Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the infamous ex-president of the International Monetary Fund, is now free to roam the best restaurants in New York, as he has not yet received permission to return to France. A opinion poll conducted in his country – let’s remember that he was favored to win the presidential election in 2012, revealed the following mood of the French voters (survey conducted on July 4 and 5, 2011): Do you favor the candidacy of DSK on the presidential ballot next year was the question answered by approximately 1,000 persons. A remarkable 35% of the people as a whole answered “yes”, while a more surprising 55% of the members of the Socialist Party approved the idea. Clearly, the accusations of sexual assault against DSK have not dampened support among his followers to the point where he simply has to give up his political ambitions. Even more surprising is the fact that 36% of French women expressed the desire to see him compete. Do you think John Edwards could post such high numbers in a similar poll in the United States? (Rhetorical question, obviously, with a strong taste of vinegar)
As a native born European (French part of Switzerland), I delight in studying the major cultural differences between the “Puritan” atmosphere in American politics and the laissez-faire among French voters. We have had our exciting share of philandering politicians; the uncontrolled and immature sexual impulses of ex-Congressman Weiner, the out-of-wedlock fathering by Schwarzenegger, the infamous Clinton affair, the roving eye of John F. Kennedy, Senator Ensign’s chest baring, the mysterious trip of Governor Sanford, Congressman Mark Foley and his fondness for young pages, the list can go on and on; in every case, except for President Kennedy, the politician was disgraced in the public eye. Had these men been French, they would have elicited an amused smirk and continued their career as if nothing had happened.
While Americans thoroughly enjoy sex scandals, especially those involving politicians, the French prefer to focus their attention on other more important (in their opinion) matters. The political class in France is fed up with the continuous tabloid-like coverage of the Dominique Strauss affair. They strongly resent the humiliation brought by the New York District Attorney when he ordered DSK’s public arrest and parade in handcuffs from the airport to jail. They feel, not without reason, that DSK was not a flight risk due to the preeminence of his high position. Discretion should have prevailed argue well-known French politicians. To which American law enforcement argue that DSK was treated the way any other common person, foreign or local, would have been dealt with. Democracy at its best!
The French don’t have to go very far to signal the preferential way the rich and famous have been handled in the U.S. American courts have shown leniency time and again when movie stars or famous singers were involved, even in serious cases. Lindsey Lohan’s name comes to mind. From battery charges to physical assault, from drug use to driving under the influence, there is little doubt that money and a good lawyer can make a huge difference. Why wasn’t DSK treated with more deference? After all, in our country a person is deemed innocent until proven otherwise, unlike the judicial system in France where the accused must prove his/her innocence.
I don’t want to present Mr. Strauss-Kahn as a white, innocent dove. He apparently has quite a reputation for seducing much younger women, despite being “happily” married. Until recently, however, he had not being accused of actual rape and his accusers seem to be looking for a big payday rather than for justice. We will find out within the next year and a half whether these alleged crimes have actually taken place and whether DSK could, just could, end up being the President of France.