Wednesday, February 20, 2008

The Dignity of the Office

As everyone knows, Sarkozy now stands lower in the polls than Chirac did after the '95 strikes. And many excellent observers think they know why: he has damaged the dignity of his office, says Pierre Moscovici, and adopted a style that is "sometimes vulgar--let's be blunt." IFRI deputy director Dominique Moïsi says:

Sarkozy may want to be a combination of Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair, but in symbolic terms he is also the Queen. And, in his quest for modernity and transparency, he has de-legitimised the symbolic dimension of his function by mixing his private and public lives.

(Full disclosure: Dominique is a friend.) This is certainly true, but is it an explanation? A few short months ago, the innovations in presidential style were cited with equal assurance to explain Sarkozy's extraordinarily high ratings. American presidents, too, mix the functions of incarnation and representation, hence might be viewed from certain angles as "elective monarchs," yet "vulgarity" often serves them well enough. George W. Bush was no less vulgar when his approval was in the 70s than he is now when it is in the 30s. Bill Clinton, who discussed his underwear styles in public while campaigning, certainly damaged the dignity of his office: even his admirers, among whom I count myself a moderate, would concede that. Yet his approval soared when he came under attack for his scandalous private behavior.

Now, to belabor the obvious, France is not the United States, as several commenters frequently remind me. I need no reminding: comparison is my business. I'm not sure yet where I want to take this counter-vulgarity argument. But I did want to put the question out there, because I think it bears some thinking about. Sarkozy's sudden fall from grace does call for explanation, but I think we shouldn't be too quick to settle for the first explanations that come to mind.


Boz said...

As of now I refuse to believe this drop is long term or anything but a reflection of the Cecilia-Carla media circus. Granted, polls show disapproval of these personal shenanigans across all political persuasions, but when questioned about Sarkozy's behavior as part of specific presidential duties, which would implicitly include his hyper-style, Sarkozy still receives majority approval.

This suggests that there's still a difference in public opinion between modernizing the presidency and delegitimizing it. Sarkozy's done the first to high approval, throughout the summer and through the special regime strikes. The way his personal behavior has been on display has tainted this, which has been interpreted by some as delegitimizing the office. The mistake they're making is confusing the two.

Ironically, it's almost a Rovian tactic. What's one of Sarkozy's key strengths? His workaholic style. How do you attack this strength? Make it sound dangerous, illegitimate. It's not much different than calling Obama's oratory cultish.

MYOS said...

With regards to this issue, I think the results of this online poll are worth looking into, especially questions 4 and 5 together; 11; 16-17-18; 28 (keeping in mind that the largest group of respondents consider themselves either in the center/moderates, or neither left nor right -44%. 5% extreme-L, 3% extreme-R, 27% L, 26% R - the pro 35, which means all of the R+ExtR and a very small percentage of center; and conversely, mathematically a large chunk of moderates in the 'anti' group; further: with a very very clear unbalance toward the 1's and 2's. I find this very odd)
And, finally questions 30 and and 31.

Unknown said...

Thanks to both for your comments. MY, interesting poll. I'm surprised that Libération is perceived as so much milder than Marianne.