Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Dis-moi Pascal, comment fais-tu avec ces deux fous ?

Priceless anecdote.

Juppé: "Sarko se fout du monde"

Alain Juppé complains that Sarkozy's promise to reimburse local governments for funds lost with the elimination of the taxe professionnelle will end after one year. It's a "provocation," he says. And the government has been provoked in turn: spokesman Luc Chatel responded immediately. "Je n'ai pas vraiment le sentiment que le président de la République se moque du monde."

A high-level debate, as you can see, at the highest levels of the UMP.

PS Joins FN

I have been critical of culture minister Frédéric Mitterrand, and in particular of his statements regarding the Polanski case. But the polemic has now veered into very troubling territory. First, Marine Le Pen called for Mitterrand's ouster because of his confession, in his autobiographical work La Mauvaise Vie, of his sexual tourism and adventures with young boys.* Then Claude Guéant, secretary general of the Elysée, whose support Mitterrand initially claimed, said that "American justice" (for which Mitterrand evinced little respect) should be allowed to handle the case and that Mitterrand's sympathy for the fugitive could be attributed to his sensibilité, a word whose multiple murky connotations spur an interesting comment by Pascal Riché. And now Benoît Hamon, spokesman for the PS, has joined Marine Le Pen in "shock" at Mitterrand's sexual proclivities, though of course he says not a word about having waited until the extreme right opened this can of worms before discovering his revulsion.

Clearly, the PS has decided that it has an opportunity at last to exact revenge for Sarkozy's poaching on its preserve. His various ouvertures have sown disarray on the Left, and until now none has backfired to quite this extent (Kouchner's various gaffes notwithstanding). Now his choice seems vulnerable, and the apparently widespread negative sentiment about Mitterrand's handling of the Polanski case provides an opening. That much seems legitimate.

But there is an unpleasant odor of the witch hunt in this sudden reprobation of the minister of culture, who made no secret of his mores before entering the government. His book was widely known, and widely praised, before his appointment. I praised it myself, although I do not approve of sexual tourism. Yet Mitterrand, I thought, knowing full well that in writing as he did, he opened himself up to public condemnation, nevertheless had the courage to narrate, truthfully as it seemed to me, the mixture of ecstasy and self-loathing that accompanied his "adventure." As a literary experiment, I found the questionable chapter of his book quite bold and quite successful.

To be sure, the criteria for serving as a minister are different from those for succeeding as a writer. Discretion is a virtue in a minister if not necessarily in a writer, and candor can land you in hot water, as Brice Hortefeux recently discovered. But Mitterrand's sensibilité, to use Guéant's word, was well known before his appointment. The post hoc persecution of behavior that he did not hide strikes me as wrong, even if one finds Mitterrand's pre-ministerial behavior unacceptable in a minister.

Whether the persecution is justified or not, however, the government is faced with a serious problem. France has, in the past, arrested returning sexual tourists from Thailand. The minister of culture has confessed to the same behavior for which these men were prosecuted. Sarkozy has made a point of tough treatment of sex offenders. And now two opponents, from opposite ends of the spectrum, are charging the government with maintaining a dual standard that the vast majority of the public finds incomprehensible. No wonder Guéant has been dispatched to attempt damage control.

* Incidentally, Le Pen made her statement on Yves Calvi's Les Mots Croisés. Calvi responded by saying that he had read the book and that FM's account merely expressed "fantasies." That's not the way I read it.