In a comment to this previous post, Bernard, taking Sarkozy to task for his self-pitying comments, asks, "Who needs a whiner for president?" Yes, it's possible to read the president's recent self-presentation in these terms. But it's also possible to read his remarks as both a campaign tactic (as Romain Pigenel does here) and a deeply-held belief about himself. How often have we heard Sarkozy refer over the years to the immense burdens of his office? How often have we heard him describe himself as a martyr, suffering the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune (the economic crisis, for starters) and obtuse opponents ("tous les conservatismes") for the sake of his fellow Frenchmen? So his latest foray, excusing his mistakes by invoking a dolorous personal narrative (which Bernard Girard finds "almost indecent"), is only a variant of the perennial theme of martyrdom and self-sacrifice. There is a certain pathos in his self-portrait: you know how much I love lucre, he seems to be saying, yet I have forgone the colossal sums I could have made in the private sector to suffer for your sins, vous autres les Français (que des veaux, comme disait l'Autre). And now you are about to forsake me.
It's worth remembering that when Sarkozy accepted Bolloré's yacht, his original plan had been to retreat to a monastery to prepare for his presidential askesis. I think it's not at all far-fetched to say that he thinks of the presidency as a kind of martyrdom, or at any rate thinks he can sell it as such to a certain part of the electorate. Hence his evocation of his "suffering" may not be "whining," as Bernard suggests, but a dramatization of the stations of his cross: Fouquet's, the yacht, the flight of Cécilia, casse-toi pauvr' con. Were these really such grievous sins, he is asking, that after them there can be no forgiveness? I am the only Son of de Gaulle in this race, he is reminding voters (de Gaulle being the model of the president as ascetic and martyr). The other guy wants to be "a normal president," but in France there is no such thing. Either you are prepared to die at the stake for your beliefs or you are not worthy of the office. Hence the warning to voters that a vote against their redeemer is a spear in his side, a sponge soaked in vinegar, another nail through the hand. You will kill me, he says, and return me to the fallen world in which I will be condemned to live out my days in cosseted luxury, a sinner like the rest of you. Unfortunately, the note of contempt for the ordinary run of humanity rather spoils the offer of redemption through self-sacrifice.