In rushing to the defense of accused rapist and head of the International Monetary Fund Dominique Strauss-Kahn, well-known conservative commentator Ben Stein has stooped to blatant classist stereotypes. His headline on the American Spectator website, “Presumed Innocent, Anyone?,” implies that he’s just asking for a fair trial before judgment – a reasonable point. But look at why he thinks Strauss-Kahn is probably innocent:
“In life, events tend to follow patterns. People who commit crimes tend to be criminals, for example. Can anyone tell me any economists who have been convicted of violent sex crimes? Can anyone tell me of any heads of nonprofit international economic entities who have ever been charged and convicted of violent sexual crimes?”
What alternative universe does Stein live in? Hasn’t he noticed that men in powerful positions often abuse that power with inappropriate and sometimes coerced sex? Sexual assault is incredibly common, and the perpetrators have few commonalities, according to the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network. Now some other accusations are coming out against Strauss-Kahn, suggesting that he might have been abusing his powerful position for years.
Next, in the oldest trick in the book, Stein starts undermining the credibility of the accuser, again using class stereotypes:
“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.”
Stein doesn’t know the accuser, and has no reason except for classism to connect her with someone who once stole from him. We are not responsible for the misdeeds of others who share our occupational title. Of course, even someone with mental illness (a “lunatic”) or someone convicted of theft still has the right to press charges after being raped.
And isn’t it telling that the maids he admires so much are the “uncomplaining” ones? Fortunately, hotel worker unions are making it possible for more valid complaints to be raised without retribution.
The hotel maid who has now testified before a New York grand jury about being raped is an immigrant from Guinea who lives with her daughter in an apartment complex for people with HIV. Rather than suggesting a “lunatic,” these sparse publicly known facts suggest someone vulnerable enough to want to avoid unnecessary trouble. Yes, fake accusations happen, but a more plausible guess is that a very, very brave woman has spoken up about a crime that many keep secret.
And then Stein presumes, absurdly, that class jealousy motivated the indictment and the public outcry against Strauss-Kahn:
“…this is a case about the hatred of the have-nots for the haves, and that’s what it’s all about. A man pays $3,000 a night for a hotel room? He’s got to be guilty of something. Bring out the guillotine.”
Many of us, hearing allegations of a horrifying crime, cringe because we identify with the victims. Ben Stein has such strong loyalties to rich white men that he identifies with the accused. It’s common to see the elite closing ranks around one of their own, but it’s rare to see one of them admit it so openly.
(Thanks to Kim LaCapria of The Inquisitr for alerting me to Ben Stein’s classist rant.)
Betsy Leondar-Wright is Class Action’s Project Director. The most exciting part of the job is editing the Classism Exposed blog.