(First published in the Curmudgeon column, The Dominion Post, May 24.)
THE GREAT paradox of Dominique Strauss-Kahn’s downfall is that this man, whom some accounts portray as a serial and even violent harasser of women, professes to be a socialist. He was the French Left’s great hope for the presidency.
Socialism is supposedly about championing the cause of the poor and downtrodden, which makes it highly ironic that Strauss-Kahn should be accused of forcing himself on a hotel chambermaid; an African widow and solo mother struggling, no doubt, to improve her station in life – in other words, the very sort of person socialists profess to be concerned about.
A true friend of the proletariat would regard such a person as someone deserving to be empowered and treated with dignity. But if the allegations against Strauss-Kahn are correct, it seems he simply saw her as easy meat - someone he possibly assumed would be unlikely to resist his advances, still less complain about the actions of one so great and powerful.
This would confirm that for all its supposed concern about social justice, socialism is rife with hypocrisy and double standards. There are probably as many alpha-male bullies and sexual predators within its ranks as in any other “ism”.
It’s notable too that DSK, as he is known, enjoyed the high life. He and his wife lived in a US$4 million Washington home with five bedrooms, six bathrooms and a swimming pool.
Nothing unusual here. The scandal enveloping Strauss-Kahn simply shows how far contemporary “socialism” has strayed from its cloth-cap origins.
The representatives of the working class are very good at rewarding themselves by gorging on the trappings of wealth and power. A wise old friend of mine, who made a career out of observing the foibles of our own politicians, once said to me that no one took more delight from settling into the soft leather seat of a VIP limo than a minister in a newly elected Labour government.
Once they join the political elite, people’s egalitarianism has a remarkable way of evaporating.
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THE TV NEWS recently showed us a defendant in the dock in Waitakere District Court on charges of escaping from police custody in Auckland Hospital.
Throughout his appearance, he was gesticulating and waving. At one point he made a defiant gesture to the TV camera. The reporter told us the man appeared to be conducting a conversation, using signs and gestures, with someone in the body of the court.
There was a time when such behaviour wouldn’t have been tolerated. At the first raise of his hand the defendant would have been firmly told by any policeman in the vicinity to behave himself. If that didn’t work, he would have been fixed with an icy glower from the Bench and ordered to be taken back down to the cells until he learned to show some respect.
If the defendant had the misfortune to strike a crusty old magistrate like the irascible Ben Scully, a legend in his day, he might well have been convicted of contempt without further ado.
Yet the policemen accompanying the defendant in the Waitakere court didn’t raise an eyebrow and evidently the judge said nothing about his behaviour. We can assume from this that such antics are commonplace.
When criminals are routinely allowed to get away with minor infractions, it’s hardly surprising that they feel emboldened to proceed to more serious offences. This is the theory behind the “broken windows” model of policing that has been effective overseas. Arrest the vandals who smash windows, the theory goes, and they might be discouraged from committing worse crimes.
Applying the same rationale, our lamentable crime rate might start to improve if the courts showed less tolerance toward arrogant young punks like the Waitakere show-off.
* * *
ONE UNSATISFYING aspect of Osama bin Laden’s death is that we don’t know whether he experienced the same terror that he and his followers inflicted on thousands of innocent people.
It’s possible, of course, that he felt no fear. He may have faced death with the disciplined composure of the true fanatic, convinced he would be glorified as an Islamic martyr.
On the other hand, he may have had a few minutes in which to experience something of the same terrible premonition of doom that the victims of 9/11 and other Al Qaeda atrocities must have felt in the last moments of their lives.
Was he gripped by panic at the sound of shooting and the clatter of boots coming up the stairs to his hideout? Did he have time to grasp the finality of his imminent fate? We can only hope so.
If he did, it would have been mercifully brief, unlike the agony and torment suffered by passengers in the doomed airliners over New York and Pennsylvania, or those trapped on the upper levels of the Twin Towers.
Whichever way you look at it, bin Laden got off lightly. A more appropriate fate would have been a long period of imprisonment in which he could have pondered the prospect of an ignoble death by execution.