Peggy Noonan points out the difference between the American response and the French response.
The allegations against Dominique Strauss-Kahn, who stepped down as chief of the International Monetary Fund after being charged with seven counts including attempted rape and unlawful imprisonment, are just that, allegations. He's been indicted, not convicted. But half the French establishment knew about what they called his woman problem, and at least one previous accusation of harassment. It was an open secret. "Everyone knows that Dominique Strauss-Kahn is a libertine," said Gilles Savary, a member of the European Parliament Socialist party. He "doesn't try to hide it."
DSK, as he's known, is almost a classic villain—elegant, august, satyrlike in his multithousand-dollar suits and his multithousand-dollar suite. He is the perfect "champagne socialist," as they're now calling him, who preys on the weak—for who is less defended and more at the mercy of the world than a 32-year-old hotel maid, a widow, a West African immigrant working to support herself and her daughter?
But what is most startling about the story is not the charge that a powerful man did a dreadful thing. It is the utter and profound difference between the U.S. response to the story and the French response.
America was immediately sympathetic to the underdog. The impulse of every media organization, from tabloid to broadsheet to cable to network, was to side with the powerless one in the equation. The cops, the hotel's managers, the District Attorney's office—everyone in authority gave equal weight and respect to the word of the maid. Only in America (and not always in America) would they have taken the testimony of the immigrant woman from Africa and dragged the powerful man out of his first-class seat in the jet at JFK.
In France, the exact opposite. There, from the moment the story broke, DSK was the victim, not the villain. It was a setup, a trap, a conspiracy. He has a weakness for women. No, he loves them too much. Hairy-chested poseur and Sarkozy foreign-policy adviser Bernard-Henri Levy sneeringly referred to "the chambermaid," brayed about DSK's high standing, and called him "a friend to women." Jean Daniel, editor of Le Nouvel Observateur, sniffily asked why "the supposed victim was treated as worthy and beyond suspicion."
Why wouldn't she be treated as worthy, buddy? One is tempted to ask if it's the black part, the woman part or the immigrant part.
As David Rieff wrote in The New Republic, to French intellectuals, DSK deserves special treatment because he is a valuable person. "The French elites' consensus seems to be that it is somehow Strauss-Kahn himself and not the 32-year-old maid who is the true victim of this drama."
Americans totally went for the little guy. The French went for the power.
Lafayette would weep.
Someone once sniffed, "In America they call waiters 'Sir.' " Bien sur, my little bonbon. It's part of our unlost greatness.