Thursday, September 20, 2007


Ron Tiersky wrote: "Sarkozy, like him or hate him, is no intellectual but he has the talent and could have become one." In tonight's prime-time news interview with Arlette Chabot and Patrick Poivre d'Arvor, Sarko had this to say when PPDA pressed him about his differences with Jean-Claude Trichet of the European Central Bank: I would recommend that he look at what other countries are doing, he said in regard to the Fed's decision to lower the Fed funds rate to 4.75%. "L'enfer, ce n'est pas toujours les autres." Bien joué, Monsieur le Président.

He was equally sharp on every subject that came up, from Iran to Cécilia and the Bulgarian nurses, from his relationship with François Fillon to Kouchner's evocation of war with Iran. I have a young friend who doesn't care for M. Sarkozy at all but who nevertheless says of him, Putain, il est fort. I can only concur. When it comes to giving interviews, he has few equals.

One criticism, though: he really needs to come up with an adjective other than remarquable to describe the work of his "collaborateurs."


Philippe Bilger, reputed to be one of the most brilliant of French prosecutors, has struck back at Rachida Dati after her much-criticized efforts to bring French magistrates to heel. She was "not chosen for her competence," says Bilger, who is generally counted as a supporter of the right, but rather "because she is a woman, a symbol, and the darling of the presidential couple."

Bilger is an interesting figure, not only because he is one of the most mediagenic of French lawyers but also because he has been critical of certain "excesses" of French political humor (see the previous post about caricatures of French politicians). He and Bruno Gaccio published a book of dialogues on the subject. Gaccio is of course the creator of the satirical TV show Les Guignols de l'Info, which skewers politicians. Bilger is critical of the way in which political humor can short-circuit reflection and regiment thought. Gaccio, a populist uninhibited by such scruples, is critical of the influence of money in politics.

Note, in this interview with L'Express, that Bilger is highly critical of the French consensus on speech law: he does not believe that negationist speech should be illegal, for instance. Bilger's blog is worth reading--and, soit dit en passant, his analysis of the Sarkozyan style and its effect on the media's coverage of the presidency is as lucid as it is stylish.

Why Sarko Won the Election

For more insight into Sarkozy's political gifts than you'll get from Yasmina Reza, try this video:

laurent gerra et sarkozy - The funniest videos are a click away

Here you'll see Sarko critique the performance of Laurent Gerra, the gifted impressionist, who today attended the funeral of Cécilia Sarkozy's ex-husband, the humorist Jacques Martin. Watch Sarko laugh--at himself, at "Jack Lang," at "Roselyne Bachelot," etc. See the care with which he observes himself through the art of the caricaturist who has studied and exaggerated his style. Note his identification with le petit écran, and in particular his utter lack of disdain for the vulgar, for l'art populaire, for the democratic leveling inherent in the art of caricature. Caricature was the anti-royal art par excellence.* One has to appreciate the irony of fate, which led Cécilia from the television comedian to the television president, from Monsieur Dimanche to Monsieur Tous les Jours, y compris les jours fériés.

*On the history of political caricature in France, see here and here.

Other political impressions by another artist, Nicolas Canteloup:

Sarko's Penmen

The excellent Jean Véronis, whom I've cited before, has conducted a linguistic analysis of Sarkozy's speeches. The results are displayed in graphic form here. The graph shows that the speeches fall into four different groups on the basis of lexical and stylistic analysis. The speeches written by Henri Guaino, who formerly wrote for Chirac and whom Sarko has called a "genius," stand out clearly. Of course Sarko has also referred to Guaino as un fêlé, according to Yasmina Reza (for Éloi Laurent's portrait of her, see here). Un fêlé: cracked, deranged. "I don't like to be surrounded by people who are all smooth," Sarko is supposed to have said. Reza doesn't elaborate on the adjective, so we're left wondering. But Guaino was asked about it in an interview. Here is his response: "If 'cracked' means not accepting la pensée unique, preconceived ideas, the politically correct, intellectual conformism, then I claim the name with pride."

Guaino is the son of a housecleaner. He never knew his father. Jospin fired him for publishing a report on unemployment inconsistent with the official government analysis. In the past he was close politically to Philippe Séguin. Sarkozy has said that he owes his victory more to Guaino than to anyone else.


The amendment permitting DNA testing in cases involving the regrouping of immigrant families has passed the Assembly by a vote of 91-45. Note that the amendment does not require testing. Rather, it allows a family to request testing when a member has been denied a visa because the authorities suspect that there is in fact no blood tie. As the geneticist Axel Kahn pointed out, however, it is inconsistent to insist on a biological basis of the family in an immigration law when the rest of French law recognizes non-biological family ties. Of course recognizing adoptive kinship for purposes of immigration would pose a huge administrative problem and create opportunities for fraud. Eleven other EU countries allow DNA testing for proof of kinship, but the administration of these claims has proved to be complex and expensive as well. Despite the example of these other countries, and despite the fact that DNA testing was introduced into British immigration law almost unnoticed and without major protest, Le Monde regards the testing provision as a "shocking" break with "the spirit of republican law." It should be noted that France deals with about 23,000 requests for family grouping visas annually, and only a small fraction of these are contested.

Nevertheless, the DNA testing proposal aroused fierce and outspoken opposition. The blogger Versac pertinently notes, however, that the final vote on the amendment elicited only 45 opposition votes, whereas there are 186 deputies in the PS group. The small vote in a case that aroused vociferous and self-proclaimed "moral" opposition (for minutes, see here) makes one wonder why the Socialist leadership is more concerned with scheduling summer universities, congresses, forums, and meetings than with making the votes of Socialist deputies count in opposition to policies they profess to detest.

Greenspan on Euro

Alan Greenspan says that the euro could replace the dollar as the world's primary reserve currency. Signs of early diversification out of the dollar are analyzed here. Sarkozy may consequently find it easier to enlist allies in his pressure on the European Central Bank to reduce interest rates.