Something strange has happened to Christine Lagarde. She has survived, unscathed, as the economic policy of which she has been the steward at Bercy since 2007 has revealed its inadequacies. Apparently, she was tapped to replace DSK even before his downfall, since the announcement of his candidacy was imminent. European leaders have closed ranks behind her, and even the Socialists Martine Aubry, Bertrand Delanoë, and Benoît Hamon (though purportedly the standard-bearer of the party's left wing) have praised her. Romain Pigenel offers an explanation--a good one, but perhaps there's more to be said.
What's interesting about Lagarde, to my mind, is that she belongs neither to the énarque elite that Sarkozy did his best to attack in his early appointments (since he, like many other Frenchmen, resents this group) nor to the parvenue elite of real-estate developers (Bouygues) and media barons (Lagardère, Bolloré) whom he counts among his close friends. She comes from another world: educated in part at an American prep school and raised on the ways of the American legal profession's high-flying corporate wing (she made her career at Baker & McKenzie), she moves easily among people who carry a lot of weight outside France but don't present the cultural façade of the typical énarque. She knows American ways, having interned for William Cohen when he was in Congress. But she also has the self-confidence to face down the énarques, for which Sarkozy no doubt admires her.
When Aubry et al. call her "respectable," this is what they mean, I think. It's not just that she's not likely to jump a bellman at a four-star hotel on her way to see Merkel. It's rather that she's got "class" (meaning, she's comfortable with wealthy and powerful people, speaks good English, knows which fork to pick up first, and doesn't make gaffes in polite company) without the morgue méprisante that often goes along with it in French circles. They can't come up with a better word to convey this quality than "respectability," but I think what they're reaching for is obvious. She's also smart and disciplined and well-organized, though I would be hard put to say what if any thoughts she has about economic policy that might be independent of Sarkozy's positions. And she did apparently tell Hank Paulson to go .... himself (not in so many words) after Lehman went down (a moment nicely portrayed in the film "Too Big to Fail," which premiered on HBO last night, with an actress who mimics CL perfectly, right down to her almost-perfect American accent).