Schwarzenegger, Strauss-Kahn and the Politics of Sex

The April 3, 1968 issue of the Monterey Peninsula Herald is now a deep color of sunset and among my proudest of possessions. On an inside page, across three columns, the headline reads, “Sex and Foreign Policy.”

The article goes into some detail about how I started to post articles critical of the Vietnam War on a campus bulletin board at Monterey Peninsula College, and when no one bothered to read them, I decided to pin them up against a background of Playboy centerfolds to liven up my presentation.

“At last, Monterey Peninsula College fits the stereotype of the ‘modern American university,’” so reads a sentence of the article, which makes me smile to this day. Hailed as a champion of free speech and free love, I was in fact a virgin who could hardly speak English, having only arrived from Iran a couple of years before.

I had nevertheless succeeded in adopting a certain ’60s aura while exploring the nexus of politics and sex, a subject that continues to make headlines to this day.

During Arnold Schwarzenegger’s first gubernatorial campaign in 2003, daily revelations made it clear that his sexual cravings were only equalled by his lust for power and money. Now, in the aftermath of his separation from wife Maria Shriver, comes an avalanche of news to show that he had continued with his wayward ways despite the family-man image that his handlers had polished for the campaign.

Meanwhile, on the other coast, former International Monetary Fund chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn has traded his luxury hotel suite for a jail cell as he awaits a court hearing on charges of sexually assaulting a maid at New York’s Sofitel Hotel. The woman, whose name has been revealed by the European media, is a 32-year-old Muslim from Guinea. A single parent, similar to millions of other immigrants, she has supported herself and her daughter at a job that many Americans would rather not have.

Known as a ladies’ man and the “great seducer,” Strauss-Kahn was also accused, in a 2007 interview aired on European TV, by novelist Tristane Banon of sexually attacking her. The interview ran with Strauss-Kahn’s name bleeped out, yet included Banon’s colorful description, “He was acting like a rutting chimpanzee.”

Washington, D.C., the site of numerous brothels during the Civil War, has had more than its share of titillations, including presidential dalliances by Thomas Jefferson, Warren Harding, Franklin Roosevelt, Dwight Eisenhower, John Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson. Richard Nixon reputedly refused a sexual bribe offered by Texas oilmen. Henry Kissinger, however, picked up the slack as he romanced Jill St. John, Diane Sawyer and Candice Bergen, among others, as he contended that “power is the greatest aphrodisiac.”

Bill Clinton, however, had the distinct disadvantage of upholding this tradition when the media were no longer compelled to keep quiet about the private lives of politicians.

Yet the heady blend of power and sex does not only seduce politicians within the establishment. They are, in fact, pitiful amateurs compared to antiestablishmentarians.

Todd Gitlin, who served as a president of Students for a Democratic Society, reminisces in his book “Sixties,” that “No national meeting took place without its sexual liaisons–and integral to them, the protracted, anguished, frequently all-night discussions about where the new and old relationships should go from there.”

During my college days, I was in part posting misspelled anti-war declarations and in part cannibalizing my Playboy magazines to forge an identity outside of “foreign student” in an attempt to remedy my virgin state. Obviously there were easier ways to do so, but those would not have satisfied an operatic vision that I held of myself at the time.

Men and women alike are attracted by power, and it would be foolhardy to think that politicians would remain sexually pure while practicing impurities of every other kind. As sexual relationships today fragment into so many permutations so as to make the “liberation” of the ’60s laughable, it is all the more important to emphasize consensus, care and sensitivity.

Schwarzenegger and Clinton dishonored their wives and children by engaging in sleazy, infantile games, even though the ex-governor is an intellectual midget and the ex-president a Rhodes Scholar. Intelligence takes a definite backseat when it comes to making a decision about sex, just when it is most needed.

Dominique Strauss-Kahn apparently has had firewalls of his own–between his life as a professor, a global economist and a presidential hopeful, and his sexual urges. Even if his encounter in the hotel suite was “consensual,” as his attorney claims, it ill becomes a man of his stature to take advantage of a vulnerable immigrant woman under any circumstance. The IMF, after all, is supposed to help people from disadvantaged parts of the world, not screw them.

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