Thursday, October 22, 2009

Jean Sans Peur

Jean Sarkozy will go far in politics. His withdrawal tonight from the race for the EPAD presidency was a sans faute. The young man may not be a rocket scientist or even a very promising law student, but he is a born communicator.

Compare his subdued demeanor tonight with his exuberant pugnacity when he pressed his candidacy on FR3 as an expression of the will of the people through universal suffrage. Tonight he said rather that success in politics is a matter of listening to what people are saying: even if you've got the votes, you don't have legitimacy if people believe that the process that gave them to you was biased.

He may have gotten only 11 in "history of political ideas," but this was right on the mark. So he's passed the first test in politics: knowing when to hold 'em and when to fold 'em. To be sure, he had the advice of an old hand: his father--not the president, he said, just my dad. Another masterful stroke: like any young man in a difficult situation, he consulted his dad. Who could possibly hold that against him? No nepotism there; no collusion; no circumvention of hierarchy. Just a boy and his dad, not a king and his heir plotting against envious courtiers.

It was beautifully done. And after the elder Sarkozy had put everyone's back up (including mine--see earlier comment) with his suggestion that all that counts in politics is action, and talk is cheap. Jean confirmed that talk is not so cheap after all: it can stop actors in their tracks. But it can't stop them from acting (in the theatrical sense), from turning defeat to advantage by framing it as "a decision of reason," a step toward maturity--which indeed it was.

Jean Sarkozy emerges from this episode a net winner. He has had all the national exposure a young and ambitious politician of 23 could wish for. He has shown himself capable of playing in prime time. He has mastered all the codes of communication. He is a consummate performer. He avoids the down side of the top job at EPAD: if there is corruption there, as there undoubtedly is, he won't bear prima facie responsibility for it. And yet he will still be elected tomorrow to the post of administrateur--a nice consolation prize.

Bien joué, jeune homme.

Whaddaya know?

Jean Sarkozy renonce à la présidence de l'EPAD

Après plusieurs jours de polémique, le fils du président de la République a annoncé jeudi sur France 2 qu'il renonçait à se présenter à la présidence de l'Etablissement public d'aménagement de la Défense.

Lecture Announcement

Readers in the Boston area will be interested in a lecture by French sociologist Louis Chauvel at the Center for European Studies, Harvard (27 Kirkland St., Cambridge, MA), on October 29:

"The Future of French Youth"
Louis Chauvel, Professor of Sociology at Sciences-Po, University of Paris

4:15 PM - 6:00 PM
Lower Level Conference Room

The Future of France Series co-sponsored by Sciences-Po, Seminar on French Politics, Culture and Society, The Study Group on Inclusion and Exclusion in an Expanded Europe
Discussant: Mary Brinton, Professor of Sociology, Harvard University

"The Future of France Series" is organized by Michèle Lamont and Eloi Laurent. I will be speaking on Nov. 23 on "The Future of French Culture" (actually more about the past, but "The past is prologue," as Shakespeare said).

Sarkozy's Style

I was struck by this little homily in which Sarkozy dismissed his detractors:

"Les commentateurs, ils commentent. Moi je suis du côté des acteurs, donc j'agis. Leur façon d'agir, c'est de commenter, c'est nécessaire. Ma façon d'agir, c'est d'agir, c'est indispensable, ce n'est pas le même travail."

"Naturellement, celui qui commente il est moins soumis à la critique que celui qui agit, moi, j'ai été élu pour agir je ne m'arrêterai pas, il en faut plus que ça pour m'arrêter."

"Je dois arrêter d'agir parce qu'il y en a un à gauche qui n'est pas content. Ils ne sont jamais contents. Et puis je dois arrêter d'agir aussi puisqu'il y en a un à droite qui n'est pas content."

"Si je dois attendre que tout le monde soit content pour agir, je repasserai à mon successeur le flambeau de tous les problèmes que j'ai trouvés et que j'aurais laissés dans le même état."

"Je vais continuer à me déplacer. Je dois aller sur le terrain voir ce qui se passe, je dois entendre ce que les gens disent, je dois expliquer ce qu'on fait, et je dois donner le moral aussi, comme si les seules nouvelles qui trouvaient gré aux yeux des commentateurs, c'est les mauvaises."

Actually, you have to hear him deliver these improvised remarks to get the full flavor. It's not so much the substance of what he says that irritates; it's the tone. It's the overt expression of contempt for anyone who gets in his way or even hesitates, questions, or expresses doubt. It's the certainty that there is no way but his way. It's the frankness of the distinction he draws between active force in government and mere "commentary." And since government as he conceives it has only one active center, indeed only one "actor," without whom nothing that is proposed, discussed, or merely "commented" upon by the "commentariat," which in Sarkozy's conception includes all the elected representatives of the people ("un à gauche qui n'est pas content ... un à droite qui n'est pas content"), has any reality. There is only one reality: the field on which the Actor acts.

Sarko's prepared speeches are rarely as revealing as his improvised sallies (which may in fact be quite carefully prepared in advance--there's something about his spontaneity that hints at premeditation--or perhaps he merely broods on his resentment, ruminates on his rancor until it is mature and can no longer be held back).

The Krombach Affair

I haven't yet heard Frédéric Mitterrand or Bernard Kouchner or Alain Finkielkraut speaking out in defense of Dr. Dieter Krombach, who was kidnapped in Germany and delivered bound hand and foot to French justice in Mulhouse. A French judge has now ordered him to be incarcerated. Why? Because Dr. Krombach was convicted in absentia in 1995 of the rape and murder of a 14-yr-old French girl, Kalinka Bamberski. It was her father who orchestrated the convicted man's abduction from Germany, where he has lived in freedom all these years, the German courts having refused to act in the case.

So we have here an interesting parallel to the Polanski case. Of course there are clear differences: Polanski did not murder his victim, the victim (or in this case her father) was not willing to let bygones be bygones, no monetary "damages" were paid, and no court outside the convicting country examined the case. Still, one might expect such outspoken civil libertarians as Mitterrand and Kouchner and Finkielkraut to protest the abduction of a free German citizen by a French paternal avenger. Of course the doctor is not an artist. And as M. Finkielkraut remarked a propos of Polanski's victim, who was even younger than Kalinka Bamberski, you can never tell about girls these days. We live in such a corrupt, decadent society (dixit Finkielkraut and the Taliban) that the presumption of innocence no longer applies even to those of tender age. (h/t Steve)

P.S. Polanski is considering a return to the US to face charges. It seems he's thinking that he might have an easier time of it in US courts, since the victim wants the case to go away.