Thursday, July 5, 2007

While England Sleeps ...

A friend who has his ear to the British tabs informs me that at least one English MP is up in arms about recent developments in France. What galls Boris Johnson, MP for Henley, is not Sarko's hyperpresidentialism. No, it's rather the knee-jerk reaction of French intellectuals to Sarko's ... knees. It seems that Alain Finkielkraut, for one, finds the presidential jogs unseemly, not least because they expose the presidential knees to public scrutiny.

Well, at least the French pres doesn't have to use his over-exposed knees to kneel before the queen. Actually, one of the queen's factotums let it be known the other day that the British PM doesn't either. That lovely scene between Tony and Liz was entirely "made for Hollywood."

But Sarko has yet to demonstrate his prowess at one essential diplomatic skill. Can he fish? Putin caught a big one while out with W in the cold waters off Kennebunkport. We know that Sarko can run and bike with the big boys, but can he fish with them? As for Gordon Brown, well, I suspect he wouldn't be at home in shorts or with fish hooks.

Region of Resistance?!

Tonton, at Blog Mitterrand.2007, has an interesting comment on Ségolène Royal's purported plan to make her region, Poitou-Charentes, a "region of resistance" to what zealous anti-Sarkozystes are calling the "dictatorial Third Empire." A first stroke of resistance is said to be a plan to produce the canceled TV show "Arrêt sur Images." Will refondation turn the PS into a TV production studio?

Another Poll

I know that the reduction of politics to opinion polling can be extremely annoying. The methodology can always be criticized, the polls are often commissioned by interested parties, and, hey, this one comes from Le Figaro, so why should we take it as gospel concerning the mistakes of the left? But still, 72 percent is an impressive number, so far above 53 percent (Sarko's score) that it probably means something that that many people approve of the way that Sarko and Fillon work together and have divided responsibilities. And worse still for the PS, 78 percent of Bayrou voters feel that way. So can it be smart that the PS, which most observers would say needs to win over Bayrou voters if it is to start winning elections, has chosen precisely this theme--the ridicule of Fillon as flunky and Sarko as "omnipresident"--as its chief line of attack on the new government?

Or is it suicidal? Once again, the PS is the victim of its own propaganda. It branded Sarko "hyperactive" before the election and now calls him "hyperpresidential." Manifestly, the epithet failed to win the election, so why stay with it?

Taking the Plunge

The latest TNS-Sofres poll shows a big drop for Ségolène Royal (-11) and Alain Juppé and a big boost for Rachida Dati. Sarko and Fillon are holding up well, with Sarko still commanding a de Gaulle-like 65 percent approval rating after nearly 2 months in office. DSK and Bertrand Delanoë are now leading Royal on the PS hit parade. Will this affect the famous refondation? Hard to say, since all the fermentation is going on below the surface.

Lang vs. Ayrault

I asked the other day whether Jack Lang would be expelled from the Socialist Party, as Jean-Marie Bockel has been (by F. Hollande), for accepting an assignment from Sarkozy to reflect on institutional reform. Now it seems that Jean-Marc Ayrault, head of the PS group in the National Asssembly, has said that Lang would no longer be a full member of the Socialist Party if he accepted this position. Indignant, Lang has responded that he will not meet with the Socialist group in the Assembly as long as Ayrault heads it.

Another thorny problem for François Hollande to resolve. I'm not sure who actually has the authority to expel party members, though it certainly isn't Ayrault. Clearly a party is not a party without some kind of discipline, but a certain liberty of conscience should be a hallmark of the PS, one would think. What are the proper limits of that freedom? I'm not sure that the matter has ever been put to so severe a test before. And I'm not sure what the answer ought to be. Comment from readers invited, as always.

ADDENDUM from the statutes of the PS:

Article 11.5 :

pouvoirs des Commissions des conflits
La Commission (fédérale ou nationale) des conflits peut rejeter la demande de contrôle ou appliquer les peines prévues ci-après. Elle peut aussi, à la demande des parties, conclure à un arbitrage pour lequel elle désigne le tiers arbitre qui doit statuer dans un délai de trois mois.
Les sanctions qui peuvent êtres prononcées pour manquement aux principes et aux règlements du Parti, pour violation certaines [sic] des engagements contractés, pour actes ou conduites de nature à porter gravement préjudice au Parti sont :
- l’avertissement
- le blâme
- la suspension temporaire
- l’exclusion temporaire ou définitive
Ces sanctions peuvent êtres assorties d’un sursis partiel ou total.

I wonder if the Bockel suspension followed the prescribed procedure. Were there any formal proceedings, or did Hollande simply act on his own?

Rebuilding the Socialist Party 5

After delivering himself of the usual banalities on the nature of the Socialist Party-- the question is not whether to accept or reject the market, we've long since accepted the idea of a "social market economy," the issue is not "reform vs. revolution" but how to "tame and civilize the new capitalism"--Henri Weber does finally, at the end of an opinion piece in Le Monde, make a point worth noting: "We must acquire the means to shape public opinion rather than submit to it; we must become an 'actor party,' not a 'reflector party.' In this new age of democracy, parties are not superfluous. They are more necessary than ever."

This is thin gruel, but at least it's not pure bilge. It recognizes that if the PS is to represent a socialism worthy of the name, it cannot simply become the vehicle of a celebrity candidate, a cult of personality. It acknowledges that a would-be party of the people cannot pretend that the people always know what they want and that the soul of political virtue consists in giving it to them. It hints at the reality that the people are multiple and diverse and that there is no unitary popular will, hence that the party's mission cannot be simply to claim to interpret it. It concedes that education of the electorate is an essential party function, hence that it will not do to flatter voters by suggesting that what they think they know is necessarily correct and self-evidently sufficient.

Only one question is left unanswered, a question with a well-known socialist pedigree: Who will educate the educator? Weber was once a Trotskyist, so he knows who first asked that question. Now he's a Fabiusien. It would be interesting to know how he answers it. Perhaps in a subsequent article, he'll tell us.

Fox News Is Gonna Love This

A video clip has been unearthed in which Christine Boutin, minister of housing and cities, responds to a questioner, who asks whether George Bush might have been responsible for 9/11. Yes, she says, availing herself of the unimpeachable logic that a lot of people think so, as shown by the high traffic on Internet sites retailing this conspiracy theory. "Aware as I am of the new technologies of information and communication," she says, this popular plebiscite must mean something.

I look for the very Catholic Ms. Boutin to be banished from her ministry in short order. This is trouble that Sarkozy doesn't need, and Boutin's nomination was meant only to appease a small but not insignificant part of his coalition (perhaps it was the fulfillment of a promise he made to keep her from running herself, as she had threatened to do). I hope that right-wing American talk radio hosts, who will undoubtedly follow this story as flies follow a garbage truck, are careful to note that the devout Ms. Boutin attends church regularly and opposed civil unions of homosexuals. What a boon to American Francophobes.

It's curious that it took so long for this clip to surface, since the interview was with Karl Zéro and must have caused a stir when it was made. Or is accusing Bush of responsibility for 9/11 such a banality that it simply vanished from viewers' minds?

For earlier comments on Boutin, see here and here. Incidentally, the latter page is the most popular on this site, because it was mentioned in Commonweal magazine's on-line newsletter. An expert in the new technologies of information and communication like Ms. Boutin would no doubt find that quite interesting.

Another plus for Sarko if he fires her quickly: he'll have a job opening he can fill with one of the lean and hungry supplicants in his own camp, who are miffed that he passed them over in favor of Socialists.