Sunday. My landlady accosts me: have you heard what’s happened in America? ‘Histoire de fesses!’ She is agitated. Whose business is it that Dominique Strauss-Kahn, managing director of the IMF and hot tip for the Elysée in 2012, has lunged at an employee of Sofitel in midtown Manhattan? What do they think they’re doing arresting him? Who was she, after all? A chambermaid! So, it’s an engraving in an 18th-century romance for gentlemen. Or if you read the New York Post, a ‘perv bust’, following ‘alleged sodomy of hotel maid’.
Not such bad news for the right in France, despite the national disgrace. And Sarkozy, who lobbied hard for DSK’s appointment at the Fund, will hardly be crestfallen, a year from elections, with polls in February suggesting that Strauss-Kahn would trounce him. That’s not the way it looks any more. On the one hand, a bling president, married to a fashion muse, and busy shooting holes in the Schengen treaty; on the other, a 60-something former student Communist, tearing across the en suite bedroom to hit on room service. What’s it to be: a vulgar control-freak in Ray-Ban Aviators, or Socialism in One Bath Robe, flinging caution (and the bath robe) to the winds?
These allegations have struck DSK a formidable blow, even though he’s already well-known in Paris and Washington for his unilateral approach in the matter of seduction. Despite another recent poll showing a majority behind his wife, the journalist Anne Sinclair, as their first lady of choice (ahead of Carla Bruni), Monsieur just seems to keep on voting with his feet. Sarkozy apparently warned him against his weakness, yet who imagined he’d be dragged off a plane on criminal charges and then refused bail?
Strauss-Kahn’s record at the IMF may mean nothing to those who feel that the Washington consensus is unreformable, but the rigid doctrines of the Fund – the Gosplan of market capitalism – are showing hairline cracks and there are even hints that it favours fiscal stimulus and capital controls. Some of this has to do with the meltdown in 2008, but Strauss-Kahn is now in his fourth year at the IMF and he must, as Joseph Stiglitz wrote earlier this month, take some of the credit.
He’s also tried to pack more ballast into a storm-tossed world by proposing the Fund’s own currency, known as Special Drawing Rights (SDRs), as an international reserve currency. But he hasn’t thought ahead in one key area. A person with his schedule – the German chancellor on Sunday (cancelled), EU finance ministers on Monday and Tuesday (cancelled) – might have managed his time out more carefully.
If you’re the sort of person who senses that, at some point on your way to deliberate the Greek rescue package and the Portuguese bail-out, you’ll probably need to murder a bottle of cognac, snort some exquisite cocaine or, in the DSK hypothesis, grab some oral sex with a stranger, then there needs to be a window in the diary and a fistful of SDRs at the ready. Otherwise you’re going to end up doing something non-consensual: robbing a liquor store or trying to hump the vacuum cleaner, just like the dog you are. Most men see this, or learn it the hard way, but if you take Marine le Pen’s word for it, DSK is a slow learner. She’s said she’s not ‘particularly surprised’ by the allegations. No conspiracy theories for her about DSK being set up by the French right or worried American bankers. She’s dismayed, however, by ‘the image of my country in the world’. She and her party mean to stick around and clean it up.
It would be a real shocker if events plunged the IMF into immobility and compounded the European debt crisis, as some papers suggest. But right now no one can envisage a presidential victory for the left in France without Strauss-Kahn as the candidate, which makes the Sofitel affair much more than an histoire de fesses.