The improbable turn of events in the Dominique Strauss-Kahn case last week did nothing if provide a good deal of fodder for conversation at July 4thget-togethers. It has also provided some material for opinion writers.
At the Wall Street Journal, Bret Stephens asks why almost all of us were prepared to accept that DSK was guilty. With characteristic honesty, Stephens points out that many of us frankly enjoyed the spectacle of this “mandarin of the tax-exemptocracy being pulled from the comfort of his first-class Air France seat and dispatched to Riker’s Island without regard to status or dignity.”
The idea of a privileged member of the French governing class being forced to account for his mistreatment of a hotel maid was, Stephens points out, a delicious parable with a tidy moral. If DSK was a “philandering rogue,” we were ready to accept that he was, perforce, also a brute and his alleged victim, perfectly honest. We believed it to be true because we wanted it to be true. The idea of his guilt fit nicely with how we think the world really works, even if our conception of things isn’t always true. Stephens rightly points out the apparent collapse of these conclusions ought to lead us to question other seemingly unchallengeable assumptions that many of us take for granted. For example, the “climate change obsession, with its Manichean concept of polluting corporations versus noble eco-warriors,” or “the Israel obsession, with its notion that if only Jewish settlements were removed from the West Bank peace would break out throughout the Middle East.”
Stephens is right about all of this, but as much as there is a lesson here about not buying into the conventional wisdom, I also find myself agreeing with two writers who took a different tack on the case. Joe Nocera of the New York Times and (to my surprise) Peter Beinart of the Daily Beast both rightly defend the prosecution’s handling of the case. While DSK’s accuser turned out to have a less then sterling background, the police and the DA’s office did not simply assume, as would have been the case in France, a prominent person’s word should be more trustworthy than that of a chambermaid.
It’s true the tabloids abused DSK and, as our colleague John Steele Gordon pointed out, the “perp walk” that he was subjected to was an unnecessary humiliation. But rather than blaming the unsophisticated Americans for DSK’s travails, the French should be examining their own society as more women step forward to tell of their being victimized by sexual predators (including one who alleges DSK tried to rape her).
Like Nocera, I’d still rather live in a country where a man like DSK has to account for his actions toward an immigrant hotel housekeeper rather than one “where crimes against women are routinely excused with a wink and a nod and where people without money or status are treated like the nonentities the French moneyed class believe they are.”