When I told a woman I know that the jailed French economist who headed the International Monetary Fund was known in the French press as "the Great Seducer," she said that judging from what she has seen of him on television, he must have come up with that nickname himself.
Dominique Strauss-Kahn, released on bail Thursday after being held under suicide watch in the notorious Riker's Island lock-up in New York City, certainly hasn't looked his best since cops hauled him off an Air France flight bound for Paris and charged him with the attempted rape and sodomizing of a chambermaid at a snazzy Manhattan hotel last weekend.
TV footage and still photos show an unshaven, bedraggled man looking quite morose and older than his 62 years as he stood in court for his arraignment. It's hard to believe, considering his current state, that this man was a front-runner to be the next president of France, the biggest threat to the reelection hopes of President Nicolas Sarkozy.
Kennedy-like, the recently resigned IMF boss is known as DSK by his fellow Frenchmen. He is accused by his critics of being a Champagne Socialist — the French equivalent of a limousine liberal — because of his wealth and ostentatious lifestyle.
He and his American heiress wife, Anne Sinclair, have two multimillion-euro apartments in Paris, a vacation retreat in Marrakesh and a house in Potomac.
Still, the Socialist Party was nearly certain to turn to him as its 2012 candidate for president, and polls showed him a favorite over the unpopular Sarkozy, who had hoped dispatching him to Washington to head the IMF would remove him from being an immediate electoral threat.
A poll taken of the French and released Wednesday showed a majority of his countrymen believe he was the victim of a conspiracy, set up for a fall. Fifty-seven percent of the people interviewed just before DSK was arraigned Monday believed him the victim of a conspiracy. Only 32 percent believed he was not the victim of a plot. Eleven percent had no opinion.
Likewise, a majority of the French population was said to be angry over the treatment meted out to him after his arrest. Perp-walks are against the law in France, where the press is forbidden to show an accused criminal in handcuffs prior to a conviction.
We have a more egalitarian tradition here (more in line, in fact, with the spirit of the French Revolution), in which we enjoy humiliating the high and mighty whenever we can. I think the French are most upset that we culturally inferior Americans are treating such a prominent son of France so cavalierly. C'est la vie, eh?
There was, of course, reason to keep Mr. Strauss-Kahn under lock and key, considering that film director Roman Polanski, a French citizen, fled to Paris and was never returned to the U.S. to face sentencing after he was found guilty of having sex with an underage girl 30-plus years ago.
If the cops hadn't hauled DSK off that plane before it took off, there's probably little chance he would have been forced back here to face the music.
New York prosecutors say they have DNA evidence to back up their charges and corroborate what the 32-year-old African immigrant maid alleges: that she entered the $3,000-per-night suite thinking it was empty, only to have a naked DSK attack her and force himself on her sexually.
She seems an unlikely Sarkozy plant, but the bigger the event, the more people tend to think a conspiracy is at work. Consider the Kennedy assassination, or the attacks on Sept. 11. Lee Harvey Oswald must have had help. The government must have had a hand in the toppling of the Twin Towers.
In this instance, the allegations by the chambermaid may unleash a Tiger Woods kind of effect. That is, there may be a number of women who come forward with accusations against Mr. Strauss-Kahn.
Already, a journalist named Tristane Banon has said on French TV that in 2002, DSK lured her to a remote apartment under the pretext of granting an interview. He then, she said, attacked her, ripped off her bra and jeans and tried to rape her. During the initial showing of the panel show on which she described the incident, his name was bleeped out. It has since been unbleeped.
This story is far from over, and if it's true that he has in the past bought himself out of similar accusations and "fixed" things through his power and influence, well, that's not going to happen here and now.
No wonder he doesn't look his best.
Ron Smith's column appears Fridays in The Baltimore Sun. His email is email@example.com.