Dominique Strauss-Kahn, IMF's opulent leader: Opinion Focus with Eugene Robinson

May 17, 2011

Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson discusses his recent columns and the latest news in a live Q&A. In his most recent column, "A perp walk kills a political career," Robinson writes, "Strauss-Kahn's arrest had immediate and far-reaching impact. The most definitive seemed to be the extinction of his political career -- and with it, perhaps, the best chance the Socialist Party might have had of defeating President Nicolas Sarkozy in next year's election. A perp-walk photo is the kind of thing no politician recovers from."

Hello, everyone, and welcome. Much in the news to discuss, as usual. Today's column was about IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn, now enjoying the unmatched hospitality at the Rikers Island jail for allegedly trying to rape a housekeeper who came to tidy up his $3,000-a-night Manhattan hotel room. Meanwhile, in political news, Huckabee and Trump are out of the presidential race, both having decided to stick with their television gigs instead. The GOP will eventually come up with a candidate, won't it? And speaking of the GOP, how's that "mess-with-Medicare" stuff workin' out? Let's get started.

DSK's actual room cost was $525. He was upgraded because the room was empty (per IMF, Sofitel and AFP), as most frequent travelers regularly are when they are good customers. And why the attack on "intellectuals"? Wouldn't you defend a Democrat attacked for being an "intellectual" (or for being rich) by a right-winger? Does it have to do with the fact that he was French and is that what you meant by "French-intellectual variety"?

All my insults and inuendo stem from the fact that I have no respect for men who are violent (allegedly) and brutish (confirmed) toward women.

Gene, you said it was the age of the dinosaurs when powerful men could sexually assault a woman, if indeed that happened, and have it dismissed as a peccadillo. I agree that's true in the USe. But do you think Europe ever got the memo? Surely I'm not the only person who instantly thought of Roman Polanski and how we're supposed to see his statutory rape of a (drugged) child just that way, per some. And, dating myself here, but do you remember when French film star Gerard Depardieu destroyed his then-booming US career by telling Time magazine (maybe--the translation was disputed) about how he raped women as a wild kid? If he said it, I'm sure he thought it would make him appealingly roguish. Not so much, to US ears.

I thought of Polanski, too -- in fact, I've written a few columns blasting the Euro-laissez-faire attitude toward that child-rapist. This time, though, it sounds as if Strauss-Kahn's alleged crime is being seen for what it is: not some kind of private affair or excusable lapse, but an act of violence and violation. I've heard very little excuse-making on the other side of the pond.

Were the N.Y. police aware of D Strauss-Kahn's importance before his arrest? I am astonished and pleased that he didn't get an automatic "pass" from the NYPD or the court system, no matter what he'd been accused of. I really like the idea of a helpless, powerless imigrant's accusations being listened to and taken very seriously. Things have surely changed in the time I've been alive.

NYPD is, institutionally, plenty smart and surely knew whom they were dealing with. Yes, much has changed.

Hi Eugene. DSK probably has himself to blame for all of this; at least his history of similar episodes don't help in this case. But still, I can't help but think that the perp walk and media exposure is an infringement of his rights as a human being presumed to be innocent until proven guilty. Just suppose, for argument's sake, that he is not guilty. His career is down the drain as it is. I strongly believe that these matters should not be played out publicly, even though he is a public figure.

In many countries, most pre-trial publicity is verboten and there are no perp walks. Here, we do not impose such restrictions. DSK was treated just like countless defendants who walked the walk before him.

I am not really a fan of Mitch Daniels, but lots of pundits seem to be very enamored with him. The thing that makes zero sense to me though is that somehow his wife leaving him for a couple of years and then coming back and their remarriage is a bad thing for him. That is just bizarre. Chris Matthews the other morning seemed to be the most bothered by this. I don't get it. It's not like he left her on her hospital bed in a cancer ward to go shack up with his mistress. Or divorced the second woman to marry a much younger staffer. How is his wife leaving and coming back a poor reflection on Daniels?

Beats me. I don't get it, either.

Why does the media get so worked up over a possible Donald Trump candidacy, when most political experts doubted he would run, but do not have objective discussions about the Ryan Plan, the Debt Ceiling, Taxes and other relevant issues. I think that the lack of discussions today is as much about the media as the politicians.

I can't accept your premise -- half of it, at least. You could certainly argue that too much ink and too much air time got wasted on The Donald's publicity stunt (though it is hard to ignore someone who's scoring first or second in the polls). But you can't argue that there's no discussion about the debt ceiling, the Ryan plan or tax policy. We write and talk about that stuff ad infinitum. 

I haven't heard excuse-making from the Europeans, but I've heard a lot of "shock and outrage" over the perp walk photos. Do you think this will generate sympathy?

It will generate some, but probably not that much. The main focus seems to be on the allegations themselves.

I am not a Newt fan. However, I agree with his statement indicating that the Paul Ryan plan is extreme. It increases the deficit by $6 Trillion over the next 10 years. The initial $8,000 voucher is proven to not cover the private insurance expenses, so more out of pocket for people. Why do Republicans hate universal health insurance when they used to support it? Is it just to be anti-Obama? Why are the Republicans willing to increase the deficit to give tax breaks to their big money contributors when it is proven that the lower taxes will not stimulate the economy? Why can't Romney be proud of the MA health care system. There are a lot of Republicans who benefit from the "Obama Care" provisions already in place. I'm sure they would vote for a Republican President who supports it too.

I agree that Newt is right about the Ryan plan. He was also right, a few years ago, when he heartily endorsed the idea of an individual health insurance mandate -- which originated as a Republican idea, from the Heritage Foundation, to stave off the specter of single-payer. Do former GOP supporters of the central provision of Obama's health care reform now oppose the idea purely as a way to attack the president? Looks that way to me.

Eugene, I'm aware you are no psychologist, but why is it that so many men in powerful positions think they can get away with everything when it comes to adultery or, in this case, sexual assault/harassment? I mean, the examples are just endless: Schwarzenegger, Clinton, Berlusconi, etc, etc.

Indeed, I am no psychologist. But I think this question could have been asked at any time in the past, say, 50,000 years. I'm not aware that it has yet been defninitively answered.

You also have to give it up for the quick thinking employee, who knew enough to get DSK's location to give it to the NYPD so he could be arrested before leaving for France. Given his position, I think he would have returned to stand trial (and if given bail would not flee the country), but it's always better to have arrested him first.

Yes, kudos to the quick-witted employee. And as for DSK as a flight risk, the arraigning judge clearly was in no mood to take any chances, given that he was arrested on a jetliner. My guess is that they'll find some way to let him await trial under some sort of home-detention or monitoring, rather than at Rikers. The thing is that even if the risk is small, the consequences are large: France is notoriously reluctant to extradite its citizens. If he did flee, New York prosecutors would probably never get him back.

Do you think the paucity of candidates is due to not enough people with potential, or are some holding back because they don't want to run against Obama, I get the sense that its the latter, although no one would ever say so.

I think it's clear that some candidate who might otherwise be tempted to run have decided that Obama's probably going to be tough to beat. Look at somebody like NJ Gov. Chris Christie. People are clamoring for him to get into the race, but he has to figure that he'll get no more than one shot as the party's candidate. He's young enough to wait comfortably until 2016, when there will be no incumbent. Why not take his shot then, as opposed to now, when the odds don't look so great?

I'm a lawyer and I often play devil's advocate with my wife, simply because it's in my nature to take the other side. It can really tick her off, however (sorry hon) and the other day she remarked that I was acting just like a conservative. I think she's right -- it's become pretty clear that the right will pretty much oppose anything Obama supports for no other reason than to be contrarian, even when doing so makes no rational or coherent sense.

That's easy to do in politics. You're awfully brave to do it in your marriage.

What happened to the question I submitted ? Did Strauss have diplomatic immunity or not? Or, better, is immunity only applicable when on ''official business''?

I've read various opinions on this question. There is consensus that while performing official duties, he has immunity. However, some authorities say he does not enjoy immunity when not on official business. Others say he may have immunity pretty much at all times, but that he seems to have explicitly or implicitly waived any immunity by submitting to forensic tests by NYPD. Still other authoritative sources say that it's not up to him to invoke immunity, it's up to the IMF as an institution to invoke it on his behalf. And finally, I've also seen the suggestion that he might choose to try to assert immunity at a later date. Does that answer your question? I thought not.

The problem for the GOP here is that they would not give a pass to a Democrat in a similar situation. They would use a wife leaving her family as evidence of a lack of moral foundation in the family even if it wasn't the office seeker who broke the family up. The GOP is openly and brazenly two faced when it comes to personal issues and issues of character. Do you think the same people who howled from the pews that John Kerry should not receive communion would have been as vocal regarding Newt's ongoing state of mortal sin? I doubt it. Why? Because their moral standards are not guidelines for salvation, but rather political weapons to be used when convenient and dismissed as not applicable to public life when not. Your thoughts?

Pretty much the same as yours.

Assuming DSK did what he is accused of doing and he is a boorish, misogynistic jerk, should that disqualify him from being head of the IMF? What if he's really good at it and his leadership and intellect help millions of people and make the world a better place? Would you refuse to use penicillin if it turned out that Louis Pasteur beat his wife or was a rapist? I'm not advocating for turning a blind eye to violence of any sort but I never understood why personal failings always spelled the end for a career.

If we were just talking about being a boorish womanizer, we could have an interesting discussion about the role character plays in leadership. The allegation here is of forcible attempted rape -- not a character flaw, a violent crime.

Heritage Foundation filed an amicus brief in the 11th Circuit last week to address the argument that its analysts supported Obamacare's mandate years ago. Heritage notes that what its analysts "mistakenly" considered was "the idea of a limited individual mandate coupled with appropriate tax incentives..." Moreover, Heritage notes its legal position advanced for some years that the mandate is unconstitutional. This legal position predates Obama's election so your unfounded speculation that opposition is simply because it's a way to attack Obama is, simply, wrong with respect to Heritage. You really should keep current.

Yes, I missed the amicus brief. Interesting that Heritage now believes its analysts' views were "mistaken" -- a repudiation, but also an acknowledgement, of said views. I wonder if all the Republicans who supported the idea of an individual mandate are now filing briefs as well.

It seems to me that Mitch Daniels won't win Iowa (a social conservative ) will. And he won't win N.H, Romney will. And he won't win S.C. because it's back to the social conservative. So where and when does he win?

Nowhere, if he doesn't run.

And with that, I'm the one who has to run -- my time is up for today. Thanks for participating, and I'll see you again next week.

In This Chat
Eugene Robinson
Eugene Robinson is an Associate Editor and twice-weekly columnist for The Washington Post. His column appears on Tuesdays and Fridays. In a 25-year career at The Post, Robinson has been city hall reporter, city editor, foreign correspondent in Buenos Aires and London, foreign editor, and assistant managing editor in charge of the paper's award-winning Style section. In 2005, he started writing a column for the Op-Ed page. He is the author of "Coal to Cream: A Black Man's Journey Beyond Color to an Affirmation of Race" (1999) and "Last Dance in Havana" (2004). Robinson is a member of the National Association of Black Journalists and has received numerous journalism awards.
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