Tuesday, January 5, 2016

The Sarkozy Effect

Politics is a performing art, and style matters. For all his faults, Nicolas Sarkozy is a consummate performer--a method actor who inhabits his roles. When he referred to racaille and promised to clean them out with un Kärcher, or when he challenged a heckler perched atop a crane to come down and have it out man-to-man, he gave good theater. His tough-guy act worked because it wasn't his only mode: he could also taunt interviewers, cite statistics, wax lyrical when equipped with lyrics by Guaino, descend from a shout to a whisper, speak of his marital troubles and subsequent recovery of bliss ("avec Carla c'est du sérieux") with affecting naïveté, reel off statistics with the best of wonks, and think on his feet.

But the act grew old, and it was partly for relief from the ubiquitous "hyperpresident" that voters turned to the man who promised to be un président normal whose motorcade would stop at traffic lights and who would turn the TV screen back to the entertainers. But that act also wore thin, and now the tough-guy mode seems to be making a comeback. Or at any rate this is what occurred to me as I listened to a couple of interviews with Bruno Lemaire. On the printed page Lemaire comes off as anything but a tough guy. He's a literary fellow, un germanisant, whose first book, written while he was Villepin's chef de cabinet, sought to create the impression of a sort of poet astray in politics, craving time for quiet contemplation but sacrificing himself for the greater good. Although the sincerity of such a self-portrait can always be doubted, the presentation was appealing.

Now, however, as a Republican presidential candidate and challenger to Sarkozy, Lemaire seems to have invented a new persona for himself. The printed page is a "cold" medium, whereas the airwaves are "hot." One has only a few minutes to make an impression on the viewer or listener. And Lemaire seems to have adopted the high-decibel approach of Sarkozy at his angriest.

The problem is that he's not as good an actor as Sarkozy. He doesn't know how to modulate his vituperation. He gives the impression of an aspirant who has spent too much time with his media advisor learning the tropes that are meant to convey forcefulness, resolution, and implacability. It's as though he feels he must compensate for his background as man of letters and énarque.

Alain Juppé is under no such compulsion. He rather makes a point of displaying his mellowness, trying never to raise his voice (though not always succeeding). But his campaign manager, Benoist Apparu, makes up for it by being even more truculent than Lemaire. Wauquiez has a similar style. This is the Sarkozy effect: younger Republicans (excluding NKM, of course) seem to think that the way to seduce the base is to come on like gangbusters. But there's a phoniness about all of them that grates. Perhaps they'll grow into their roles. More likely they'll adopt new ones when they realize that the "authentic" Sarko was itself such an artifice that it can't be recreated by anyone who lacks the innate gifts of the born con man.


FrédéricLN said...

Sure. I'll confess that even myself tried to look a bit tougher some years ago (maybe after some business contacts with people from the USA — hey, if they don't feel you're the tough guy, they'll just ignore you). But it just made me out of tone.

Politics — some others looking at you, microphone, your mistakes looping on youtube, TV if you go on TV — are such a magnyfier — either you are an excellent actor, or you should better play you own persona, as distant as it may be from how people represent themselves a head of state. My tiny experience :-)

BTW, I see how Jeb Bush or Mike Huckabee vanish from the center stage. My previous paragraph won't help them.

randow said...

Tout est dit. Bravo.

Mitch Guthman said...

Sarko plays second fiddle to no man! He will up his game by appearing live on TF1 doing "La Danse Apache" with Carla Bruni while wearing the costume of the Montmartre Apache and smoking a Gigante.

Hollande and Julie Gayet will, of course, be invited to offer a dance in rebuttal but it will lack the raw animalism of Sarkozy's dance. Even money, however, that Hollande asks Carla to return with them for a night of wild passion at the apartment of a Corsican gangster.

bernard said...

Well said, Art. The mimetic behaviour of juniors compared to seniors is of course nothing new in politics and, one might add, is also present in most families, political or plain.

What always amused me, and which I probably noticed because I was leaving France for substantial length of time before returning, was that the language evolved and that suddenly some expressions became visibly obligatory: I remember for instance coming back, maybe in the early nineties, and finding out that every politician - no matter his/her political orientation - that you heard on radio or saw on tv, would answer a question with "tout à fait" rather than "oui", which I found hilarious.

bhagwant mann said...

Drunk’ Bhagwant Mann forced to leave bhog