Thursday, April 3, 2008

"The Sarkozy Revolution"

I don't as a rule get worked up about obtuse op-ed pieces, but for Roger Cohen, a recidivist in the genre, I'll make an exception. In this morning's Times he distinguishes between two types of societies: those where you can get a shoe shine and those where you can't. The U.S. is his prime exemplar of the former, France of the latter. He prefers the former

because they give freer rein to the human spirit, but of course I’d like some attributes of the shine-free world, especially universal health care. That’s doable while avoiding the entitlement-excess that sent France into its protracted doze.

Still, there's hope for France, says Cohen. It's "the Sarkozy Revolution":

The Sarkozy revolution in France, of still uncertain outcome, was essentially about the French realization that a country where it was often more profitable not to work than to work was a country with a problem.

To be sure, Cohen is not so besotted with bootblacking that he doesn't recognize the teentsy imperfections of his preferred social model:

No wonder the country [the U.S.] is skewed. What you get over time is collapsing bridges in Minneapolis, decaying infrastructure, massive national debt, rising inequality, a derisory dollar and the unregulated financial markets that have produced the current mayhem – all “under God,” it is true, but scarcely more lovely for that. Even the Bush administration, trying to trump yet another Democratic election card, is now proposing more oversight for financial markets.

Yes, collapsing infrastructure and a collapsing financial system are blemishes, but what are these compared to an unfettered human spirit? Ah, but speaking of fetters, has Cohen, while watching "someone applying polish to a blithe client’s boots" and savoring "American notions of free enterprise, make-a-buck opportunism, and the survival of the fittest," noticed a bootblack who is not black? And has he not noticed that "having someone stooped at the feet of a client applying polish to his or her boots" evokes images of America's past that cannot be fitted under the rubric of "free enterprise"? Can he be as dim-witted as he seems and still write for America's newspaper of record? It appears so, and it appears that a willingness to pander to the American craving for grounds, any grounds, to feel superior to France gives license to commit nonsense in public.


Anonymous said...

Thank you for taking down such a horrible op-ed. Sometimes one is amazed with the crap that gets published.

MYOS said...

Purely subjective comment with no attempt at analysis:
I have always disliked these shoe shines, especially in airports. I find them offensive, perhaps because their original sin lingers in their very existence.
"unfetterred human spirit" in itself reveals what's lurking beneath Mr. Cohen.

To construct a cultural theory out of these little booths seems more than stupid. (Sorry Mr. Cohen-from-the-NYT.)

Also, I seriously don't think that considering the potential spread of shoe-shine a sign of the French evolving the right way means anything.... or anything positive about the author.

I'm curious: does he live in France?
Because I seriously don't see anything like a push toward free enterprise of any kind.
If anything, people seem to shrivel. I wish some of the entrepreneurial spirit were more widespread here, sure. I can relate to what President Sarkozy used to say. Yet (much to my disappointment) I don't really see anything among his actions that would make it easier, less risky, more profitable, more well-regarded, to create a business out of nothing.
As far as I can tell, his concept of the thing seems to be limited to those who've got the proper relations or bank accounts. I may be wrong of course (Please do tell positive stories about pioneering spirit and new French entrepreneurship made easier since May 2007 so I can repeat them :-))
More and more I hear fears about the children's future (about equal to the cost of food in terms of 'main worry'.) It's so sunny today that all this talk about doomed children and famished families seems surreal, but not as much as this op-ed.

Anonymous said...

I don't think there are many shoe-shines in UK either. In fact the US is the only country where they are widespread(we need a survey here!). So what Cohen has to say has its significance, but the meaning is rather the isolation of the US.