order to gain asylum in the United States. She had been reported as talking to a friend about the wealth of DSK and how she had known he was a powerful man. While forensic evidence had proved that some sexual encounter had taken place, it was becoming less clear if it was consensual or not. It was also revealed that DSK had had lunch with his daughter shortly after this incident and then proceeded to call the hotel from the airport and ask that his forgotten phone be brought to him. If he was indeed trying to flee a crime scene and leave for a country that would not extradite him, why call about the phone? It would have made much more sense to leave it. Meanwhile similar questions of credibility came up in regards to the French author; the supposed rape attempt had happened many years before and she had been seen joking about it on a French reality show. Why had she waited so long to come forward? Why would this be seen as appropriate television banter if it were true?
Out of this whole saga, a few things seem clear: Mr Strauss Kahn does not seem to believe in monogamous relationships, as he himself has alluded to. It also seems certain that some kind of sexual encounter happened at that New York hotel room. And while I do not subscribe to the theory that the maid was put up to this DSK’s political opponents (a theory that continues to have traction in France and one that is certainly a possibility) I do believe that this was an attempt to get money out of a man who had a large amount of it and a history that makes those actions seem plausible. Now it seems the charges will be dropped because of the questions surrounding the maids credibility.
I do believe that DSK is innocent of rape, although I would say he is guilty of bad judgement in having indulged in his personal failing of womanizing. But I would still vote for him in an election if given the chance, because none of this changes the fact that he is good at his job and can do a lot of good for the people he governs. I believe that a persons private life, if not breaking the law, should have little bearing on whether they are fit for office. I still get odd looks when I tell people I would still vote for John Edwards; I don’t care that he cheated on his wife while she had cancer (something that I certainly do not condone). What I do care about are his policy positions on poverty and the ways in which to fight it. I would still vote for Elliot Spitzer; as a NY resident I can tell you that suffering through 3 years of Patterson was far worse that Spitzer’s having sex with a prostitute. And this is where I believe that France is ahead of the United States - they do not vote for the person who has the best smile or the one who you would like to have a drink with. And they don’t hold it against you if you have personal failings (because who doesn’t?) as long as you do your job well and help your constituents. Had we waited before assuming DSK was guilty, he might still have been able to do that job; now the future is very uncertain.