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Dr Strauss and Mr Kahn

May 27, 2011

This is a guest contribution from my favourite French polemicist, Fils De Danton, who occasionally launches his rhetorical exocets on this site from his garret in France. In this “piece de resistance”, he draws a parallel between the real-life Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the former head of the International Monetary Fund, who is awaiting trial in New York accused of sex offences, and the fictional Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, Robert Louis Stevenson’s confection of a doctor who experiments with the noble and ignoble sides of his personality.

The minute, the second before, he was one of the kings of the world, regarded by most as a unique sorcerer of finance, a saviour with outstanding skills and political tact. He was considered, and probably considered himself, as a true statesman, in fact, a man more powerful than many heads of state, attending all key world meeting and making decisions that impacted all financial markets.

And the big question was, would he run for President in France next year? Even President Sarkozy was rumoured to say that he was his preferred opponent should he run. But the minute, the second after, whether he is guilty or not, all of that had gone up in smoke. He knew he would have to resign as General Director of the IMF, and that his chances of running for President were now completely gone. And in his country, given his positive image and high standing in the opinion polls, it was like a 9/11 of French politics.

Now, I’m not going to argue here whether Dr. Strauss is a good or a bad man, or whether Mr. Kahn has acceptable sexual practices or not. Let me simply ask a few questions and reflect on what I have been hearing and seeing in this country since the bomb fell.

First, the entire press and the political circles knew about previous “incidents” involving the guy, but it had always been covered up. Even the French President, who propelled him to his former position as head of the IMF, has “files” on him – and others. The rumour is that upon his appointment, he even told Dr Strauss: “You’re going to the IMF, but watch your behaviour…” But now the press and the political world keep shouting for scandal, call for respecting his dignity, and in fact often treat whatever happened in the Sofitel hotel in NY as a mere “sexual act with a chambermaid”. Why? Are all these people worried that the scandal might reflect upon them? Probably. Is this the worst kind of sexism at play? Definitely. And it makes me sick.

Second, what about the chambermaid? Is the whole thing a setup? I don’t know, everything is possible in the political arena, but I’m afraid, given what informed people know over here, that if this was indeed an attack, it would at minimum be consistent with the previous “incidents” mentioned before. And I do know about one thing: had this happened in France, the chambermaid would have been threatened and the whole thing covered up. Is that the reason why Mr Kahn most likely believed he would never get caught, or if caught, would escape as usual, because Dr Strauss is a powerful man? It’s a big mistake to make at this level, and even more so when you aim at holding the reins of power.

But I have no doubt that the hordes of private detectives that the man can afford to hire thanks to his wife’s considerable wealth will unearth the most damaging facts about the chambermaid in question, and make them up if necessary. If she was a victim of a brutal sex attacker, her courage to speak up given the personality in question must have been immense, or she was convinced to do so. Now, a terrible, powerful discredit machine has been set in motion and it won’t be long until the first “revelations” come out. In fact, as I write, Dr. Strauss’ lawyers have just stated that “they have evidence that seriously question the credibility of the plaintiff”. And guess what? Mr. Kahn will probably state at some point, through his highly-paid lawyers, that he feels sorry for her and forgives her. 

Third, when publicly asked about “incidents” involving his private life, and in particular about his past affair with a Hungarian IMF employee, Mr Khan always stated two things: 1. “I love women” and 2. “Private life should remain private”. Well, he would say that, wouldn’t he? But let me ask two simple questions in return: 1. Are we talking about the same “love”, and is this the sort of love most women want? And 2. I’m sorry, but as a citizen and as a voter, I do believe that anyone in power is accountable for his or her behaviour, and especially for the way they treat others, French tradition for sex or not. But I am obviously a very naive man. All I know is that this new “incident” will fuel the hatred on the part of those who beat down democracy. Devalue the credibility and the moral currency yet again, and what you will get is bombs and grenades in the end. Don’t be surprised when they blow up on your doorstep.

Fourth, I have no issue with the fact that Dr Strauss is a wealthy man. There is no doubt that his technical and political career so far had been outstanding, and that to reach his previous level of responsibility, he had to display second-to-none intellectual and communication ability. But I cannot help thinking that anyone with limited means, which is the case of most of the population in many countries, would have had zero chance of fighting any accusation of this type, and would still be in jail at this stage. Guilty or not, money greatly changes anyone’s ability to stand up to accusations. Again, as I write, Mr Kahn has just moved into a luxury flat for the modest price of US$35.000 a month. He can afford it. You are not in the same state of mind when you prepare your defense in a luxury environment with considerable financial means and when you end up in a cell reeking of urine and may get raped by other guys, especially if you’re accused of being a sex offender. Ask any average person who’s been there, rightly or wrongly, and they will tell you. Again, I don’t blame Dr.Strauss for his wealth, but any justice system in the world, even if I find the US system way more independent than the French system, leaves the ordinary person helpless and extremely vulnerable. And by the way, I read very few words in the press about the greater independence of the US system compared with the French one. Whenever I read anything on the subject, it’s to blame the US system for being cruel and unfair. Not so in France, of course, that so-called birth place of the universal rights of man…it’s shameful, despicable arrogance.

Fifth, was he a “happy”  man? If you read what psychiatrists have to say about compulsive sexual urges, you will find that the common view is that people who display this sort of disorder are actually in deep pain. I take the point. But if he actually did what he is accused of, why should anyone’s suffering cause even greater suffering for somebody else, and especially a woman, “king of the world” or not? Prior to the incident, some members of the press were wondering whether he would actually run for President. Some said the place where he was truly happy was his Marrakech riad, others that his wife was the really the one who wanted him to be President.

We will probably never know, the questions are no longer relevant. But a relevant question is this: why was he so popular in the polls? For a simple reason, I think, that I find very telling and frightening in fact: he was seen as a technical finance expert who would probably be the right person to “manage” France appropriately and bring more wealth to most people. The sort of man he might be, and I do say he might be, seemed to be completely irrelevant. That is a sign of these sad times. “Panem et circenses”, (bread and circuses) I’m afraid.

But I don’t apologise for saying that we have to stop looking for technical managers who can run simply things, in business and in politics alike. We need above average people on the human side as well and we have to stop voting for hypocritical arrogant profiteers. Is that easy for me to say that? No, it is not. I am a man of limited means. But despite that, I do expect people in power, whatever their political colour, to display more human dignity and faith than simply to provide cheaper petrol and lower interest rates. There’s no purity or heroism about that. What drives nations is also a sense of pride and respect. Stop abrogating your responsibility and accountability in this regard, boys and girls, you’re shooting yourselves in the foot. Don’t be surprised if you get anger in return some day, whatever your contempt for most of us.

It’s not a pleasant thought, but let me finish with what I found was the saddest aspect of the whole thing. There was an “entertainment” side to this tsunami, and the media played it to the full. Gone were the reports on the Fukushima nuclear disaster, and the fact the situation is still very critical over there, or the fact thousands of people in Japan, including children, are going to die in great pain on the altar of economic growth are at all costs, and without the necessary expense on safety. Gone are any news on Haiti and the terrible diseases over there, scarce and few are any news on the suffering of the Libyan people on both sides. It’s as if all that had turned boring, and was not “news” any more. The demise of a smiling, respectable king of this world had suddenly become better, more exciting news, just as the OJ Simpson trial or Clinton’s affair with Monica Lewinsky did at the time. It’s shocking and despicable manipulation, and we should not accept it. 

“Democracy is the worst of regimes…after the others”, French politician and war leader George Clemenceau once said. I think we would all agree. But it seems to me there’s still a lot of growing up to do. Stop looking for the best minds, the best technical experts, the most astute political leaders, whatever their weird behavior. Despite the so-called financial collapse, which is still going on by the way (ask the Greeks, the Irish and Spaniards), stop thinking democracy is all about wealth creation and f……g big cars or houses, or disasters will happen over again and again until the edifice truly collapses. Do we want that? If not, fight for it. At the heart of democracy, as the revolts in the Arab world are showing us, lies the dignity of man and respect for others. That should be valid in Western “democracies” as well, and even more so, because elected leaders should manage by example. Who in the media and the political world is saying that? You tell me. Is all hope really gone? Really?

Honesty and ideals are not vain or dirty words. We don’t need Dr Strausses and Mr. Kahns any more. We need leaders who manage for the best in man, care less for money, unlimited ecstasy or self-satisfaction and manage more for healthy balance, basic dignity, and I dare say it, awareness and harmony in the 21st century at last. Were no lessons drawn from the 19th century, the century of imprisonment, or the 20th century, the century of mass destruction? The Dr. Strausses and the Mr.Kahns of this world should be left behind for what they are, relics of days gone by and failed political systems.

Many are the substitutes, but they’re powerless on their own. That applies to any kind of sex as well. In the meantime, the French first lady is pregnant. That is good news for the French President, who in the context of the events in NY now looks like a truly balanced, respectable and “clean” family man as a result. That is the sort of man he is of course, and we can trust him. We all know that, don’t we?

Beware the fisherman who’s casting out his line
Into a dried up river bed,
But don’t try to tell him ‘cos he won’t believe you.
Throw some bread to the ducks instead, it’s easier that way.
I feel like an alien, a stranger in an alien place.”

Genesis, “Heathaze”, 1980…

As always, Fils de Danton focuses like a laser on the fundamental issues – should politicians, or anyone else for that matter, be able to use their wealth and power to keep their little personal secrets secret? What sort of politicians do we want in our new century. And do we want to live in a society that connives in covering up the pecadilloes of the powerful up to the point that such pecadillos morph into alleged criminality? Influence and tradition in France, super-injunctions in the UK, media suppression in other countries. Are we to judge famous people who occupy positions of trust or influence  – whose personal example inspires behaviour in others – by the whole person, or by what they allow us to see?

For you to decide.

From → France, Politics, Social

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