France has been agog in recent weeks over the trail of Dominique Strauss-Kahn on charges of, among other things, pimping. Perhaps as a respite from the tragedies of terrorism, the country supposedly known for its blasé approach to matters of love and lust has been fixated on the sexual predilections of the man who, until just a few years ago, was head of the International Monetary Fund and possible successor to then president of France, Nicolas Sarkozy.
The trial of Strauss-Kahn is a turning point. It’s the first time the French have intruded so boldly and brazenly on what once was considered a zone of privacy – the erogenous zone. It’s become known that Strauss-Kahn had a disposition toward rough sex, which now he neither denies nor disowns. Clearly a boundary has been crossed: French leaders, no matter how highly placed, have become vulnerable not only to having their private affairs made public, but to having their sexual proclivities put on public view.
Younger Americans might see this as something new and different. But older Americans will remember the year 1998, when the national obsession was with President Bill Clinton’s relationship with a 21 year old White House intern, Monica Lewinsky. What was most titillating, trailblazing, was not the relationship itself – by then we knew full well that American presidents had had sex with women other than their wives – but the details about the relationship. For the first time even the media establishment provided the American people with facts – say, the stain on the blue Gap dress – that previously would have been kept strictly private.
On the surface this seems a small matter – a sign of the times with no major significance. I, however, argue differently. I argue that one of the reasons leaders don’t get no respect is that we have come to know too many too well. Detailed descriptions of men with their pants down do not contribute to a leadership culture in which subordinates see superiors as better than they.