Tuesday, July 10, 2007

DSK takes my advice

No sooner am I quoted on Christian Vanneste's Web site than I learn that Dominique Strauss-Kahn has taken my advice and decided to make his candidacy for the post of IMF head official. I'm beginning to feel like a player, not a blogger. Still, it took no great prescience to see that DSK was likely to accept. Sarko wouldn't have stuck his neck out quite so far otherwise.

DSK has thanked Sarko warmly for his support, but other Socialists are trying to pretend that this Sarkozyan move is different from other Sarkozyan moves. Claude Bartolone says it's an "honor for all Socialists" and not to be confused with "individual rallying" to the new government. Meanwhile, Hubert Védrine warns his PS comrades to stop panicking and recognize that Sarko's tactics are de bonne guerre. He is joined in his sober assessment of the situation by another elder statesmen: Jean-Claude Casanova speaks for the center right, as Védrine does for the center left. Casanova argues, as I have argued consistently in this blog, that Sarkozy's actions and conception of the government are perfectly consonant with the spirit of the Fifth Republic, and he quotes de Gaulle effectively to make his point.

Finally, Arnaud Montebourg displays rather less sang-froid and what Védrine calls phlegm in his remarks this morning to Libé. I am reminded of the old Arabic proverb: "The dogs bark, the caravans pass." Montebourg is barking; DSK, Védrine, and Casanova are joining the moving caravan.

Vanneste Blog Quotes "French Politics"

My remarks on free speech in connection with the charges against UMP deputy Christian Vanneste have been quoted on Vanneste's blog. Lest I find myself in the awkward position of Noam Chomsky, who supports the right of Holocaust negationists to speak their mind, let me make it clear that, on the substance of the case, I disagree strongly with M. Vanneste's "philosophical" position on homosexuality. In fact, I think his attempt to invoke the Kantian categorical imperative by arguing that one cannot rationally will that everyone become a homosexual because human reproduction would then cease is a deplorable sophistry and a gross distortion of Kantian reasoning. Nevertheless, I don't think he should be prosecuted for stupidity and agree with Justice Holmes that the best way to deflate bad ideas is to let them effervesce, or faire pschitt, as Jacques Chirac once memorably put it.

While I'm at it, let me also take issue with another "philosophical" anti-gay argument, this one from the other end of the political spectrum: the author is Sylviane Agacinski, the wife of Lionel Jospin. Like Vanneste, Agacinski also invokes a specious "universality" in making her case. I won't bother to offer an extensive refutation, but you can read a critique in today's Le Monde. It's by Martine Gross and Gilles Bon-Maury.

Paris vaut bien un déjeuner

Sarko's suavité didn't end with the Euroland finance ministers. His seductive gifts were also deployed yesterday in a Parisian restaurant (Les Cocottes in the 7e, in case you want to add it to your carnet de bonnes adresses*). Invited were the heads of four student unions, who probably don't lunch in such style every day. Not that their heads were turned, mind you: "Although the lunch was sympa," said Julie Coudry, the leader of La Confédération Etudiante, "we won't forget to be vigilant."

Nevertheless, she went on, "The text of the reform seemed pretty satisfactory to us, especially since it included professional insertion among the missions of the university."

How times have changed. I recall attending a demonstration against the implementation of the Réforme Haby back in 1977, in which one of the chief complaints of the demonstrators was that the reform's emphasis on "professional insertion" was an indication that le grand capital was taking control of the educational system and "transforming the schools into factories." The slogan of the day was: "La Réforme Haby, j'en ai déjà marre." Giscard wasn't clever enough to invite the student leaders to lunch.

* Check out le resto here. Looks good! Former chef of the Crillon, etc.


Who would have predicted that Sarko would turn out to be such a smooth operator? He had cultivated a reputation as a street-fighter, but as president he has taken his act indoors, off La Dalle and into gilt palaces, where he has spoken softly and put his big stick aside. Indeed, he has become downright suave. With the Euroland finance ministers in Brussels yesterday, he gave little in the way of genuine assurances, knowing that his interlocutors could flap their jaws all they wanted but had no teeth, yet he found the words necessary to reassure and calm rather than inflame. Rather than insist on running a deficit at 2.5 percent of GDP, as he had done only a few days before, he listened to the exhortations to do better and said, well, yes, it might just be possible to pare it down to 2.4 percent. Since both figures emerge from the tea leaves, one can imagine him saying to himself before making such a grand concession, "Eh bien, pourquoi pas?"

Even the stern Luxembourgeois Mr. Juncker was mollified. "It's good news for Europe that France is no longer refusing to budge." That it hadn't budged very far mattered less than the appearance of comity. "Coordination was the winner," said someone at the European Commission. "M. Sarkozy agreed to engage in a process of dialogue, when he could have just presented his projects and gone his merry way."

Sarko's ascent to the presidency has changed him as marriage transforms the confirmed bachelor. He's no longer in the barroom with his buddies and has learned that a "process of dialogue" is essential to a happy home. The Europeans for now trust that he won't run off on a binge, while Sarko is still testing the length of his leash and doing what he can to avoid a row.

Sarko's Non-Lieu de Mémoire

Pres. Sarkozy, visiting Algeria, has reiterated and clarified his refusal to repent. "I am for recognition of the facts" of the colonial past, "not for repentance, which is a religious notion and out of place in relations between states."

He also said that "younger generations on both sides of the Mediterranean are oriented toward the future" and "do not expect their leaders to drop everything else to beat their breasts over past errors and crimes, with respect to which there would be plenty to do on both sides." "To be sure, there were plenty of dark spots and there was much suffering and injustice during the 132 years that France was in Algeria, but that was not all there was."

Sarkozy's position on historical memory is, I think, more deeply considered than his detractors give him credit for. It isn't mere pandering to a part of the electorate but rather a conviction consistent with the president's view of political action in general. Except for the insistence on symmetry in the respective responsibilities of colonizers and colonized, I think it's a defensible attitude.