Anyone who had been expecting any significant expression from former International Monetary chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn upon his return to Paris —whether contrite, embarrassed, indignant, or bristling with claims of innocence—wound up sadly disappointed Sunday. Just 11 days after all criminal charges against DSK for sexual assault were dropped in New York, the former favorite for the 2012 French presidential election stepped off an early morning Air France flight to Charles de Gaulle airport, made his way past a clamoring press throng, and headed off for his Place des Voges home in central Paris without a word about the past, present, or his future.
Anyone who’d been expecting anything other than that “rien à voir, circulez!” had been dreaming. Additional press attention (much less frenzy) is the last thing DSK wants or needs at this point. Now that Strauss-Kahn has left America and its criminal court system behind him, he’s likely to spend time out of the media lime light as he and his advisors plan what will doubtless be a carefully orchestrated, painstakingly thought-out returns to the public sphere. Eventually.
About the only thing that seems certain beyond that is that DSK’s return to French public life won’t double as his re-entry to the nation’s presidential contest.
As recent posts noted, political analysts, polling experts, and general public sentiment reflect wide respect remains for the political and economic abilities that helped lift DSK to the head of the IMP and former top spot among presidential contenders. But the same surveys show that esteem for his competence has been seriously over-shadowed by the claims of sexual assault—and perhaps just as bad, revelations about his private life in general—that began raining down on him with his May 14 arrest. To put it bluntly, people have simply heard too much about his unclothed behavior to be able to imagine him enveloped in France’s presidential cloak anymore—whether that private carnal action ever crossed the line from consensual to brutish assault or not.
Indeed, polls taken since the charges against DSK were dropped show huge majorities of French voters saying they don’t want him to join the presidential race again. Perhaps even more significantly, nearly two-thirds of people in other polls say they don’t even want Strauss-Kahn to weigh in with his opinions about participants in the Socialist party presidential primary that began while he was still waiting trial in New York. Whether it’s fair or not in light of the dropped charges against him, the attempted rape charges and revelations and furor those unleashed delivered a de facto death sentence to DSK’s 2012 presidential hopes, and the French jury of public opinion doesn’t look ready to consider an appeal on that.
Part of that reaction, of course, is due to over-load of details of Strauss-Kahn’s alleged private actions (including an 2003 encounter in Paris with a young writer who has filed attempted rape charges against him): People have gotten so used to hearing about DSK within the framework of sexual scandal that they can’t deconstruct him from that and view him again as a purely political figure. But just as important, French voters—on the right, as well as left—seem to view the Socialist primary as a process that started and has evolved without him, and which needs to reach its conclusion without further DSK-linked distraction. With polls showing the two leading Socialist participants in that contest beating incumbent President Nicolas Sarkozy in the general election, the stakes may appear simply too high and sober to possibly be undermined by anything Strauss-Kahn and his recent travails could bring to it.
Meanwhile, virtually all of DSK’s biggest party backers for the presidency before his arrest were obliged to switch their alliances to other postulants when it became clear he was never going to rid himself of his legal troubles in time to enter the primary when it opened in early July. In other words, were DSK now to try to join the primary already well underway—virtually unthinkable notion at this point—he’d find himself without any party heavyweights behind him, or much public support of his effort. Or, by contrast, were he to force his way back and lure his former allies to switch their support back to him (equally unthinkable at this point), the charges of outrage and treason that would spark from within Socialist ranks would split the party asunder, and guarantee the kind of chaos and division that has long hampered the left in races for the Elysée that the right has usually won.
For all those reasons, what we’re more likely to see is more of DSK’s sphinx act in the coming weeks. He may well may do a televised appearance on one of France’s main nightly news casts soon as a manner of officially saying “I’m home”—using a let’s-get-this-over-with logic designed to burst the pressure bubble of media expectation and hype around his when his first statement in France will come. But more generally, he’s likely to hunker down with his advisers, take a look at what the general public and leftist voters are saying and wanting from him right now, and think about ways he might be able to help the left return to power in general elections in 2012 behind the scenes, and perhaps make a return to political life in a secondary role after that. Rien à voir, circulez!