If David can post about music every week, and Gavin can talk about wrestling, then I figure I can bring up my own little causes from time to time. This one is getting posted here so I don’t bother my friends with it for weeks. Plus, it involves the news, and since the news is pretty much entertainment these days, we might as well include it.
The head of the International Monetary Fund, a man named Dominique Strauss-Kahn, has been arrested for allegedly sexually assaulting a maid at the hotel where he was staying. Naturally, everyone in the world braced themselves for a wash of idiocy, and not a moment too soon. One infuriatingly stupid contributor to the flood was Ben Stein, with a post that there is no way in frozen hell I’m going to link to. He publishes several defenses of Strauss-Kahn, some valid, some utterly moronic. Many of them are based on classism and add up to tautologies - people in high positions shouldn’t be seriously suspected of sex crimes because if they were suspected of sex crimes they would never manage to be in high positions. And around we go.
But here’s where we get to the most off-putting part of the argument.
What do we know about the complainant besides that she is a hotel maid? I love and admire hotel maids. They have incredibly hard jobs and they do them uncomplainingly. I am sure she is a fine woman. On the other hand, I have had hotel maids that were complete lunatics, stealing airline tickets from me, stealing money from me, throwing away important papers, stealing medications from me. How do we know that this woman’s word was good enough to put Mr. Strauss-Kahn straight into a horrific jail? Putting a man in Riker’s is serious business. Maybe more than a few minutes of investigation is merited before it’s done.
This is why I love the age of the internet. It’s possible that, back in the day, this paragraph might have passed under the radar. Now, we’ve all seen pages and pages of internet commenters using just this form.
“I like black people. I think they’re great. On the other hand . . . ”
“I’m not sexist, but . . . ”
“Some of my best friends are Jewish! But I’ve had some terrible experiences with . . . ”
If you have to state that you don’t have a problem with a certain person, or group of people, you are moments away from behaving in a way that indicates exactly the opposite. No one has to add a disclaimer when they’re making a statement that is honorable and accurate. No one has to tell their audience that they don’t hate someone unless they’re about to do everything in their power to show that they do hate someone.
Stein could have simply said that the woman’s statements should have been more thoroughly investigated before any action was taken. Depending on the facts of the case that could be debated. He didn’t say that. He pointed out that the woman was a maid. Then he made the disclaimer, lest anyone think he had a problem with the fact that she was a maid. Then he listed several terrible things that maids did to him over the years, mentioned that some maids were “complete lunatics” and thieves. He finished off by implying that the police should doubt the maid’s word. Can anyone name a group of people who they ‘love and admire,’ but who they would talk about that way?
So I’m going to take away the disclaimers, and re-write the first half of the paragraph the way Ben Stein actually meant it. “The woman was a maid. I don’t like maids. I don’t respect them or trust them. I’m sure this woman isn’t any better than the rest. I have had hotel maids that were complete lunatics, stealing airline tickets from me, stealing money from me, throwing away important papers, stealing medications from me.”
The ‘few minutes of investigation’ is clear hyperbole, so we’ll leave that behind. The Riker’s Island reference leads back to an earlier point in which Stein said that Strauss-Kahn’s ‘lifetime of service’ to the IMF merited better than putting him in a common prison with other common prisoners who were suspected of awful things like . . . sexual assault.
I don’t know who’s guilty or who’s innocent. What I do know is that Stein’s piece is the most lightly-coded way of saying, “the rich, powerful, and connected deserve better justice than the poor and obscure,” that I’ve ever seen.