I have thus far avoided commenting on l'affaire Porsche, because I find the whole debate so profoundly depressing. For those who may not have followed the controversy, the facts are these: Dominique Strauss-Kahn, visiting Paris, was photographed getting into a Porsche with his wife.
That's it. At least the woman was his wife, one might have said, and moved on. But no: some consider it ipso facto disqualifying that a candidat de la gauche roule en Porsche. The humorists are on the case, and as is well known, il n'y a que le ridicule qui tue (and some of the quips have been pretty killing: la Porsche tranquille, for example). To be sure, some of the gleeful commentators note that DSK doesn't actually own the car; he borrowed it from a friend. But others retort that the vehicle belongs to an associate, who works for Arnaud Lagardère. Case closed: Lagardère is well-known to be a pal of Sarkozy, so it follows that DSK-Sarko, même combat.
Now, all this is in one sense absurd. Strauss-Kahn has never claimed to be a man of the people. As the director of the IMF, he makes a handsome salary and could, I suppose, afford a Porsche if he wanted one of his own. He has a villa in Marrakech. He's a man of means and isn't pretending that he isn't. If he succeeds as a candidate of the left, it will be because he masters the issues and persuades voters that he shares their values, even though he is certainly wealthier than most of them. He may or may not have the qualities necessary to accomplish this. That remains to be seen. But what kind of car he drives does not have the revelatory significance that some think it has.
What has particularly troubled me in this affair is that several friends who support other candidates of the left have chided me for not blogging about this business, and they are doing their level best to spread the word far and wide through their own networks and media connections. Anything that harms DSK can only be good for their candidates, they apparently assume. I disagree. I think that to the extent that Socialists lend themselves to this kind of attack, they reinforce the populist message that la gauche caviar is no different from the bling-bling right. But the issue is not whether a Porsche is a worse blemish on one's character than a Patek Philippe watch. It is the ability to identify salient issues and mobilize pertinent responses.