Monday, July 23, 2007

Bouteldja on Dati and Amara

Houria Bouteldja reacts to the appointments of Rachida Dati and Fadela Amara. Watch the video.

Service Compris

Sarko will go to Brussels in September to plead for France's right to reduce the VAT on restaurant dinners and hotel stays from 19.6 to 5.5 percent, renewing a pledge already made by Jacques Chirac. This is an interesting case for those interested in the raison d'être of European regulatory regimes to contemplate. France is opposed on this by Germany, Sweden, Denmark, and other states.

With respect to the debate discussed in comments here, this would appear to be a case that falls into a different category. The French government is not using Europe as an alibi to impose a tax it actually wants while pretending not to want it, nor is it using a transnational agreement to remain committed to a tax in the face of democratic pressures to lower it. Rather, it wants to lower the tax but is constrained by an agreement with others whose economies are differently structured and which do fear democratic pressures. Why should a supposedly liberal Europe favor this rigidity?

Entre Quatre Valls

Another bilingual pun in a post title: the suggestion is that the ubiquitous Valls has us surrounded. And another media opportunity for Manuel Valls, this time on RMC, faithfully echoed by Libé. Valls criticizes the RSA promoted earlier today by Fillon and Hirsch. Only 25 million euros have been allocated to this program, compared with a tax reduction package of 13 billion.

Yes, the contrasting figures are striking, and polemically useful. I've used the same contrast myself, and it is a rhetorically convenient way of emphasizing that even if Sarkozy's economic package succeeds in inducing growth, it may also exacerbate inequality. But since the purposes of the two programs are so different, the strict numerical comparison isn't precisely fair. The RSA is intended only as a measure to reduce a perverse incentive not to work, since under existing programs it was possible for a recipient of public assistance covered by a so-called "social minimum" to receive more than the same person would earn if employed at the SMIC. The RSA removes this economic incentive to remain unemployed. If 25 million is enough to accomplish that goal, the program will have achieved its modest purpose.

Hence it's really not quite kosher to say that Sarko is handing out 13 billion to the fat cats and only 25 million to the poor. But it makes for a good sound bite.

Hesitation Valls

Manuel Valls appears to have learned from Sarkozy the usefulness of keeping one's name constantly in the news. Libé seems willing to be his enabler in this regard. The article adds nothing of note to what already came out of the mini-meeting of party renovators he organized last weekend, but it does contain a rather sharp jab at the 35-hour week (if I were Jon Stewart, I'd be digging up some tapes of Valls from back when he was Jospin's press secretary to run against his current statements). Valls is afraid that too many of his compatriots view the measure as a limitation on their ability "to work more in order to earn more." Catchy slogan, that. Might come in handy in a presidential campaign.

P.S. The title of this post is a Hollandesque pun. Having criticized Hollande for this kind of humor, for its cruelty and injustice, I should apologize to M. Valls, whom I rather like as a prospective party renovator and potential candidate. (For the benefit of French speakers, the pun is on the English "hesitation waltz." M. Valls' hesitation, it seems to me, is about how far to go in repudiating a party line with which he has been intimately associated for more than a decade. I, for one, hope he goes farther.)

La Dalle, Universal Symbol

Prime Minister Fillon and High Commissioner for Active Solidarities Hirsch went to Argenteuil today to announce (yet again) the Revenu de Solidarité Active. As Cindy Skach pointed out in a guest post, La Dalle in Argenteuil has become the universal (and contested) symbol of the problem of "the excluded" in France and what to do about them ever since Sarkozy made his (in)famous remark about cleansing the place au Kärcher. I understand that the Kärcher company was not pleased, but the free publicity must have been an enormous boon. The name has now become almost as ubiquitous and as French as le Coca. (Existerait-il un Kärcher lite pour des voyous et loubards qui ne seraient pas tout à fait racaille?)

Argenteuil, né Argentoialum, used to evoke names like Pierre Abélard and Claude Monet before it became indelibly linked to la racaille and le Kärcher. T. J. Clark, in his fine book The Painting of Modern Life, observed how the painters of the late 19th-c. registered the intrusion of industrial civilization on the formerly pastoral landscapes visible beneath the arches of the bridge at Argenteuil in the painting above by Monet. I wonder what artists are registering the transformations occurring in Argenteuil today. In retrospect the balance between nature and industry at which Monet seems to hint appears to have been overly optimistic. Does optimism survive in today's art, or are the visions from Argenteuil generally bleak or even apocalyptic? If so, they may be no more accurately prophetic than Monet, but it would be good to know more about them in any case. If there are readers in a position to know, I'd like to hear from them.

Fillon's Vocabulary, Hollande's Bon Mot

Eloi Laurent pointed out the importance of political language. This fascinating blog by a French linguist will be a useful resource. For example, note this comment on Fillon's lexicon, dominated by the words France, république, travail, and président.

Or have a look at this post on Sarkozy's fondness for anaphora, here attributed (perhaps) to Henri Guaino. Americans of a certain age will note that Martin Luther King often relied on the same figure, most memorably in the "I have a dream ..." speech.

I've added Prof. Véronis's blog to the blogroll in the right-hand column and will no doubt be referring to it frequently. Since he was a contributor to the TV documentary on François Hollande, "Anatomie d'un échec," in which he noted Hollande's fondness for caustic humor, I expect he may have something to say about Hollande's barb in this morning's interview with Le Monde, excoriating Sarkozy's coup d'éclat permanent. I admit to a weakness for clever puns, and at first this seemed rather clever, because it established a link between the PS today in opposition to Sarkozy and the epic struggle between Mitterrand and de Gaulle, which defined French politics for a generation. But after a few seconds the impression of cleverness dissipated, and what remained was a sense of history repeating itself as farce: the comparison elevated Sarkozy to the plane of de Gaulle but left Hollande in the position of a comedian armed with no more than a pun rather than a serious rival for power.

Indeed, clever but cruel and caustic humor may be a liability in a politician. In the quest for l'éclat permanent, such humor sacrifices long-term trust for short-term opportunity. It aims for easy targets with arms of small-bore rather than amassing the arsenal of heavy weaponry needed to attack big objectives. In other words, there is un coût d'éclat permanent, and Hollande is now confronted with the bill.