Beaucoup B.S.

The DSK case and the silly stereotypes about American and European morals.

By Christopher Hitchens

Dominique Strauss-Kahn. Click image to expand.IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn in federal court in New York CityWhy is it that we cannot read any discussion of a political sex scandal, or a sex scandal involving a politician, without pseudo-sophisticated comments about the supposedly different morals of Americans and Europeans? And why is it that this goes double if the politician is French, or if the reactions being quoted are from Gallic sources? And when did this annoying journalistic habit become so prevalent? It must have sprung up quite recently, or at least since the time when Charles de Gaulle and John F. Kennedy were presidents of their respective countries. The first man was a strict and fastidious Puritan who never gave his wife Yvonne a moment’s cause for complaint, while the second was a sensational debauchee who went as far as importing a Mafia gun-moll into the White House sleeping quarters. Yet the American culture, which regards Kennedy as a virtual Galahad, is the supposedly shockable one, while in France—ah, la France—a much more broad-minded and adult attitude prevails.

Surely France and its partisans are not saying that the attempted rape of a chambermaid would not rearrange so much as an eyebrow in the supposedly refined salons of Paris? (After all, the endlessly cited François Mitterrand may have had a daughter out of wedlock, but he took good care to keep it a secret for as long as he could.) The problem arises from mentioning the two types of sexual behavior in the same breath. A related problem derives from the belief that Americans will not tolerate marital infidelity from their politicians.

Take two recent episodes on this side of the Atlantic: the impeachment of Bill Clinton and the forced resignation of Paul Wolfowitz from the World Bank. To hear Clinton’s defenders talk at the time, you would have imagined that he was impeached for receiving oral sex in the Oval Office (an endless source of pretended amusement and bewilderment on the part of the French faction), while to hear the detractors of Wolfowitz you would have had to believe that he arranged special treatment for a bank employee with whom he was conducting an affair.

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