As Steven Erlanger and Katrin Bennhold reported yesterday on the website of The New York Times, when Nicholas Sarkozy nominated Dominique Strauss-Kahn to be head of the International Monetary Fund back in 2007, Jean Quatremer – who was the Brussels correspondent for Libération – questioned the wisdom of the decision in a blogpost, warning that the man’s “rapport” with women might turn out to be a problem. He is “too insistent,” he observed. “He often comes close to harassment.” This is “a weakness known by the media, but which nobody mentions. (We are in France.) The I.M.F., however, is an international institution with Anglo-Saxon morals. A misplaced gesture, a too specific allusion, and it will be a media scramble.”
Quatremer had no need to say more. Everyone in the French political class knew that the man universally known as DSK had a problem. If anything, Quatremer’s description of it was a grotesque understatement. Consider the case of Tristane Banon. In 2002, when this young journalist was working on a book, she arranged an interview with Strauss-Kahn – which, as it happened, took place in an empty apartment. As she put it in a television interview five years thereafter,
He wanted me to hold his hand while he answered [my questions]. He said, “I can't do it if you don't hold my hand.” After the hand, it was the arm, and after the arm it was a bit further, so I stopped him. We ended up fighting . . . It was more than a couple of slaps, I kicked him, he opened my bra, tried to open my jeans . . . It finished very badly.
Banon, who described DSK as “a chimpanzee in heat,” reportedly contacted a lawyer at the time of the incident, and he told her that he had a file detailing numerous incidents of a similar sort in which her assailant had been involved. But, in the end, she chose not to make a formal complaint – for fear that, by doing so, she would put an end to her career as a journalist in France. At the time of her television interview, French actress Daniéle Evenou reportedly remarked on another TV show, "Who hasn't been cornered by Dominique Strauss-Kahn?"
As things stand, it does not look good for DSK. The maid whom he purportedly assaulted in his $3000-a-day suite at the Sofitel in New York picked him out in a police lineup, and the story she tells is harrowing. If he is convicted of rape, this might well get in the way of his running as a Socialist for the Presidency of France. It is hard to run a campaign from a jail cell in New York.
On the other hand, if DSK beats the rap, as I noted in a comment on Rob Long’s post yesterday, the incident might give his “political career a boost.” In France, Strauss-Kahn is fondly known as lapin chaud – “hot rabbit” – which is, I suppose, something like what an American masseuse had in mind not so long ago when she described a former Presidential candidate in this country as “a crazed sex poodle.” The only difference is that the French are amused by shenanigans of this sort. The last time I was in Paris, a political scientist there whom I know said disapprovingly with regard to the romance between Nicholas Sarkozy and Carla Bruni, “We have had Presidents before who were lovers, but never, until now, have we had a President in love.”