The Normal Rules Do Not Apply — Until They Do

We hear about the Anthony Weiners and Dominique Strauss-Kahns, the John Edwardes  and Arnold Schwarzeneggers, the Bernie Madoffs and stud athletes and CEOs who break the rules or break the laws, and we shake our heads and wonder:  How could they be so reckless and brazen?

I suspect that part of the reason is that such people simply have not lived in the real world for a very long time.  Even if they began somewhere close to normal, for years their lives have been spent in a kind of protective cocoon, surrounded by aides and boosters and supporters and staffers and contributors.  People arrange their meals and social functions for them.  They really don’t need to carry cash anymore.  They get chauffered to events in limousines.  When they arrive at a restaurant, a guy whispers in their ear to let him know if there is any problem — any problem whatsoever! — and it will be taken care of immediately.  They fly first class, get to board when they want, and sip their complimentary champagne and try to ignore the stream of disheveled coach passengers who walk by.  Why shouldn’t these folks feel that they are different from normal people?  They live lives that are different from normal people.  And when they make little missteps, those missteps always — always! — get taken care of by members of their retinue.  The missed tests get retaken.  The tickets are torn up.  The meetings get delayed to accommodate their late arrival.  Their peccadilloes are forgiven through cash payments or side deals or secret agreements.

But then, at some point, a line gets crossed.  The police get called.  A send button is inadvertently hit and reckless private communications become public.  A person who is facing jail time and knows about the misdeeds decides to roll over and cooperate with the crusading prosecutor in hopes of getting a reduced sentence.  And then the mystified member of the elite finds that the cadre of fixers and sycophants aren’t there anymore, that their confident assurances, angry threats, wheedling, bullying, and lies, don’t work anymore.  Suddenly, they are being treated like the common people who, for years, they have seen only in passing or at carefully arranged events — and they realize, to their amazement, that those common people seem to be enjoying their travails.

I imagine that the one common emotion felt by every member of the mighty who has been brought low is . . . astonishment.

Lifestyles Of The Rich And Famous

Americans have always been interested in the lives of the rich and famous — particularly when the story involves their misdeeds.  The arrest for sexual assault of Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the now-former head of the International Monetary Fund, and Arnold Schwarzenegger’s belated confession to fathering an out-of-wedlock child are just two of a long line of tawdry scandals that have captivated American audiences.

The sordid tale of Strauss-Kahn provides an especially rich trove of detail.  He was staying in a $3,000-a-night hotel room when the incident occurred.  He flies first-class on Air France whenever he wants.  He jets around the world, passing judgment on the economies of sovereign nations and spending other people’s money.  He’s French, and a Socialist.  And, according to the hotel housekeeper who is his accuser, when she entered what she thought was an empty room he burst out of the bathroom like some Gallic satyr, assaulted her, and engaged in forced sexual contact.  His apparent defense is that the encounter was consensual.  And, to complete the required story line, his resignation statement professes his innocence but says he is giving up his post for the good of his wife, whom he loves “more than anything,” and the IMF.

One point that distinguishes the Strauss-Kahn tale from the others is that he is French, and therefore people from both sides of the Atlantic are reacting to his arrest.  Initially, many in France seemed to blame his arrest on American prudishness and to complain that he wasn’t being treated in a deferential way that acknowledged his lofty position in the world.  More recently, the prevailing view seems to be shifting away from reflexive sympathy for Strauss-Kahn having to deal with the unsophisticated, benighted Americans to a realization that the conduct of which he is being accused is, in fact, criminal and is properly treated as such.  If this incident causes the French to be a bit more concerned about sexual assault crimes, and a bit less willing to give a pass to the misconduct of the high and mighty, that would be a good thing.