Friday, March 13, 2009
“We have not set major infrastructure objectives and then organised our industry and supply chain to deliver them as has been done in France,” he said. “We are quite good at putting the regulatory system in place, but we have always assumed the supply side would take care of itself.
Mandelson seems to be focusing on new objects: economic collapse, like impending execution, concentrates the mind wonderfully.*
*"Depend upon it, sir, when a man knows he is to be hanged in a fortnight, it concentrates his mind wonderfully."
Boswell: Life of Johnson
But saying "let's not turn into France" is a form of shorthand, not a rigorous comparison of systems: It's a way of saying "let's not dramatically change the relationship between the American state and American society," at a time when both short-term politics and long-term trends make a substantial change seem possible.
As Henry notes,
.... the claim is that America will become ‘France,’ not that America will become France. The ‘France’ of Cohen and Crook’s articles is less a country than a numinous state of being, consisting primarily of state-provided everything, laziness (both enjoyable and otherwise) and very good cheese. It has no actual inhabitants (excepting, perhaps, Peter Beagle’s imaginary Mr. Moscowitz who at the last became so French that France itself was no longer good enough for him).
Indeed. Let's hope that the editors at the Times will hold Douthat to a higher standard of argument. But given the enormities that they allowed Kristol to get away with, I doubt that much hope is warranted.
Perhaps. But it may well be simply the velleity of the moment. What has been striking about Sarkozy's tenure thus far is the investment in initiatives that make headlines for a few weeks and then vanish. Is there any steady direction to his policy, foreign or domestic? If so, it's not easy to discern. Over coffee yesterday a distinguished French visitor suggested to me that what Sarkozy lacks is any vision "even of the medium term, let alone the long term. He flies by the seat of the pants. He is the very incarnation of the pure politician." To which I remarked that the irony was that Sarko, who defined himself as the anti-Chirac, has lately been doing a tolerably good imitation of the late Chiracian style: a foray here, a foray there, a discreet retreat here, a wholesale abandonment of previous commitments there (whatever happened to the Attali Commission report, for instance?), occasional bursts of energy followed by spells of apparent torpor (disguised in Sarko's case by the appearance of perpetual motion).
Only the total absence of coherent opposition keeps these defects from becoming more troublesomely apparent.