What's on Congress' agenda in the final weeks before the August recess? Our panel takes a look at what needs to happen, and what can realistically get done.
It’s happened before and it’ll happen again. Still, every time one of our politicians admits or is discovered to been involved in some unethical sexual encounter, there’s a pause. We wonder why so many people, or should we say, so many men, with political power seem to risk so much so often, and to what extent, if at all, do sexual transgressions undermine a politician’s credibility with voters? As we sort through those issues here, across the Atlantic political implications abound in the aftermath of criminal charges against the head of the IMF who had been widely expected to be a strong contender in the next French presidential election. Please join us for a conversation about political power and sex scandals.
- Michele Swers associate professor of government, Georgetown University
- Eric Pape reporter, Foreign Policy Magazine
- Sandra Sobieraj-Westfall Washington editor, People Magazine
- Randy Cohen former writer, 'The Ethicist' in the New York Times Magazine
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. Sex scandals involving political figures are nothing new, but the question as to how an unsavory revelation will play with voters is always an open one. Joining me to talk about political implications of sex scandals, Michele Swers, she is associate professor of government at Georgetown University, Sandra Sobieraj-Westfall, she is Washington editor of People magazine. Joining us from a studio at the Radio Foundation in New York, Randy Cohen, he's former author of "The Ethicist" column in The New York Times magazine.
MS. DIANE REHMAnd throughout the hour, we'll take your calls. I'm sure many of you have something to say on this subject. Join us on 800-433-8850. Send us your email to email@example.com. Join us on Facebook or send us a tweet. Good morning to all of you.
PROF. MICHELE SWERSGood morning.
MS. SANDRA SOBIERAJ-WESTFALLGood morning.
MR. RANDY COHENGood morning.
REHMGood morning, Randy, and let me start with you. Yesterday, of course, we were hit with the new story that yet another politician, this time Arnold Schwarzenegger, former governor of California, had an affair, fathered a child shortly before he became governor of California. It's -- it would seem hard to be shocked, but we are. What's your reaction?
COHENWell, I don't really see how Arnold Schwarzenegger's infidelity affects his being, in my view, of not very good governor. He was a not very good governor before we knew this and he was a not very good governor after. I see why it's very important to Maria Shriver, but not why it matters to me as long as I don't have to date the guy. That is we'd like to think that private conduct tells us something profound about a public figure's ability to perform his public duties. But I'm not so sure it does. That looking at history would be hard to make that case.
REHMMichele Swers, how do you see it?
SWERSI see it a little bit differently, Diane. I think that Americans wanna be able to connect with their public figures, and they see character as a very important aspect of that. So -- and politicians sell themselves that way. They're always selling themselves as I'm one of you, I'm like you, and they try to make that connection with a personal story. So when voters find out something like this, this is something they considered to be bad behavior, it affects how they view them and then could affect that relationship.
REHMAnd, Sandra, Randy mentioned Maria Shriver -- my goodness, the effect on her. The question, I'm sure many people have, is did she know? When did she know? How did she find out? I'm sure you've talked to her.
SOBIERAJ-WESTFALLYou know, I haven't. But I have talked to a lot of women in this situation -- Jenny Sanford, the first lady of South Carolina, Elizabeth Edwards and I spent a lot of time together. And I know from them that, you know, they feel -- and Maria is in the same situation. She brought to that marriage a lot of credibility, her own independent stature, her own independent political voice. She supported his runs, his campaigns, even though politically they were opposite. And she feels now her credibility is very diminished, and she can't step out and make her new life without first having this be the question that everybody asks.
SOBIERAJ-WESTFALLAnd, you know, Elizabeth Edwards once told me that she identified a lot with Sandra Bullock when she came out and said I don't wanna be just the cuckolded wife. And Elizabeth felt like that that was the first thing now that people were thinking of her, not as a health care activist or a smart lawyer on her own, but as a cuckolded wife.
REHMMichele Swers, could Gov. Schwarzenegger been elected had the news about this affair broken before?
SWERSWell, you never really know. I mean, it's certainly very possible. David Vitter of Louisiana was just recently reelected after it was revealed that his name was on the list of D.C. Madam, and he admitted to infidelity. So it's not always a deal breaker, depending on how you're able to explain it, whether or not your wife stands by you and many other factors. So he may have been elected. And at that time, he was very, very popular, and he was a Hollywood movie star. So that comes with, you know, a different set of expectations as well.
REHMBut going back to what Sandra said, there's an awful lot of compromising on both the stance as well as perhaps the character of the wife herself...
COHENWell, can I jump in here?
REHM...who must stand by her husband.
COHENI would argue against this notion of character, at least the way we're using it in our conversation. The character assumes there is a kind of consistent behavior, consistent set of values that people will have. The way they act in one situation tells us something important about how they'll act in another. That's why these kind of scandals are thought to have public importance. But I would say history tells us that's not true. That people are very able to compartmentalize. People who behave quite appallingly in their marriage turn out to be very, very effective public servants.
COHENThere are many people who would've preferred a philandering JFK to a monogamous Richard Nixon. That I think this notion of character that we're purveying is sentimental but false.
REHMDo you see it that way, Sandra?
SOBIERAJ-WESTFALLWell, you know, I grew up as a reporter covering the White House with Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky. That was my first big story as a AP White House reporter, and nobody remembers the name Monica Lewinsky anymore. It's no longer attached to Bill Clinton's name the way we felt back in that -- in the heat of that scandal. It would forever be the first line in his obituary, and it's not. Voters have, I think, very short memories, especially when they're worried about paying their mortgage and educating their children. And these stories have fleeting sort of soap opera appeal, especially in the age of reality TV and 24/7 media. But they are pretty fleeting. I mean, David Vitter's the perfect example of it.
SWERSI think that that's true about David Vitter. But for Bill Clinton, it will be there because he was impeached over it. So the impeachment process and what led to the impeachment will always be there. Another interesting thing that happened with Bill Clinton, I think, you know, Randy is correct to say that the politicians can compartmentalize and may be, still be good leaders, but the public does react to it. So if you looked at Bill Clinton's poll numbers, his presidential approval numbers, his job performance numbers at the time, they were going in two different directions. So people approved of his performance as president, the job performance that he was doing, but they disapproved of him strongly on the personal level at the time.
COHENWell, they differed...
REHMNow, suppose you have a socially conservative individual like Newt Gingrich who apparently has had three marriages -- He was unfaithful to two wives -- how do people, voters especially, think about those conservatives who profess such strong social values and then are discovered to have gone the way of whatever?
SWERSI think it's a bigger problem for Newt Gingrich because the Republican primary voter that you need to appeal to a large segment of those voters are socially conservative voters, and they do care a lot about character, and they do care a lot about marital fidelity and all of those things that go along with it. So it's very, very difficult to explain. For liberals, they get a kick out of it because he was having an affair with a staffer the same time that the was pushing impeachment proceedings on President Clinton for having an affair with an intern, so...
REHMSo Randy Cohen, what does Newt Gingrich's sexual infidelity have to do with his whole approach to politics?
COHENWell, here I think it's very much germane, because he himself declared marital fidelity a measure of a person's fitness for public office. It's something he repeated over and over again while he was lambasting President Clinton, and we should point that -- and while he was going out and dating his current wife while he still had an inconvenient present wife. So he fails by his own standard. He and his crowd of family values guys, they say, here are the criteria for a defective public official. They must behave certain ways in terms of marriage. They must be monogamous. So they fell by their standards, not by mine, but by theirs.
COHENAnd so, it's not merely that these guys are hypocritical or comical or that they're practical implications, it's an utter failure of integrity. You declare these values. You fail by your own values. If you had an ounce of integrity, you would have to withdraw from public life or burst into flames or go straight to hell and, you know, reserve a spot for simply being flamboyantly dishonest. Here, it's relevant, but for Arnold, not so much. I understand why it makes Maria feel awful, but I don't see why it cares -- why it matters to a California voter if Arnold, you know, again seeks public office.
REHMSandra, do you agree with that?
SOBIERAJ-WESTFALLWell, I think, you know, Arnold never professed to be a saint, and his movie, his Hollywood persona, you know, you hear now people saying, well, we always knew he was a pig and people voted for him anyway. So I do think Randy has a point or -- that there are different standards and expectations, and Arnold didn't fail by his own standard the same way Gingrich did.
REHMIs it always the men?
SOBIERAJ-WESTFALLYou know, so far, although, you know, Mitch Daniels now in the Republican primary race is hanging back from deciding to go because of his own wife's marital history. You know, she left him and their four daughters and took a break from the marriage, moved away...
REHMFor three years.
SOBIERAJ-WESTFALL...for -- yes. And came back and remarried.
REHMThen they came back...
SOBIERAJ-WESTFALLAnd, you know, she does not want that reopened in speculation in the press and picked apart. So, you know, there are cases where it's the woman, but almost always it's -- we've seen it with the men.
SWERSI think part of the reason for that is there are so few women in powerful positions in politics, so it's harder for a woman to make it in politics. And so, for her to achieve that standard, she has to be of a better character perhaps.
REHMMichelle Swers, she is associate professor of government at Georgetown University. When we come back, we'll talk about the case of the IMF chief and take your calls.
REHMAnd we are back talking about infidelity, sexual indiscretions, affairs in political figures. Michele Swers is here in the studio. She is at Georgetown University. Sandra Sobieraj-Westfall is Washington editor of People Magazine. On the line with us is Randy Cohen, former writer of "The Ethicist" column in The New York Times Magazine. Michele Swers, give me your thoughts about the IMF chief, Dominique Strauss.
SWERSWell, I think what's going on with the IMF chief is an entirely different magnitude. He's being accused of rape. These other cases we've been talking about are generally consensual sex with people who are not your wife. And so that's a little bit different magnitude than someone who's being accused of a brutal assault against someone who did not know them.
REHMAnd joining us now by phone from Paris is Eric Pape. He's a reporter with Foreign Policy magazine. Good morning, Eric.
MR. ERIC PAPEGood morning.
REHMYour piece yesterday was headlined "Sarkozy's Favorite Sex Scandal." First, what's been the reaction in France to the allegations that he was involved in rape?
PAPEIt's hard to overstate the reaction in France, the sense of shock. This is a man who was as likely as anyone to become France's next president in an election next year. He was seen as, given his background in financing and the economy, as maybe the perfect leader for a time when people are so stressed out. The idea that he, a man with that background who's also a socialist and who has conveyed sort of a warmth and a comfort with people who are suffering, this helped to galvanize people around him.
PAPEAnd the idea that that has fallen apart and the left really doesn't know what to do now has made this into a huge issue. Aside from that, on the cultural front, it's just a shock for the French to see one of their top international figures in handcuffs. That is just an enormous shock here in France. People aren't usually seen in handcuffs unless they're caught at the scene of a crime or until very late in the prosecution and conviction process.
REHMI was emailing with a friend of mine in France this morning who is herself convinced that there was some kind of setup here. To what extent is that view perceived, Eric?
PAPEI think, on the one hand, that's -- it's quite a broad sentiment, but in part it's because French politics are known for a remarkable level of dirty tricks that is not common to the United States, at least to most people's knowledge. So it makes things that might seem unimaginable in the U.S. -- conspiracy plots and schemes to bring down individual politicians -- more plausible to people. Another thing is that this is happening far away from France, so people don't understand the legal system.
PAPEThey don't understand the American legal processes. And they just see a lot of things that seem suspicious. People have asked me, why didn't -- wouldn't he have had bodyguards at his front door? Why would this maid have gone in when someone was in a $3,000 a night room? These countless questions that come up and each slight discrepancy based on the limited information that people have becomes a justification for believing that it might be a plot.
REHMWhat about within officialdom as far as France is concerned? Do any top officials believe this could have been a setup?
PAPEEven some officials who are not in his political party and not on his side of the political spectrum have suggested that this could be a scheme that was engineered either by some international group who doesn't like his work at the IMF, that it could be coming from elements on the French right who want to make sure that the left does not win in election, or elements of the far left who really do not like Dominique Strauss-Kahn and see him as much more of a center-right figure. So it's quite broad, actually, the range of people who believe that this could be a plot.
REHMOn Tuesday, Austria's finance minister said Dominique Strauss-Kahn should consider resigning. And yesterday, our own Treasury secretary, Timothy Geithner, said the same thing. Do you expect that that will happen, considering he is sitting in a New York jail?
PAPEIn France, he has actually, in the past, been accused of completely nonsexual crime, and he did temporarily resign and it was a big scar on his reputation. He was eventually cleared, and then he came back stronger and more popular and influential than before. Right now, I'm under the impression that the IMF doesn't have any idea what he's going to do. And the last I heard, they have not been in touch with him or been able to reach him, and he hasn't reached out from his cell. So I think there's no way to know that, other than by talking to him.
REHMI'm sure -- go ahead.
PAPEBut I would -- just to add, I assume...
PAPE...that, at some point, if this case does go forward, if the initial information that we're all getting does prove to be solidified, I would think that he would have to.
REHMI'm sure you've heard the reports this morning that there's actually a suicide watch. How likely might it be that a man as powerful as he would want to take that way out?
PAPEI'm under the impression that the suicide watch was less a reflection of his state of mind and more of a reflection of someone who is in prison for the first time, who doesn't have any of these sorts of experiences, and a host of other reasons that don't specifically have to do with him. That said, this is a man who, as of last Friday, at the beginning of the weekend, was the front-runner in all polls to become France's next president, even though the campaign hasn't begun, and by a margin that was unprecedented.
PAPEAnd by the end of the weekend, he was in Rikers Island in a cell. So -- and this clears the French when they see photographs of him that have been coming out and very shocking to them. He looked exhausted, dejected, depressed. That's one of the things that's really struck people here. And those photos, in fact, are quite controversial. People feel like those photos should never have been released. Of course, they were then republished in the French press that usually doesn't publish this sort of thing when the case is happening in France.
REHMIt strikes many that this was such sort of over-the-top behavior on a man -- or by a man likely to become the next president of France. Eric, what do you make of it?
PAPEI think we have limited information, very limited information that we have with the allegations that he came out of a bathroom naked, saw a woman down a hallway and ran and attacked her. It's obviously incomplete. Other information we make that seem less than an animal hunting its prey just because it happens to see it, that's what strikes -- here in France, actually quite a few people know that this is a man who likes women, tries to sleep with many of them, including journalists, including even other politicians.
PAPEThis is a longstanding reputation that he has. People -- journalists here also know that he can be a little pushy and obnoxious in going for what he wants. People would never have dreamed -- most people here would never have dreamed that he would be capable of something like this. That's not to say that it's not possible, but it's not the man who they thought that they knew. So the shock here is he brought it and it's manifesting itself in quite a few different way.
REHMMichele Swers, what do you make of this?
SWERSOh, well, I don't know that I can comment on this particular case. But what it does say about French politics is if you look at some of the statistics about, say, how many women there are in politics across the world that we were talking about before, France is at the bottom. It's even below the United States, and we have a pretty low proportion. And they have long had a fairly male-dominated, sexually-oriented political culture that does not include or embrace powerful women.
PAPEIf I can cut in for...
PAPEIt is worth saying that the head of Dominique Strauss-Kahn's party, the Socialist Party, is a woman right now, and that the French Socialist presidential candidate in the last election was a woman. So it's not that women can't succeed and rise up and even rise to the top. But there is a clear line of sexism within French politics. So that point I would definitely agree with. And, furthermore, there are -- there -- the relationship of power and sex is very strong in the French political psyche. So Dominique Strauss-Kahn is hardly the only male politician near the top of power in France who is known for this sort of behavior.
SWERSIndeed, and that is all true. And France, they tried -- they've tried quotas in the past, adopting a parity system, and it just really didn't work. It didn't take.
REHMRandy Cohen, what has your reaction been to this entire scene?
COHENWell, I'd like to reinforce Michele's excellent point, that it's -- it seems odd that we're conflating Arnold Schwarzenegger, Newt Gingrich and Dominique Strauss-Kahn, that the American politicians we're discussing are accused of something to which we could add the word shenanigans, that what they have done involved consensual sex of a kind, harmful to their families perhaps. But Dominique Strauss-Kahn is accused of committing a violent crime, not something to which you could use the word shenanigans. And it seems odd that we would conflate the two.
SWERSAnd yet people are. I mean, you know, on Don Imus yesterday or the day before, they've...
COHENWell, on Don Imus, I believe...
COHEN...we've reached the end of that line of thought.
SWERSBut I think we need to say -- we can't say enough that rape is not about sex. You know, he was conflating the two stories, saying, well, Schwarzenegger and this Dominique Strauss-Kahn could have any woman they want. Barbara Walters, on "The View," was trying to figure out how somebody like the IMF president could be in this situation. He must be a sex addict, as if rape had anything to do with sex so...
COHENRight. Well, again...
SWERS...I think this story has more to say about how far we have yet to travel in how we view women and violence against women than it does about sex and politics.
REHMGo ahead, Randy.
COHENWell, you know, I completely agree, and I just wanted to mention that we're not exactly discussing the discourse in ancient Athens when we're mentioning, you know, "The View." But I can't agree enough with Michele's essential point. And I go further, that we would also include sexual harassment in the workplace here, that do powerful male politicians -- is their treatment of their staff above reproach and often not. And this is not the same as marital shenanigans.
REHMEric Pape, the question of rape or the possibility, the allegation of rape, does that change people's minds in France?
PAPEI think a certain number of people have definitely shifted against him and processed that this may indeed have happened and that this is imaginable, even if the specific details may not be very clear right now. And I think some people are really just in denial about it. But there's another element that's interesting in the French workplace. There's something that's widely known here called moral harassment, and it's when your bosses harass you just to drive your morale down, to try to get you to quit and give up your stable job. And that is far better known and better understood in France than workplace sexual harassment and to go along with the points that were just made.
PAPEAnd sexual harassment is something that is not understood well enough by enough people in France. And many women feel it, but they don't go and report it because they don't feel like it's gonna go anywhere.
PAPEThat's obviously a smaller version of the way this topic may be playing out in some ways.
REHMEric Pape, he is a reporter for Foreign Policy magazine in Paris. And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Eric, stay on the line with us if you can. We're going to open the phones and some of those questions could be directed to you. Let's go first to Barrington, N.H. Good morning, Milagro. (sp?) You're on the air.
MILAGROGood morning. I'm a little bit surprised how people get shocked when a scandal like this happens. A lot of these men are -- their egos are so huge, they -- as I'm observing because I really don’t know them personally so it's -- I'm trying not to judge their character but what I hear and what I see on TV and things like that. And it's like they're mini gods. They don't think of their families or -- and they are self-absorbed. They act and then they're sorry about it. And it's almost like their moral compass has not developed.
MILAGROThey're on the moment. It's almost like -- somebody said they're like -- somebody had said something about being a sex addict or a drug addict or an overeater. It's as if they're just running down the road, bashing over everything and then afterwards go, oh, my God, look what I did.
REHMSandra, the egos involved.
SOBIERAJ-WESTFALLWell, you know, Elizabeth Edwards had a lot to say about how she thought John ended up the way he did, that you become so cloistered by an apparatus of staff and pollsters and handlers.
SOBIERAJ-WESTFALLAdoring, yes. Andrew Young was nothing if not adoring of John Edwards and enabling. And so, they don't have to use a moral compass. They don't even have to keep their own schedule. They have somebody doing everything for them, and it does breed a sense of invincibility on top of an already super-inflated ego that you have to have to subject yourself to the political process.
SWERSYes, I think that's true. I mean, the positive side of politicians is that they can connect with people and that they can create a story that says, I like you and I connect with you. And the negative side of that is people then wanna be close to you, and then it's easy for you to have those types of situations. Right now, the Senate Ethics Committee, you know, was just looking in to John Ensign. And there you had adoring staffers who tried to protect him, who have now turned over on him and a story of sexual harassment and power over your employees.
REHMEric, can you talk about that from Dominique Strauss-Kahn's perspective? Did he have that kind of an adoring public, an adoring staff? Was he that all powerful?
PAPEHe was quite powerful, and there's -- it's also that there's such respect for his brilliance in his professional field. He has taught and, as a teacher, had throngs of adoring students, you know, around him after lectures and classes and he relished in that. He's often one of the great thinkers in the Socialist Party so, at political gatherings, what he thinks in his analysis often draws people around him. I mean, it's sort of part politician, part rock star. He had this job at the IMF that had him jet-setting around the world like he's already a head of state.
PAPESo it's -- and, of course, when he arrives anywhere, he gets taken care of, and it certainly creates a rock-star-like environment where you, A, have groupies, and B, you have a bunch of people who want to bring you whatever you want and whatever they think you want. And so, they can get ahead of your actual taste and deliver to you what they think you want so that you will appreciate them more.
REHMEric Pape, he is reporter for Foreign Policy magazine, joining us from Paris. After a short break, we'll be back with more of your questions. Stay with us.
REHMAnd we're back, talking about the current sexual scandals that seemed to be plaguing people, not only in this country, but as all of you will know, Dominique Strauss-Khan, the director of the IMF, who is in a jail on Rikers Island, for alleged rape of a woman who came in to clean his hotel room in New York. However, this particular email is in regard to Arnold Schwarzenegger. Derek says, "From the information given, this was not an affair. If the woman was a member of the governor's household staff, this was an abuse of power. It's not comparable to Sanford or Jesse James or the others. He had power over her and that makes all the difference." Sandra.
SOBIERAJ-WESTFALLWell, I think that's true. I mean, that's classic workplace, you know, sexual harassment. The woman stayed in the employment situation and from some accounts brought her son to the Schwarzenegger-Shriver home, you know, so there was some consensual nature to this. But sure, you know, it was a classic sexual harassment in the workplace.
REHMRandy Cohen, is that how you see it?
COHENYeah. That's an important point. The idea of consent has a very blurry meaning when there are great disparities of power, and that's very much so in this case.
REHMHere's a message from Facebook, from Susan. She says, "This is not a sex scandal. It was not an affair. It was an assault. What is wrong with the media on this story? This is not anything other than an assault." Eric Pape, how are the French Press playing this?
PAPEThere's a fair range of different perspectives on it. There are people who are definitely conflating -- even American Puritanism around sex and the sexual conduct of people like, say, Bill Clinton, who had, what was by all views, a consensual fling Monica Lewinsky. But there are people who are conflating that with this, and then there are people who understand that if the allegations are true that this is very serious. And most people in France understand that if the allegations are true, it is an extremely grave issue.
PAPENow, the bigger question here for most people is whether this did happen or not. And my sense is that it is tipping gradually more and more towards it being substantial and real as more details come out. But, of course, the details that are coming out are hard to verify at this point. So the French are big on the presumption of innocence in this case, especially since it's not in their own justice system.
REHMEric, is there a difference you perceived between male and female attitudes about this case?
PAPEIt's interesting. France, in some ways, isn't a place -- there's not as much of a solidarity among women as you might have in many workplaces in the U.S., and just in American society. It's a much more widespread sentiment, so women don't always support other women, even when they make accusations or allegations. So it is different. It's different here. And in a case like this, it's very unfortunate because there are even women who can undermine other women and say, oh, he was being a little over the top, but it's not such a big deal. And they might not even know the details when they're saying that. I've heard that many times myself, and for me that's -- it can be down-turning.
REHMAnd here's a message posted on Facebook by Clayton, who says, "I think this was probably a set up on the part of his political opponents in France." If so, Eric, that would involve an awful lot of people, wouldn't it?
PAPENot necessarily, because to do something like this -- and I'm not saying this is the case -- but to do something like this, one could send someone in for some degree of consensual sex, like the beginning of consensual sex, and then the person could say, no. Stop. You're raping me. He could have panicked and the rest of the American investigators and criminal justice system doing its work. It becomes a he said, she said. And even if this -- I'm giving the hypothesis put forward by...
PAPEOf course. And then it goes to court. It looks terribly ugly. He's shown in handcuffs. It destroys his presidential aspiration. That makes the socialists far less likely to be -- to win the presidency next year. And then, he's cleared because the truth comes out, but he's cleared too late. That's the gist of what many people essentially believe -- who believe that there is a conspiracy here.
REHMAll right. To Norfolk, Va. Good morning, Michael.
MICHAELGood morning, Diane. If anyone in your audience who has ever seen the show "Cheaters" or has ever seen "Jerry Springer" and how people react emotionally when they are caught in the act of breaking their promises, their vows, they know why the KGB tells us or those who defected from the KGB when they come this country, tell us they concentrate on the general immorality of Americans. That's how they get their spies. Some of their best spies are got that way. You can blackmail a person to doing almost anything. Watch "Cheaters," watch "Jerry...
REHMI think I'd rather not. Michele?
SWERSI don't know where to start. I'm actually -- I'm not sure the point that he's getting at. But certainly, you know, that's why we have the criminal justice system, to hopefully be able to, you know, figure out who's telling the truth and not and present the case.
REHMAll right. Then let's go to Fort Washington, Md. Good morning, Nikki. You're on the air.
NIKKIHi. Good morning.
NIKKII'm a little unsettled by what I think I'm hearing was a lack of what I'm hearing on the panel this morning, which is the class difference between some of the women -- at least in the case of Schwarzenegger and the woman with the IMF chief -- understanding that all of these are allegations until proven. But, you know, it's almost seems as if people are surprised that that could happen with that power dynamic. I mean, we've had this kind of system since the beginning of time. But our own Founding Fathers, Thomas Jefferson, had (word?) once in -- publicly and definitely had fathered children with a woman who couldn't say no. I don't know of another example of rape than that if you're an enslaved woman. And yet, we're acting like how could this happen.
NIKKIAs for the French, you know, acting surprised that, you know, someone of a certain class could do something like this, this is what people in some circles, in some powers do against young women who don't have that kind of power. And frankly, those who are changing Monica Lewinsky and Bill Clinton to -- somehow is a different case. The fact that there's a power dynamic here -- and it doesn't surprise me at all that these women were in some form part of the domestic help -- I mean, what kind of power dynamic do you need to exert yourself and really protect yourself from allegations? I think people need to look at the class angle at this and view...
REHMAll right. Thanks for your call. Sandra.
SOBIERAJ-WESTFALLAnd -- well, and look at just what the case of the hotel employee might be going through now. You know, she makes an allegation and almost within 24 hours, the story turns to, well, was it a setup? Who is she? How credible is she? Could she have been planted there by Sarkozy? And what message is that sending to women subservient to powerful men who might be thinking, you know, should I complain, should I report this, or am I gonna be questioned?
SOBIERAJ-WESTFALLThe woman in the Dominique Strauss-Kahn case, who years ago said that she was, I think, in an attempted assault, said she didn't wanna be the woman -- she didn't report it because she didn't wanna be the woman who made a problem. And that is being borne out -- the wisdom of her fear is being borne out now, when we look at how the hotel employee is being questioned.
REHMEric Pape, are other women with whom Dominique Strauss-Kahn had some kind of relations now coming forward?
PAPEWell, there is this woman who, I believe it was in 2002, went to interview him, and she has described on French television, in fact, several years ago on a talk show, him basically going crazy and trying to tear her clothes off and pull her jeans off, and she fought him off according to her account. When this was on French television, they deleted out his name, but everyone in Paris who was in the sort of political journalistic circle, I think they all knew who she was talking about. And she did not, as the other panelist just said, she did not filed charges. She wanted to, apparently, and her mother talked to her out of it. Her mother is a member of the same political party as Dominique Strauss-Kahn and has known him for many years.
PAPEAnd her mother even recounted that she went and talked to Dominique Strauss-Kahn about it. And according to her version of events, Strauss-Kahn said he was sorry he had just gone crazy. He just, he didn't know what happened to him. The woman at the center of that allegation is now saying that she -- is suggesting to other people, apparently, now that she does want to file charges. But this is several years on. And her mother, actually, now regrets having talked her daughter out of it.
REHMRandy Cohen, any comments?
COHENYeah, I'd like to add one other aspect to this notion of the impossibility of true consensual sex when there are great disparities of power. That's absolutely so. And there's another destructive aspect of bosses sleeping with employees even when there's something that we might regard as all but consensual, and that is the effect on other people in that workplace. I, for many years, worked at "Late Night with David Letterman." And my former boss was -- had indeed slept with one of the staff. And although it seemed to the folks who work there, this was after my time, that she was genuinely pleased and it was genuinely consensual sex.
COHENBut even if that's so, it creates a climate where people get ahead in work not through their skills as employees, not through their job skills, but by their personal relationship with the boss. So it's enormously destructive not just to the people directly involved, but to everyone who works in that office.
SWERSWell, I think that that's the case, you know, across workplaces, and it makes it even more difficult in political workplaces because you wanna think that people get ahead based on merit and they're making public policy that has a large impact on the rest of the country. So to have something like that be what's affecting it is not a good thing.
REHMIt's interesting. Here's an email from Margie, who says, "Your guests are debating if it's better to have an effective politician who cheats or a less effective community servant who doesn't. Can't we demand both? Don't we deserve both? Eric Pape?
PAPEYeah. I was hoping to answer that because I think that's what many people thought the debate was about Dominique Strauss-Kahn until this last weekend. I think it -- he has said in an interview recently, yeah, I like woman, so what? This is someone who was not -- he never said I am going to be the loyal, faithful husband. And he never made those kinds of promises to the French public that politicians sometimes do here and that they usually do in the U.S. Now, I think we're debating something quite different that goes well beyond the Schwarzenegger case with these kinds of allegations. So, I guess that's the end of my point.
REHMEric Pape, he is a reporter for Foreign Policy magazine, and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Now to Elkhart, Ind. Good morning, Jack.
JACKGood morning. Fascinating topic. And I have been up all night, having studied ethics and philosophy and theology in my college career, and this is a very touchy thing but I bring people back to one basic ethos, which is Greek, Roman, all of the major players in the senate of Rome were not the nicest people when it came to fidelity. And these people ran whole empire...
REHMJack, so what?
JACKWell, the whole point of it is there -- the economy, I guess, when the Pandora's box opens and this is all looked at, does the situation with Strauss-Kahn and Arnold Schwarzenegger meet the criteria of what we put them in the positions for?
REHMIf in fact one is a crime, then I certainly would not wish to have someone who has committed such a crime or has been convicted of such a crime in a position of power. Michele?
SWERSIn addition, you know, in today's media culture and the way that things move around the country so quickly, credibility is, you know, also number one for a politician. And if I want a leader that's going to be effective, they have to have credibility. And so, the loss of credibility that comes from something like this will affect their ability to lead. So the two can't always be separated.
REHMRandy Cohen, what about diplomatic immunity?
COHENWell, international laws is a little outside my field, so maybe I should defer to someone else here . Are you asking Can Dominique Strauss-Kahn commit major felonies in America? Is that a good idea? From an ethical perspective, well, no. No, it's not what anyone think it was.
REHMBut I wonder whether laws can get in the way of his being fully prosecuted, Michele?
SWERSI really don't know. No, I don't know. I mean, with ambassadors, it's certainly true that you get diplomatic immunity. But I don’t know if that extends to the IMF head.
SOBIERAJ-WESTFALLI think one thing voters should be concerned about in scandals like this and, you know, it's not just a question of credibility and personal hypocrisy. But you see now, even with the Schwarzenegger case, they're turning toward were state funds misused to try to cover this up. That's what the John Edwards case has turned into, were campaign funds misused. And so voters should question if they're willing to break one set of rules, how many other sets of rules are they willing to break and what does that mean for, you know, taxpayer dollars and public services.
REHMEric Pape, last word.
COHENYeah, I reject that utterly.
PAPEI think that there's a big difference. There's a big difference. One is what rules that -- or agreements they might break with their partner, that's very different from someone who’s breaking the law. I think that's the core point.
PAPEAnd here in France, there's a long history of presidents having relationships and even children with women who were not their wife. The French historically don't care about that as long as they do a good job as president. And historically, there's been people who have been consenting.
REHMEric Pape, reporter for Foreign Policy magazine, Randy Cohen, who wrote the Ethicist column in The New York Times magazine, Sandra Sobieraj-Westfall, Washington editor, People magazine, Michele Swers of Georgetown University, thank you all so much.
REHMAnd thanks for listening. I'm Diane Rehm.
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