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Strauss-Kahn: A Teaching Moment for the French

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The French have always liked to think Americans are yahoos, ascribing importance, as we are wont to do, to the private lives of our politicians. They, the true sophisticates, ignore such human peccadilloes to the extent that a complaisant Parisian press hid the existence of the illegitimate daughter of their President Francois Mitterand for decades.

Not that we Americans were much better. Frenchified, we ultimately gave a pass to Bill Clinton for getting oral sex from an intern in the hallway adjoining the Oval Office; I have not heard of anything that extreme happening, as yet, in the corridors of the Elysee Palace.

Still, we have a slightly different view of these things from the French. To them, affairs are a normal rite of passage, and we are simply square to make a big deal about them.

Wrong. They are the squares. Monumentally so.

How do I know? I have seen it up close, alas. I won't get into the sad details, but some time ago I had an affair with a married French woman — I was single then — that went on for a couple of years.

I'm not proud of it in the least. It was stupid, immoral (yes, that) and eventually sheer emotional hell.

But I did learn something about the French. Pace Edith Piaf and Yves Montand, there is nothing chic or hip about their adultery. After all the shared Gauloise and baiser vole, it's just cheating. People don't respect each other. People don't trust each other. Indeed, they begin to hate each other. It's like a societal game of mutual torture played out into oblivion.

So I read with some interest the French reactions to the accusations of sexual abuse by the International Monetary Fund's Dominique Strauss-Kahn, putative Socialist Party frontrunner in the race for the French presidency.

Would they make a connection, as I do, between DSK's alleged act — raping a maid in a New York hotel, which is obviously quite aberrant — and the larger cultural climate of their country? That's a hard thing for any society to accept. So far, the French have been largely defensive.

But moral disconnection is at the root of Dominique Strauss-Kahn's behavior. A supposed leftist and onetime student communist, he lived the most extravagant personal lifestyle, replete with $3,000 hotel suites, $35,000 suits (Strauss-Kahn is suing over this allegation by France Soir — but what if they're only $20,000?), unlimited first-class seats on Air France, Porsches, etc.

Even in Hollywood such hypocrisy would be frowned upon (well, mostly), but the French seemed to like it, his poll numbers going up even as the accusations of "champagne socialism" from the Sarkozy camp increased. A 2008 admission of adultery with an underling at the IMF — a young Hungarian economist — was essentially ignored after DSK made a pro-forma apology. The French evidently admired him as a "grand seducteur."

Now, with accusations of rape, things are different. But how will French society at large process this? Will we still be naive Americans with our prudish ways?

After all, entitlement is one of the principle causes of adultery, and few have behaved with a greater sense of misguided entitlement than DSK. Another example of sexual assault on the part of the banker/politician has already surfaced — an official of his own Socialist Party who claims her daughter, a journalist, was traumatized by DSK in 2002. Expect more to come out of the woodwork.

The point, of course, is not that there is one sick man. There always is. But that there is a culture that enables him.

To find out more about Roger L. Simon, and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at www.creators.com.

COPYRIGHT 2011 CREATORS.COM



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