A discussion broke out among a bunch of journalists over lunch Tuesday.
If you had to choose, which you would prefer: a philanderer who plants his seed under your nose, at home, with a household employee? Or a serial assailant who chases the maid naked down the hall of a hotel?
In other words, in the moral universe of betrayal, who is worse -- Arnold Schwarzenegger or Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the International Monetary Fund president who went straight from a $3,000 a night suite at the Sofitel to a cell in Rikers Island?
Hmmm: emotional perfidy or sex crime. In all candor, it’s a tough choice. We had a split vote, and several people changed their minds.
In the end it sort of depends on ‘worse for whom’?
At a moment like this, most people are not putting themselves in the shoes of Arnold Schwarzenegger, who made his choices a long time ago. They are placing themselves in the position of Maria Shriver, who must be looking back on years of domestic intimacy with a sense of horror.
It is one thing to be cheated on, as she likely knew was the case. It is another to be cheated on in the privacy of one’s home.
This woman -- whoever she is -- worked among Shriver’s family. The child was born a decade ago, and is probably known to them all. Such knowledge poisons the past, and forces a reassessment of everything Shriver thinks she knew about her home, and the people who lived and worked in her orbit. (Who knew? When? How much?).
It’s no wonder Shriver fled their Brentwood mansion.
But then there is Dominique Strauss-Kahn, whose arrest for attempted assault has thrown the French political landscape into utter turmoil. His wife, Anne Sinclair, has declared her belief that he is innocent.
As eyebrows all over France wrinkled in skepticism, other alleged victims were coming out of the woodwork, accusing Strauss-Kahn of assault and sexual harrassment over years and continents.
A young journalist said she was assaulted and narrowly escaped rape. A former employee at the International Monetary Fund said she felt coerced into an affair because Strauss-Kahn was her boss. And the district attorney says there was at least one other chambermaid involved.
At lunch, I asked a stupid question: why didn’t Strauss-Kahn (known as DSK in France) just hire prostitutes? A male colleague shot me a look: because it’s about the hunt, he explained, not about the sex. Duh.
And what of Sinclair? Did she look the other way for too many years? How could she not know about his possibly criminal sexual appetite? Where does that leave her credibility today, and what is her role or responsibility in this, if any?
In both cases, the wives are no pushovers; both Maria Shriver and Anne Sinclair are respected, smart career women -- both happen to have been television journalists.
And while it is very hard to get the French excited about a sexual scandal, the Strauss-Kahn case has riveted the nation’s attention. In the blink of an eye (the wave of a willy?) it ended a political career on the cusp of presidential potential.
It is also forcing a nation that is most blasé about extramarital sex among its politicians to rethink that attitude.
One journalist at the table suggested that DSK is certainly worse: forcing sex on a partner can never be countenanced. True enough.
And in the case of Schwarzenegger, at least he recognized the paternity of his out-of-wedlock child. John Edwards couldn’t do that much, even when confronted with photos.
It’s a false choice, of course.
Forgivenness is for Shriver and her children alone to consider. As for absolution -- DSK will have to seek that in the courts.