Monday, December 17, 2007

No Liberty at Libération

It seems that Jean Quatremer, Libération's European Union correspondent, was censored by another journalist working for the same paper when he attempted to post a comment to an article in Libé's Contre-Journal by one Anne-Marie Le Pourhiet, professor of law at the University of Rennes I, who vehemently opposes Sarkozy's decision not to submit the Lisbon Treaty to another referendum. She regards this as an act of treason punishable by death. Quatremer in turn reacted with equal vehemence, in terms that his colleague Karl Laske found "insulting" to the author.

It will be useful to recall this episode the next time a "friend of Sarkozy" with newspaper connections is accused of spiking an article unfavorable to the "Hyper-President." As Sarkozy himself has not been loath to point out, meddling with the media in France is a sport that everyone plays. Indeed, I would say that it is as French as jogging, if the New York Times had not already seen fit to attribute to me the opinion that "jogging is un-French." It's a good idea to remember that the media are not at all like the mirror to which Stendhal likened the novel.

Montebourg Will Run

"A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds." Arnaud Montebourg, to whom I recently had the opportunity to recount a bit of New England history during a stroll about Beacon Hill, will no doubt appreciate this remark by the great Transcendentalist, now that he has decided to contradict his own denunciation of le cumul des mandats, the great bane of the Republic, to run for a seat on the conseil général of Saône-et-Loire. The decision is "an act of resistance against Sarkozyst absolutism," no less. Indeed, "the National Assembly has been emasculated by Sarkozysm," he says, and he cannot imagine an existence as a "pure tribune" of the people. "The organization of a new opposition" will require the Socialists "to concentrate our territorial forces."

The provinces organize against Parisian tyranny. This narrative will have a familiar ring to students of French history. M. Montebourg represents, among other things, Bourg-en-Bresse, the center of the French poultry industry and home to the famous poulet de Bresse (pictured above). How will le coq gaulois de Neuilly respond?

Thank You

Praise is sweet. Thank you, David. And true, I have not yet figured out a way to make money from this blog, though, to be sure, it has not been without rewards of other kinds.

My friends at seem to read The New Republic. They think I've become a bit "Sarko-centré." One does in fact face a dilemma in writing topical commentary on politics when one's instincts and training suggest that what matters is deep structures and long-term trends. I try to pay attention to those things in the blog as well, but the medium of instant commentary is also an opportunity to ponder the more ephemeral factors of personality, energy, the ebb and flow of popular interest--the passionate side of politics, which will always be a matter of the heart and gut as well as the head.


The sixth of Merriam-Webster's "words of the year" is sardoodledom, defined as follows:


Main Entry: sar·doo·dle·dom
Pronunciation: sär-ˈdü-dəl-dəm
Function: noun
Inflected Form(s): sar·doo·dle·doms
Etymology: sardoodle- (blend of Victorien Sardou died 1908 French playwright criticized by G. B. Shaw died 1950 English playwright for the supposed staginess of his plays and English doodle) + -dom

: mechanically contrived plot structure and stereotyped or unrealistic characterization in drama : STAGINESS, MELODRAMA Sardoodledom -- John Mason Brown>

It strikes me that this word is not altogether inapt to describe Sarkozy's presidential style. The simplification of France's economic problems to the slogan travailler plus pour gagner plus might well be characterized as a "mechanically contrived plot structure," and the proposed remedies, as outlined in the previous post, are certainly stereotyped and may yet prove to have been unrealistic. Perhaps, in keeping with other recent neologisms associated with the French presidency, the word should be revised to "sarkodoodledom."

The Limits of Pragmatism

The rhythm of the Sarkozy presidency has slowed noticeably in recent weeks, and it is not just a pause for the holidays. Sarkozy's plan was worked out well in advance of his election, and he has executed it essentially as he envisioned. He attacked on all fronts at once: tax reductions, retirement reforms, detaxation of overtime, reform of the universities, reform of the judicial map, European treaty, etc. He weathered opposition from unions, students, judges, and European bankers. He repaired relations with the United States. And now he is waiting to reap the rewards of his supposed audacity.

But the reforms are less audacious than they appear. The end of the special regimes, which is not yet fully negotiated, merely takes the overhaul of the French retirement system one small step further. The process has been under way since Juppé first proposed the blueprints in 1995. Detaxing of overtime is really a less ambitious incentive to employers to increase the supply of work than countless previous incentives targeted at more needy categories of workers such as the young, the long-term unemployed, and the relatively unskilled. The university reforms merely mark the beginning of a long process. The Lisbon Treaty patches up European institutions for the moment but hardly redeems the promise of the original constitutional idea.

So what if the condition of the patient doesn't respond quickly to these mild doses of medicine? Will Sarkozy lose support? In this respect, the municipal elections loom large as a referendum on Sarko's first year, which is precisely the way François Hollande described them this weekend. Sarkozy, he said, will be the candidate of the right in every city in France.


Bernard Girard analyzes the Sarkozyan ouverture on his blog this morning. For those who don't read French, here is a summary of his argument. Why, Girard asks, has Sarkozy's ouverture succeeded where others have failed? The usual explanations--personal ambition of Socialists wanting to enter government, crisis of Socialist Party, tactical skill of Sarkozy--are all unsatisfactory, because politicians are always ambitious, the PS with 47 percent of the vote is not as terminally ill as some think, and Mitterrand was no less skilled than Sarkozy but failed at the same game. Instead, he proposes a diminution of the difference between left and right, so that crossing the boundary is no longer as unthinkable an act of treachery as it once would have been. So the question then becomes, Why has the boundary been blurred?

For Girard, the left is not defined, as BHL would have it, simply as "republican, laïc, anti-racist, and anti-colonialist." It also has to be "on the side of the popular classes, those who work, suffer, are exploited and alienated." What has changed therefore has to be sought in the popular classes themselves.

Girard begins this part of his analysis by asking why a significant fraction of the popular classes voted for the Front National. He prefers a "rational voter" explanation and finds it in a protectionist reading of the FN slogan "Les Français d'abord," which he reads not as a racist rejection but as a protest against outsourcing, capital outflows, etc. He then offers a tripartite typology of the popular classes: those who benefit from globalization, those who suffer from it, and immigrant workers (an increasingly large share of this social category), whose chief problem is not globalization but discrimination. Because of this fragmentation of the popular classes, Girard believes that the left has had difficulty formulating a unified message that makes sense to all three constituencies.

Sarko Trades the Ferrari for Another Italian Model

Sorry, folks, I've failed you as a gossip columnist. I didn't see this one coming at all. You couldn't make this stuff up. The president presents his new conquest to the press at Disneyland? She previously ran off with the husband of BHL's daughter, Raphaël Enthoven, after having lived with his father, the publisher Jean-Paul Enthoven? And just when there seemed to be a lull in hard news coming out of the administration. Just when the reforms seemed to be settling into a dull routine, with neither excitement nor results. Just as the campaign for the municipals gets rolling. Great timing.