- The Washington Times - Monday, November 3, 2008

The U.S. media already have moved on from the story of the Frenchman with a hyphenated name whose affair with a former subordinate rattled the staid precincts of the International Monetary Fund.

But in contrast to France’s reputation as a nation that accepts its leaders’ extramarital affairs as minor peccadilloes, the charges against IMF Director Dominique Strauss-Kahn still resonate in the French press, radio, television and the blogosphere.

“The affair is seriously destabilizing him and could compromise his presidential ambitions,” said Raphaelle Bacque, a veteran journalist who covered the story for Le Monde.

A former French finance and economy minister, Mr. Strauss-Kahn, often referred to as “DSK,” was cleared Oct. 25 of charges that his relationship with Hungarian economist Piroska Nagy represented an abuse of power.

A contender for the Socialist nomination for president in the 2007 election won by Nicolas Sarkozy, Mr. Strauss-Kahn was regarded, until the scandal, as a serious potential candidate for the 2012 presidential race.

“What undermines his political status isn´t so much his sexual behavior than the thoughtless trait people see in it,” Mrs. Bacque said.

Stories conveying Mr. Strauss-Kahn’s reputation as a frenzied womanizer have been all over the French blogosphere these days, as well as on radio and television.

The popular satirical show “Les Guignols de l´info” (“The News Puppets”), recently featured a smiling Mr. Strauss-Kahn suggestively caressing a cigar and reassuring French viewers that “all precautions have been taken” in dealing with the crisis. Another sketch pictured Mr. Strauss-Kahn as a French Bill Clinton, playing saxophone while his journalist wife, Anne Sinclair, a former television star, appeared on the screen with the mocking subtitle “love and married.”

Mr. Strauss-Kahn also got little apparent sympathy from Mr. Sarkozy despite the latter’s own stormy love life.

Although the French government publicly responded to the affair with strong support of Mr. Strauss-Kahn, whose nomination as head of the IMF was backed by the president, Le Monde reported that Mr. Sarkozy had expressed in private a “cold anger” against his nominee.

Likewise, manifestations of solidarity and confidence from “DSK’s” own political family, the Socialist Party, were less than enthusiastic. Segolene Royal, who beat Mr. Strauss-Kahn for the nomination in 2007 but lost to Mr. Sarkozy in the general election, said, “I hope Dominique Strauss-Kahn will be cleared. Otherwise, it will damage France’s reputation for seriousness and competence.”

After an independent investigation commissioned by the IMF cleared Mr. Strauss-Kahn, some politicians expressed relief.

Frederic Lefebvre, spokesman for the Union for a Popular Movement, a center-right party once led by Mr. Sarkozy, said on France Info, a national radio station, that “it [was] excellent news for everybody.”

Mr. Lefebvre added that Mr. Sarkozy now counted on IMF support for reforms at the global financial summit being hosted by President Bush in Washington on Nov. 15.

“I think the affair will be forgotten very soon in France,” said Philippe Aghion, an economics professor at Harvard University who supported the Socialists in 2007.

“French people as well as many international observers are aware of the fact that Mr. Strauss-Kahn just accomplished a deep reorganization of the IMF and that his suggestions to reflate economies shaken by the financial crisis are currently being taken up by many administrations worldwide including Bush’s,” Mr. Aghion said. “He’s the man of the situation.”

Mr. Aghion also expressed hope that Mr. Strauss-Kahn will run for the French presidency.

Before news of the affair broke in the Wall Street Journal, Mr. Strauss-Kahn was well ahead in French opinion polls with a 73 percent approval rating at a time when the Socialist Party is suffering major internal disputes and rivalry over who should take over the leadership of the party.

Francois Lafond, director of the Paris office of the German Marshall Fund, said he was unsure about Mr. Strauss-Kahn’s political future. “It is always very tricky to predict the future of a political figure in France,” he said.

In the past, French opinion has been tolerant of the sexual peccadillos of its leaders, including the fact that President Francois Mitterrand had a daughter with a longtime mistress.

Ultimately, “one could even think that this episode may strengthen him,” Mr. Lafond said of Mr. Strauss-Kahn.

“Not for having a soft spot for the opposite sex, but for proving an ability to overcome an hurdle. In order to aspire to lead an old and difficult country such as France and to be the ‘Father of the Nation’ you have to have scars, to have outlived adversity. French people like this.”

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