The best synopsis of the case against Dominique Strauss-Kahn, I believe, was published by The New York Times on August 23, 2011. Clyde Haberman writes:
“A woman of little status charged that a man of considerable power had attacked her. Instead of dismissing her out of hand, as might have been the case in other societies, the New York authorities sprang into action. They yanked the man off a plane, and hauled him to jail. When her credibility was then deemed to have as much substance as a soapbubble, the authorities decided they had no choice but to let the suspect go.”[i]
To read the case this way takes (1) an impressive degree of symbolization, and (2) an irrepressible optimism that takes it cue from the symbolization and marginalization central to Haberman’s pattern of rationalization. First, to speak of what I mean by “symbolization,” take a look at the above excerpt. There are types, rather than persons. Strauss-Kahn, the former managing editor of the International Monetary Fund and potential candidate for the French presidency, is no more; he is simply “a man of considerable power.”The accuser, Nafissatou Diallo, is “a woman of little status.” To put this another way, both are reduced to their respective economic classes, and behind this reduction is a response to what Haberman must see as the obvious counterpoint to her argument: the Strauss-Kahn case is simply another example of a rich, powerful, white man taking advantage of a poor, powerless, black woman. I will refer to this counterargument as the pessimistic viewpoint, since it understands the Strauss-Kahn case as simply another example of a negative social fact. This is precisely what Haberman does not want to argue. On the contrary, for Haberman the fact that the “New York authorities sprang into action” when Diallo charges Strauss-Kahn with rape shows that the system is working; “in other societies,” Haberman suggests, she would have been “[dismissed] out of hand.”
Of course, the optimism of the above passage is not unfounded. But it does evidence a strange kind of argumentation, which takes the lawsuit as a triumph. Behind her reasoning is a mind-bending shift, that allows us (if we are to believe Haberman) to ignore the case’s outcome. The criminal charges against Strauss-Kahn have been dropped, due to Diallo’s lack of credibility, though civil charges have been made and are pending judicial action.[ii] So my question to Haberman, and this is a serious inquiry and not rhetorical in the least, is: when does this sort of reasoning no longer make sense?
I fear I have betrayed myself here. I called the passage the “best synopsis of the case,” and then proceeded to remark upon what I see as its insufficiencies. I do think her narrative needs to be reconstructed, as we attempt to figure out what the Strauss-Kahn case means with respect to governmental and legislative institutions. Perhaps, we will have to wait some time before the case comes into full focus, and then it will become clear that Haberman has a better understanding than I do of the symbolism of the case. Perhaps I am arguing for the more main-stream, pessimistic reading, and this makes me unoriginal. I guess we’ll see what happens in the next stage, and go from there. I wish I had more information about what exactly was said to compromise Diallo’s credibility, and what factual information the D.A. had about the sexual encounter that occurred at a hotel next to Times Square last May. But, then again, I bet a lot of people wish they had that kind of information…
[i]Clyde Haberman, “In Messy Strauss-Kahn Case, a Glimpse of a Working Justice System,” <http://cityroom.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/08/23/in-messy-strauss-kahn-case-a-glimpse-of-a-working-justice-system/?scp=3&sq=strauss’kahn&st=cse>.
[ii]See William Rashbaum and John Eligon, “District Attorney Asks Judge to Drop Strauss-Kahn Case,” <http://www.nytimes.com/2011/08/23/nyregion/strauss-kahn-case-should-be-dropped-prosecutors-say.html?scp=1&sq=district%20attorney%20asks%20judge%20to%20drop%20strauss-kahn%20case&st=cse>; also, William Rashbaum, John Eligon, and Jim Dwyer, “Strauss-Kahn Case Is Said to be Set for Dismissal,” <http://www.nytimes.com/2011/08/22/nyregion/strauss-kahn-prosecution-said-to-be-ending.html?scp=1&sq=strauss-kahn%20case%20is%20said%20to%20be%20set%20for%20dismissal&st=cse>.