Thursday, January 31, 2008
Yet it seems to me that Royal knows perfectly well what she's doing. She aims to "presidentialize" the party by becoming its leader and making it the vehicle of her presidential ambitions. To carry this off, she has to become the focal point of all attention, not one voice among others in a debate. If her private life can rivet the audience, then her private life, or at least a carefully tailored public narrative encompassing known facts about her private life, must be put to use.
And then there is the matter of potential insider trading by Robert Day, also mentioned by Rue89. Day, an SG board member, heads the Trust Company of the West and is one of the "world's richest people." He is a "Bush Pioneer," having raised over $100,000 for W, as well as a friend of Warren Christopher's, and he once entertained Bill Clinton on his yacht. A well-connected individual indeed.
Two explanations are generally advanced for this decline: the Bruni/bling-bling argument and the pouvoir d'achat/puissance de la présidence argument.
The Bruni/bling-bling argument holds that the president's exploitation of his private life, meretricious tastes, and lavish self-indulgence have offended some voters, particularly elder voters, and destroyed the alternative image that Sarko had, with some success, attempted to create for himself, namely, that of a hard-working, even ascetic, statesman who had made a gift of his person to France. As François Hollande neatly encapsulates the case, "Sarkozy is paying dearly for his vacations."
The pouvoir d'achat/puissance de la présidence argument holds that Sarkozy's candid press-conference statement that there is really very little that the president can do to increase purchasing power undermined his effort to portray himself as a wizard capable of effecting change merely by willing it. Libé compares this misstep to Mitterrand's statement that "we've tried everything" to remedy the unemployment situation and to Jospin's statement that the state could do nothing to prevent Michelin from closing a plant. These moments of accidental candor puncture the illusion of presidential power, which, according to this theory, a president must do everything to maintain.
There are two problems with these arguments. The first is that presidents nearly always decline sharply in popularity once the "state of grace" is over. In retrospect it's always easy to find the "missteps" that explain the inevitable. The second is that the people are taken for gullible dupes, who fall time and again for the illusion of presidential omnipotence, as though intoxicated by the wine of promises that flows freely in campaigns, only to wake up with a hangover the morning after.
Perhaps what the polls actually reflect is a failure of pedagogy. One of the roles of a president is to be a teacher. Sarkozy as campaigner was actually a pretty good teacher, better, at any rate, than his opponents. He set forth a plausible view of certain genuine problems with the French economy. The French work fewer annual hours per capita than their neighbors, for instance. Voters found his lecture series interesting and elected him. He made a few changes. Certain promised results have yet to appear. People therefore expect another series of lectures: now that you've taken some steps and seen the results, how has your assessment of the situation changed? What steps do you plan to take next? An admission of non-omnipotence is actually a first, and healthy, step. But nothing further has been heard.
We know that Sarkozy's campaign lecture series was swotted up with the help of Emmanuelle Mignon and the various intellectuals she enlisted to prepare the candidate on a range of issues. But now that he is in office, he finds himself too busy, too solicited on all sides, to continue his education. And having crammed himself for the exam without acquiring the capacity to think through the issues for himself, he finds himself without ready answers, and therefore is testy when pressed. Anyone who has taught can recognize the bright student who falls back on answers learned by rote, who has excelled in an introductory course but who is likely to hit a wall in a more advanced and demanding setting.
Bouton also emphasized repeatedly that SG employs 130,000 people. The rest, we are asked to believe, are not only as honest as the day is long but deeply committed to the bank and its present management. So we were meant to gather, as well, from the brief segments of employees demonstrating in favor of management outside SG headquarters in La Défense and of employees at a branch office in Montpellier offering their support. These manifestations of solidarity touched Bouton deeply, he said, and he brought his hands to his chest to emphasize his emotion.
I hope he's better at finance than he is at la com.
Wednesday, January 30, 2008
More from Philippe Cohen here.
Such empty verbiage is apparently intended to reinforce Royal's image as a compassionate friend of the little guy. Unfortunately it simultaneously undermines her claim to be a serious steward of the economy.
OED: An onomatopic word having the same relation to crack that clash has to clack and clap: see CLASH, DASH. There are possible associations also with crase, craze (though here the a has been long, and the s pronounced as z prob. from the 14th c.). The mod.Scandinavian langs. show Icel. krassa ‘perfricare, dilacerare’ (Haldors.), Sw. krasa, Da. krase to crackle, and the phrases Sw. slå i kras, Da. gå i kras to dash in pieces, break to shivers; but these are app. only analogous formations.
On the caste system that exists in the world des traders, see here.
Within his government, however, and within the UMP, there are others closer to the more buttoned-up business establishment. Christine Lagarde, a former corporate lawyer, is the most prominent of these. She has strayed off the reservation a number of times in the past: for instance, when she said that a policy of "austerity" would be required to remedy France's budget woes and was immediately rebuked by Sarkozy. Yesterday she said that, despite the president's call for "consequences," it didn't make sense to replace the "captain" of the ship (SG head Daniel Bouton) in the midst of a storm. Today, as the SG's board meets to consider Bouton's fate, Patrick Ollier, a UMP deputy and chair of the economic affairs committee, used the same metaphor, while Philippe Pruvost, a member of the board, gave it a more dire twist by saying that "when the ship is sinking, you don't throw the captain overboard."
Meanwhile, journalists Laurent Joffrin and Sylvie Pierre-Brossolette debate the issue in similar terms, although now the suggestion is that Lagarde is the one to be thrown overboard: though not the captain, she is, for Joffrin, at least, the first mate who fell asleep on watch and allowed the ship of state to run aground, as it were.
Inconsequential debate of this sort is common when large systems go awry. The initial instinct is to find a culprit, as if eliminating the rotten apple will make the rest of the basket fresh again. More sober students of these kinds of crises are rightly suspicious of these simplifying metaphors, whether they involve storm-tossed schooners or putrifying fruit. I suggest that all French commentators read Peter Temin's study of the panic of 1837 in the United States. Writing a century and a half after the fact, Temin explains why all contemporary observers, misled by the protracted struggle between another president and another bank, got the story seriously wrong. A century and a half from now, we may understand more fully how the 1990s boom in high tech, the housing bubble, Fed policy under Greenspan, the American subprime crisis, the Asian miracle, the Maastricht treaty, and the securitization of everything initiated the decline of the West that Spengler thought he saw happening decades earlier. Or not. But make no mistake: the tectonic plates are in motion (to use yet another simplifying metaphor), and each new upheaval is but a manifestation of a situation still in flux and likely to remain so for quite some time to come.
Yet some contemporary observers seem to me to have a fairly lucid picture of at least the immediate changes ahead. For instance, there is this interesting analysis of the way in which global savings imbalances will work themselves out by a massive infusion of Asian reserves into western banks, which find themselves unable to "securitize" long-term debt in the wake of the subprime crisis and must therefore bring their loan portfolios back onto their balance sheets, which requires large amounts of new equity. And large amounts of new equity can no longer be raised at home.
LATE WORD: The "captain" has been asked to remain with the ship. Interestingly, Bouton, as well-connected an énarque as one can find in France, was the author of a report on corporate governance for the government.
Additional references: on public relations by SG, on committee to manage losses.
The situation is becoming intolerable. The garbage is not picked up at regular times and in some cases remains on the sidewalk for a day or two, shedding quantities of detritus. Trash and cast-off items accumulate in certain places, and our streets are transformed into public dumps. The sidewalks are not cleaned regularly, and canine waste impedes pedestrians, at times causing unfortunate accidents. All this filth is insalubrious and may result in risks to health.
Imagine that. Insalubrious and may result in risks to health!! A double whammy.
Municipal elections ahead! Time to do some constituent service. "All politics is local." -- Tip O'Neill
Tuesday, January 29, 2008
"Find ways to ensure that by the end of the sixth grade every pupil will have mastered reading, writing, arithmetic, working in groups, and computer literacy"
Jacques Attali, on his blog, writes:
"... ce sont des hommes qui, presque à mains nus, ont fait vacillé un pouvoir infiniment puissant : David tuant Goliath et gagnant la guerre ..."
To quote Captain Renault of Casablanca, I am shocked, shocked, to discover that Jacques Attali is the beneficiary of a social promotion and needs to return to the sixth grade. Two mistakes in one sentence ...
Of course he'll probably correct these errors when he sees this post, but I swear this is copied straight from his Web page at 19:16 EST, 1/29/2008.
Monday, January 28, 2008
La Forge has released what it calls a "contre-expertise" critical of the Attali Report on numerous counts. I don't want to take the time to examine this document in detail, but I do want to call attention to a quote from (former no. 2 at MEDEF) Denis Kessler that appears in the report and that has been cited numerous times in the press in recent weeks. Kessler said that "the French social model is a pure product of the Conseil National de Résistance. It is the result of compromise between Gaullists and Communists. The time has come to reform it, and the government has set itself to the task." For La Forge, the Attali Report is the blueprint for reversing this "model inherited from the postwar years."
One could write a book about the implications of this rhetoric as employed by both the right (Kessler) and the left (La Forge). I must avoid the temptation to turn this blog post into a first chapter. Nevertheless, I think it is worth calling attention to this latest avatar of the Vichy syndrome. The Sarkozyan policy, we are given indirectly to understand, is nothing less than an attack on the Resistance. It is the return of foreign Occupation, a reversion to the Dark Years. This is not the first attempt to link Sarkozy to Pétain. Alain Badiou explicitly makes the connection in his book De quoi Sarkozy est-il le nom?
Is French political thought particularly prone to this sort of mythologization of memory? Is it possible to approach the present directly in France, without recourse to specious historicization and paranoid lieux(-communs) de mémoire? I sometimes wonder.
LATER: See also here.
Sunday, January 27, 2008
ADDED LATER: On the blog of Alain Lambert, UMP senator and former budget minister, A. B. Galiani explains the controls on options trading and offers his opinion that these controls could not have been circumvented by one person acting alone.
HERE is SG's explanation.
And here are more doubts.
And more technical information.
I think you should devote some attention to the growth industry in Kervielogy...a fascinating phenomenon that is.
And he gives this link. Indeed, Francisco has an excellent point. The speculation about Jérôme Kerviel, the alleged perpetrator of the Société Générale fraud, is fascinating from many points of view. In the article Francisco cites, the Communist Party is said to have compared Kerviel to Alfred Dreyfus. That certainly races ahead of the evidence, though it does reflect the widespread belief that Kerviel has been made a scapegoat for the crimes or misdemeanors of others.
The aspect of Kervielology that has most interested me has to do with the frequency of comment on his relatively humble status at SG. He may have been making more than 100,000 euros a year, but he was "not a Golden Boy." Why? Because he hadn't attended a Grande École. He was not part of the old boy network of X or Normale Sup' or even HEC, but merely a graduate of a modest program in Financial Engineering in Lyon. How, then, could he have been admitted to the inner sanctum of the bank? The implication is that he wasn't admitted but hacked his way in, owing to his skills as a "computer genius." As is well known, hackers, unlike Golden Boys, can be self-taught. The necessary skills are often linked to a socially awkward personality, and Kerviel has been described variously as "reserved," "isolated," "given to working on his own." Although the bank's safeguards, designed by Golden Boys, should have rendered the treasure safe, there is no telling what a malevolent "genius" can accomplish in secret and by stealth.
Yet there is also a counter-narrative. Kerviel was "bright," some say, but "no genius." If he circumvented the bank's safeguards, it was indeed because of his antisocial nature and humble stature, which forced him to work late at night, when no one was around, and presumably thus to gain access to the secrets that reveal themselves only to surreptitious creatures of the night.
Of course we have no idea yet what actually happened, or what kind of person Kerviel is. There have been indications, however, that the bank's vaunted risk managers never indicated a problem and that the first sign of trouble came from counterparties to some of his option deals, who called for cash to be put up to cover margins when the market began to fall. It has begun to dawn on the financial press just how frightening this scenario is: who knows how many other Kerviels there are on the planet, trading desperately on behalf of their employers in the hope of getting ahead and attracting no attention at all until things go disastrously awry.
Saturday, January 26, 2008
For a short biography of Fottorino, see here.
Friday, January 25, 2008
Despite the recent improvement, the Prime Minister remains abnormally unpopular. This is certainly not a problem of public relations; it is a problem of strategic positioning. The presidential campaign was won on an illusion. ... The illusion lasted until the fall of 1995. .... The Maastricht discourse cannot mobilize anyone; talk about debt ratios and deficits doesn't make anyone dream. .... In short, la fracture sociale divides the people from the elite, not the excluded from the rest of the people. If this analysis is correct, the solution is political and institutional; it does not lie in public relations.
One hopes that his analysis of his own problems is as lucid as his analysis of Chirac's, but evidence to date suggests that it isn't.
The foregoing is taken from Philippe Madelin's biography of Chirac, p. 636; the note was published in Libération on July 10, 1997.
This clearly puts him at odds with Ségolène Royal, who obviously does want to "presidentialize" the party with herself in the starring role. In this way she envisions a route to power in 2012 similar to that by which Sarkozy traveled from leadership of the UMP to power in 2007.
Temperamentally, I prefer Moscovici's more open approach and reluctance to embrace the cult of personality. Yet I'm currently reading James Cronin's excellent New Labour's Pasts, which tells the story of the Labour Party's attempts to reform itself in the wake of repeated losses to Mrs. Thatcher. With the PS now in something of the same disarray as Labour in the mid-80s, Cronin's account is a cautionary tale to any Socialist leader tempted to follow Moscovici. For instance (p. 286): "It would be necessary ... to deal with the fact that ... there were '... too many worrying skeletons in the Labour Party cupboard deterring voters ...' ... Defense, taxes, and the role of the 'loony left'and the perception that Labour was still a divided and fissiparous party were the main 'skeletons,'and getting rid of them would require more than deft handling by the party's press officers. It would also require the development of a new set of policies that would assure the electorate that Labour had truly and permanently changed ..."
Moscovici no doubt favors "the development of a new set of policies," but it is hard to see how his vision of the party as a collegial association of debating partners will persuade the electorate that the Socialists have "truly and permanently changed." Under the conditions imposed by a presidential regime in the media age, a party must find a way to craft a message and an image that extend beyond the relatively small number of activists eager to participate in internal debate and weigh the virtues of competing programs. If the purpose of the party is to take power (and not all parties have that aim), then it must equip itself with the means to do so. A political party in 2008 cannot be a seminar at Sciences Po. One can deplore this fact, but one shouldn't avert one's eyes from it. (ADDED LATER: Laurent Bouvet makes a similar point here and notes that a victory in the municipals may serve only to slow the hard choices that the PS needs to make.)
À propos, Ségolène Royal is coming to Harvard next week, and I should have the opportunity to learn more about what her vision of the Socialist future is.
Q. Are you disappointed that [Sarkozy] entrusted this mission to Jacques Attali rather than to UMP deputies?
A. The mission was part of the post-electoral period when Nicolas Sarkozy was trying to sow discord in the Socialist camp. In that he was completely successful. Now that period is behind us. It's time for parliament to resume its place, to be a partner in the elaboration of laws and reforms.
No comment necessary.
An article on nonfiction.fr calls attention to the report's emphasis on promoting information technology and singles out articles 53, 54, and 58 for special attention. Article 58 advocates promoting open source software as a competitor to proprietary software and specifically calls for greater use of open source software in the public sector. "A goal of 20 percent of newly developed or installed open-source applications for the benefit of the public sector could be set for the year 2012."
The Attali Report has been characterized as "liberal," but this can hardly be called a liberal measure. It sets a fixed quota for the use (or is it the new development--the wording is hardly a model of clarity) of open-source software, which would oblige public sector organizations to procure from a specific source without regard to the competitive quality. To be sure, the subsidization of open source (envisioned in the same article in the form of a tax subsidy) could be interpreted as a blow against the "evil empire" of Microsoft, which in French eyes combines the sins of monopoly and American nationality. Nevertheless, I'm not sure that it's a wise idea to enforce by fiat the choice of a software regime, and I say this en toute connaissance de cause: I am sitting between a Windows machine and a Linux machine, and there is a Mac in the other room. These peacefully coexist in my household, but I have a Ph.D. from MIT (honest). Others should proceed with caution and certainly avoid the mistake of deciding that within 4 years, "twenty percent of the software" in this or that office will be open source. What does that formulation even mean? If I have an (open source) Apache Web server installed on one machine and Microsoft Word on 4 others, do I meet the 20 percent requirement? Is it OK if I execute a gazillion instructions a year under (open source) Linux and 4 gazillion on Mac OS X?
This ambiguity is typical of the Attali report (or at any rate, as much of it as I have read). Its recommendations suffer from being neither general nor particular. They create a false impression of specificity by recourse to arbitrary numerical quotas and technical jargon (viz., art. 53: "establish a European mechanism of digital identification allowing a mutual recognition of means of authentication by requiring root certificates issued by European certification authorities for the entire suite of communication software [messaging, browser, etc.] sold in Europe"). This is not the level at which such a commission should be operating. The pseudo-specificity is just eyewash. It may enable Jacques Attali to pose as an expert on everything, but in reality he is just an expert poseur.
Thursday, January 24, 2008
Curiously enough, it seems that Nick Leeson, the trader who similarly bankrupted Barings Bank a few years back, has been paid $700,000 for the rights to his story, which has been made into a film. Who said crime doesn't pay?
Business Week has picked up this article. Readers coming from there should see this later note as well.
"The schoolteacher will never be able to replace the pastor or priest, because he will always lack the radical readiness to sacrifice his life and the charisma of a commitment driven by hope." What would Jean Cavaillès, Marc Bloch, Jean Prévost, and Léo Lagrange have made of this [statement by the president of the Republic] as they faced the firing squad?
So much for that argument of Sarkozy's. Debray of course omits to mention that he, too, faced a firing squad, believing that he was about to be shot because of his radical readiness to sacrifice his life and the charisma of a commitment driven by hope. And he has also written in recent years about religion. Hence his thoughts on the subject are doubly worth attending to.
See also Le Monde's editorial.
Latex sortit son sexe de sa braguette : − Regarde! dit-il, et tire ton chapeau : j'en ai fait six avec. − Six quoi? − Six lards. Et des beaux, t'sais, qui pesaient à chaque coup dans les vingt livres; je sais pas qui va les nourrir à présent. Mais vous nous en ferez d'autres, dit-il, tendrement penché sur son gland.
So when Sarkozy visits the fortuitously named suburb Sartrouville (!!) and tells the youths lolling about streetcorners there that "la vie, c'est pas de glander," it's as if the president of the United States were to go to Watts and tell a group of young idlers that "life is not about standing around and scratching your balls."
And how did the youths respond? One of them, apparently referring to Sarkozy, said "Oui, ça craint!" in what the proofreaders refer to as "a remarkable intransitive use of a traditionally transitive verb." Because of this and the use of the impersonal subject ça, this beautifully succinct judgment of the president and his entourage is virtually untranslatable, but one might venture this: "Yeah, they be afraid." Afraid no doubt that the exhortation to work more in order to earn more isn't going to be enough to get anyone to stop scratching his balls absent the 45,000 new jobs that Fadela Amara has pledged to create out of thin air.
If the subprime crisis continues to shake orthodox thinking about the American economy, moreover, the European welfare state may begin to look almost as good to followers of fashion like Cohen as the Evolutionary Power Reactor, formerly known as the European Pressurized Reactor (note that Cohen mixes up the two names).
Wednesday, January 23, 2008
As Rue89 points out, it was Nicolas Sarkozy who said at the time of the Danish cartoon affair: "I prefer excess of caricature to absence of caricature."
The law of outrage is an archaic relic, a translation of the crime of lèse-majesté. But Sarkozy is not un roi thaumaturge, and as he forcefully pointed out to Laurent Joffrin, he is not a monarch at all. He has not two bodies but one, and since it must be shared with Carla Bruni, it cannot qualify as sacred, hence does not deserve the special protection of the law.
Nevertheless, Attali has his idolators. If you can stand to watch one of the ambulatory editorials of the insufferable Christophe Barbier, the editor of L'Express, you'll hear a choice paean to Son Eminence Grise, ou Grisaille. Others are less enthusiastic.
I guess this is what the French call la comm, and nous autres Amerloques call a "con."
Tuesday, January 22, 2008
|Country/Territory||Visits||Avg. Time on Site|
|United Arab Emirates||25||14.12|
|Serbia and Montenegro||22||102.8181818|
|U.S. Virgin Islands||4||0|
|Bosnia and Herzegovina||4||0.75|
|Trinidad and Tobago||4||9|
|Turks and Caicos Islands||3||0|
|Saint Kitts and Nevis||1||0|
|Saint Vincent and the Grenadines||1||1188|
|Congo - Kinshasa||1||0|
|Antigua and Barbuda||1||0|
Though I am familiar with the difference between French and American libel laws, I find this suit scandalous. M. Carton is entitled to his opinion, and if he wants to call a journalist a militant groupie or worse, by what right does the law prevent him? If the press is to be free to judge the competence of public officials, why shouldn't public officials, other journalists, and ordinary citizens be free to judge the competence and independence of the press? If M. Carton can't attack reporters, must reporters stop asserting that this or that press baron is suppressing negative stories about Sarkozy or photoshopping his love handles out of existence? The suit is scandalous and should be dismissed.
Good additional comments here.
Monday, January 21, 2008
A minor but telling example of this unfolded over the past few days. First, there was Sarko's visit to Boulogne-sur-Mer to calm the grumbling fishermen (see my previous post on how the image of that encounter drew on classical iconography of the forceful, generous, and beneficent ruler). At that time, Sarko said, "The first thing [to help fishermen] is this quota business. We've got to get out of it, and we have an opportunity to get rid of it, because France is going to preside over the European Union from July 1 to December 31." Yes, but Europe is not ruled by fiat, any more than France is, so today Michel Barnier was obliged to issue a dispatch explaining the hasty retreat: "France does not intend to advocate an abandonment of the [quota] system. It does, however, want to initiate ... a reconsideration of how the system is managed in order to overcome the current difficulties and correct certain of its weaknesses."
How many times have we seen this same scene repeated? To give just one almost identical example: Sarko confronting the railway shop steward and making a concession on the special regimes that his own negotiators had not made and were unwilling to make.
Firmness can be a quality in a leader, as can willingness to compromise. But faking firmness is as counterproductive as faking a willingness to compromise.
For an excellent discussion of the quota issue, see here.
Sunday, January 20, 2008
Saturday, January 19, 2008
Sometimes, though, the culture clash divides members of the government. In an extraordinary piece broadcast last night on France2's 8 PM news, we saw Christine Boutin and Fadela Amara ostensibly together on a visit to one of the suburbs to be targeted by the so-called Amara plan for urban revitalization--a plan that Boutin has already described as misconceived. It seems that Amara had arranged for a buffet dinner, with guests to eat standing up in order to encourage contact between the locals and the visiting delegation from the ministry. But Boutin and her équipe evidently regarded standing and eating out of paper plates as uncivilized and therefore waged their own form of the "politics of civilization": they ordered a table, chairs, and a catered dinner for themselves and sat in a corner eating off china while the locals milled around with Amara. The cameras caught Amara shrugging in Boutin's direction and saying, "Incredible, I've never seen anything like it." Indeed. Needless to say, Boutin and Amara belong to two different worlds: the BCBG Catho and the ever so branchée ministre issue de l'immigration. "Bonjour les garçons, je suis Fadela," Amara greeted one group of young men hanging out on a streetcorner. It would be hard to imagine Boutin uttering the words, "Salut les gars, je m'appelle Christine," even to a group of choir boys, which these young men certainly were not.
Speaking of image management, have a look at this one (it's copyrighted, so I can't reproduce it here). Then compare it with Charles Le Brun's Alexander and Porus here (reproduced in miniature at left). To be sure, Sarkozy isn't mounted, but notice the expansive gesture with the hand, similar to Alexander's. Notice the hapless spear carrier attending on the ruler (agriculture and fishing minister Michel Barnier in the modern setting). Notice the anxious crowd gathered around the wounded prince, hanging on the emperor's every word. The only thing present in the painting but missing from the photo is the casualty: the wounded King Porus. In the modern setting, that would be the fishing industry, which might have been represented symbolically by a squirming fish at Sarko's feet, but that would have spoiled the effect, otherwise entirely classical, of the leader, erect and calm in the center of catastrophe. As it happens, though, the defeat of Porus was a Pyrrhic victory for Alexander, because it cost him so much that his troops mutinied. Porus, however, became a loyal imperial satrap after being spared by the Great. When Alexander asked Porus how he wished to be treated, Porus replied, "Like a king!" By the same token, Sarko has told the fishermen that he will free them from the yoke of Europe and restore them to power in their own satrapy. Are they pleased enough to back him in further conquests, as Porus did Alexander? Or will Sarko's concessions to the disgruntled weaken his position as he attempts to press further east? Time will tell.
Of course, the pundits who regard the "politics of civilization" as mere drapery have no problem with the ubiquitous use of the phrase pouvoir d' achat, which I find more problematic. There is in fact a serious idea behind the "politics of civilization," though it's not at all clear to what extent Sarkozy has grasped it. Pouvoir d'achat, on the other hand, seems expressly designed to convey the impression that that to which it refers is a "power" that can be granted or denied by political fiat. It avoids mention of the two realities that it enfolds, wages and prices. Perhaps that is because each of those words has a clear political valence that pouvoir d'achat camouflages. To call for higher wages, after all, is to court the left, whereas price stability has monetarist connotations that pull toward the right. Pouvoir d'achat thus straddles the divide; it is a sort of ouverture in a phrase, one of those signifiers that Tocqueville compared to a valise with a false bottom, which makes it impossible to detect what has been put in or left out.
We have been endlessly reminded that, during the campaign, Sarkozy said "je serai le président du pouvoir d'achat." Perhaps the mistake was to assume that this meant that he intended to do something about either wages or prices rather than claim yet another presidential prerogative for himself, only to concede later, when it suited him, that of course he had no such power.
To be sure, he has enormously increased his own pouvoir d'achat by raising his salary while cutting his costs for items like jet travel to zero. But it would be cynical to point that out, and in any case, the media, supposedly the president's lackeys, have had good sport with it. How curious that Vincent Bolloré lends his plane so that his minions can sell magazines by lambasting the president for borrowing it. What diabolical cleverness! As Steve Rendall noted in a comment to a previous post, too many on the left console themselves with the belief that no one would find anything persuasive in Sarkozy's policies were it not for his alleged control of the media. Can anyone who has been reading the French press over the past month really believe that?
Friday, January 18, 2008
His comments on Ségolène Royal, condemning both the vicious denigration and the "childish" idolatry, are also worth attending to.
Thursday, January 17, 2008
Nicolas Sarkozy is such a creature of the media that it didn’t surprise me, upon entering the large hall of Elysée Palace where he would soon give a televised address, to find two enormous HD TV screens mounted before the press benches. As if, in the same way that a play-by-play announcer at a sporting event watches the television screen and not the game before him, what matters most when it comes to Sarkozy is not what occurs on the podium little more than twenty feet away, but what “les téléspectateurs” see.
By a twist of fate I was at
Around us were gathered “les Forces vives” of
Slowly the Ministers of the Government started trickling in. “Oh, là. Il est coiffé, Borloo,” one of the important men gathered behind me remarked. “C’est du sérieux.” Christine Lagarde and Michel Alliot-Marie shook hands with the roped off audience as they took their places to the side of the podium; Fillon and Bertrand walked by without a glance. Rachida Dati seemed surprisingly small and fragile as she glided by with her eyes glued to the carpet; Bernard LaPorte had such a spring in his step that he almost bounced past, his back straighter than a rule. Soon they were all gathered in an awkward group, like a bunch of honor roll students in front of a school assembly, waiting for the principal.
“Ils auront leurs notes aujourd’hui?” another of the important men joked.
A distinguished older gentleman to my right replied, “Et lui? On lui donne des notes?”
A charming young woman in a military dress uniform, francophone but obviously not French, held out her camera. “Vous pouvez me faire une photo de ces politiciens?”
“Ce ne sont pas des hommes politiques, Madame,” a journalist whose name escapes me corrected her, tongue in cheek. “C’est le gouvernement de la
The speech itself was one that we’d all heard in one form or another over the past year. He began by rejecting the idea of “des forces vives de la France”, because it implies “des forces mortes”, setting the successful few gathered before him in opposition to all those who simply work hard across the country. The real opposition, as he proceeded to make clear in defending his reform program, is between those who want to work and those who don’t. Between those who want to help people work more and those who want to force them to work less. Between those who want to move forward and those who want to remain stuck in place.
It was a long speech, in a crowded room with no air circulation. Fillon barely bothered to stifle a yawn. Halfway through, someone in the crowd fainted. Sarkozy glanced up but didn’t even pause. When he referred to the group of wheelchair-bound invitees gathered in the front of the audience, expressing his commitment to providing access to education and job opportunities for the handicapped, it was hard not to think of Ségolène Royal’s moment of “colère saine” during their debate, and to wonder what the event might have been like had she managed to win the election.
Significantly it was Borloo, and not Fillon, who was at his side as he worked the crowd on his way out, mimicking Sarkozy’s every nod of the head, every knit brow, every sympathetic frown and every wide smile. Within minutes the crowd, too, had largely wandered out to the reception. Before long there was nothing left but a pocket or two of stragglers, the cameras and the podium. One by one, people stepped up and, using their cell phones, had their picture taken where Sarkozy had addressed “le paysage audio-visuel”. The latest episode of the Sarko Show had come to a close.--
The speech can be viewed here.