The president is once again meeting with "intellectuals," the headline runs. But when we look more closely, we discover that the "intellectuals" in question are Eric Zemmour, Denis Tillinac, and Yann Moix. This is an odd selection, to say the least. Of course the presence of Zemmour among the three is no doubt meant to signal that the president is fully on board with the extrême-droitisation of the party already promoted by Jean-François Copé, Sarko advisor Patrick Buisson, and interior minister and former secretary general of the Élysée Claude Guéant. We are a long way from the lunches with intellectuals that Sarko used to organize with the help of Emmanuelle Mignon.
But if Sarko wants to play Marine Le Pen, he'll need better material than what Zemmour and Tillinac can supply him. And I don't think he'll be very convincing in the role in any case. Bernard Girard is harsher than I am, however. He suspects that Guéant's recent dérapages reveal what is actually thought at the highest levels of government. He may be right. I prefer to believe that what we are seeing is ineptitude born of panic. The old tactics for co-opting the extreme right no longer work, and the pretorian guard is desperately searching for something new, some improvised collection of petites phrases that will somehow signal to skittish voters that the president shares their nightmares and will somehow contrive to make the sun rise earlier than predicted. Of course, when panic becomes a chronic condition, as it seems on the verge of doing in France, it has a way of turning into conviction. If so, we're in for real trouble.