It’s not the sex, but the financial extravagance that has turned France against him.
Dominique Strauss-Kahn is out of jail, but is he out of the woods? The leaders of the French Socialist party may profess “satisfaction that justice was finally served in New York”, and claim that Strauss-Kahn can still take up his career where he left it, before that unfortunate incident with the chambermaid and the rape accusation. But don’t believe a word of it.
True, many French people still buy the various conspiracy theories peddled on internet forums about DSK’s downfall. Sarkozy did it. No, Putin did. No, it was Wall Street, because as director-general of the International Monetary Fund, DSK wanted to regulate the banks. (The fact that nobody suspects his main rivals within his party, François Hollande and Martine Aubry, of being organised enough to arrange a foreign honeytrap may not bode well for their chances in 2012.)
The French can tolerate a lot from their politicians, as long as they remain discreet. Like old-style wives, the voters would rather be lied to than hear the blunt truth, because at least it shows that their leaders want to keep a vestige of the relationship alive.
What has hurt DSK – and the reason why 61 per cent of the public believe his career is over, against 35 per cent who have kept the faith – is not the sex, but the lifestyle. His lawyer’s version of the events in that Sofitel hotel might be tawdry: a 10-minute consensual encounter with a hotel chambermaid, sandwiched between a telephone call to his wife in Paris and a lunch date with his daughter in mid-town Manhattan. But what sticks in the craw of crisis-hit France are the revelations about his money.
DSK’s camp has long known this is his Achilles’ heel: they once sued a newspaper for reporting that he’d bought some £5,000 suits from a Washington tailor. But now the public has been regaled with tales of the vast wealth of the Socialist statesman’s TV-star, heiress wife; the elegant houses and apartments in five different cities; the £35,000-a-month townhouse rented for the duration of the New York court case; the $100 steaks delivered to his door during his enforced sojourn; the $600 pasta dinner (with truffle shavings) at Madonna’s favourite Italian bistro to celebrate the return of his bail cheque.
“A Socialist doesn’t live like this”, say the comments – indeed, Sarkozy earned himself the title of the “the bling-bling president” for far less. And Sarko’s much-derided love for yacht-owning friends and Rolex watches pales besides the Strauss-Kahns’ conspicuous consumption: “Next to Anne Sinclair” – aka Mrs DSK – “Carla is on benefits,” a gleeful president reportedly told his friends.
Of course, the sex issue has had an impact. It is significant that this week’s news that prosecutors have dropped the sexual assault charges was welcomed with relieved statements from male politicians on both sides of the spectrum, and criticism from their female counterparts. The defence minister, Gérard Longuet, said the whole affair had been “a terrible waste – such a brilliant man deserved better”. Jean-François Copé, the Gaullist party chief, expressed (a possibly disingenuous) “happiness for Dominique Strauss-Kahn, who was targeted by a harsh judicial procedure”. Meanwhile, the Communist MP Marie-Georges Buffet called the DA’s decision “bad news for justice and for women” – for once agreeing with her Gaullist colleague in the House, Françoise Hostalier.
DSK’s reputation has also taken a battering from the French press, as newspapers, perhaps ashamed of having ignored his personal life for so long, came up with a series of uncharacteristic revelations. Le Monde subscribers spluttered into their espressos in June when they read a full-page story that included the name of the swingers’ club where DSK was an habitué, or excerpts from a police report on his being caught with a prostitute in a parked car in the Bois de Boulogne in 2007. The French have a strong stomach, but this may have tested it too far.
DSK’s spinners have now switched to full attack mode, believing that this is their last chance to rebuild their man’s tattered reputation. Both Le Monde and Le Journal du Dimanche have come out with competing accounts (worthy of Sylvie Krin herself) of the torment endured over the past three months by DSK and his wife, cloistered in their luxury New York pad. It’s so ham-fisted and overblown that you’d think it was really sponsored by his Socialist rivals, cottoning on at last to the fact that his support in any capacity in the upcoming presidential race might come as the kiss of death. The spin doctors seem to think that dubbing Anne Sinclair “Mother Courage” and DSK “the homeless, harsh exile, treated like a pariah”, who “spent his prison days… solving complicated mathematical equations or playing chess on his iPad” will decisively tip public opinion in his favour once more. Somehow, it doesn’t seem likely.