Sunday, August 10, 2008

The Bluster of the Right

Here's another anecdote from Bruno Le Maire's book, Des hommes d'État. We're in early January of 2006. Le Maire, as Villepin's assistant, has just presented the plans for the CPE to Chirac. Chirac responds:

Ce qui m'inquiète dans votre truc, c'est la tuyauterie. Je peux vous l'assurer, pas un Français ne comprendra. ... Du haut de mon incompétence, et elle est incontestable dans ce domaine, je vous dis que vous faites ce que vous voulez, mais vous faites une connerie.

Vous faites ce que vous voulez, mais vous faites une connerie: this is the regime that those who criticize the hyperprésidence sarkozyenne presumably prefer, in which the president, elected by the universal suffrage of the French, concludes that his unelected prime minister is about to make the blunder of a lifetime but tells him to go right ahead and make a hash of things.

And that's not all. On reduction of the size of the bureaucracy, Chirac says, "ça aussi c'est une connerie." He continues:

C'est vraiment le genre de sujet sur lequel il faut faire, mais ne rien dire. Mais nous, à droite, nous sommes les champions pour faire comme, comment il s'appelle déjà? Avec Charlemagne? -- Roland? -- C'est ça, Roland, qui souffle tellement dans l'olifant qu'il crève.

Ah ... the lucidity of the fin de règne. Reading between the lines of Le Maire's account, which buries the essential beneath a profusion of exquisitely drawn detail, one gets the impression that Chirac's stroke detached him from his office and left him with only one wish, that someone other than Nicolas Sarkozy succeed him. Villepin being the only palatable and plausible alternative, Chirac decided to allow his prime minister to take whatever gamble he wished to wrest the prize from Sarkozy's grip. Villepin, believing that his only hope was an audacious coup, decided to bet everything on the CPE and lost.

I like the image of the Right blowing its own horn so hard that it blows itself to death. And I like the attribution of the image to Chirac, as well as his transfer of the chanson de Roland to the custody of Charlemagne--a Lemairian touch, perhaps, to portray the president as simultaneously clairvoyant and befuddled.

Suggested title for a recent history of the French Right: De l'olifant au tube de Bruni.

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