Thursday, April 3, 2008

Tutoiement de haut niveau

Philippe Ridet, who covered Sarkozy for years before he became president, asked the newly elected sixth president of the Republic if he should now call him vous. "Tu rigoles!" answered Sarko.

I have a friend, a sociologist, who told me that she refused the invitation of the head of her labo to address him as tu because to do so would have implied a complicity inappropriate to their hierarchical relationship. The relationship between journalist and politician is of a different order, as Ridet seems to understand well. It is the subject of his new book, a book about seduction, resistance, and Sarkozy's use of the press. The first two pages, published in Le Monde today, suggest that it will be worth reading, not least for the subtle way in which Ridet manages to convey the transformation in Sarko's relationship to the press after his ascension.


Justin Vaïsse, in an excellent article with which I agree 100 percent, fleshes out the position I adumbrated the other day: Sarkozy as the executor of a Gaullist foreign policy in exemplary continuity with the main line of French foreign policy over the past 40 years. Justin brilliantly picks apart the differences between words and deeds, rhetoric and policy. He also puts his finger on what is so irritating about the current debate over French troops in Afghanistan: the fact that opponents allow their analysis to be shaped by Washington--whatever Washington favors, we oppose--while claiming independence of Washington as their primary goal. Highly recommended.

And by the way, the ongoing dialogue between Pierre Haski and Justin Vaïsse on Rue89 provides the best journalistic insight into French foreign policy available anywhere. Rue89 in general has become an indispensable source of news, easily the equal of the best in French print journalism. To be sure, this standard leaves plenty of room for improvement--but if perfection were achieved, life would cease to be interesting.

Elvis Has Left the Building

George Bush told NATO leaders that Sarko was "the latest incarnation of Elvis." What the assembled heads of NATO made of this assertion has not been recorded for posterity.

Thanks to Sophie Meunier, whose excellent sources in the intelligence community provided this profound insight into the strategic thought of George W. Bush.

Quote of the Day

"L’animation régulière d’un blog est inévitablement chronophage."

From a new economics blog in French.

Moscovici Unbends

It seems as though Pierre Moscovici did more than react to the provocation launched the other day by Claude Bartolone. He actually shed his starchy corset long enough to make a deal with Arnaud Montebourg (see his blog, section 2, and Le Parisien): "Intellectual and political evolutions may be observed, the possibility is ripening." I do admire Moscovici's intellect and discretion, but a little of the proverbial fire in the belly might be appropriate from time to time. L'éventualité mûrit indeed. Before you know it, your comrades are going to be voting, and you'll need more than "des passerelles" to other factions to win this thing. You're a politician, man, not un directeur de conscience.


Sarkozy spoke to the FNSEA, France's largest farmers' organization, yesterday, and though farmers supported him overwhelmingly in the election, he didn't tell them everything they wanted to hear. For one thing, he avoided the contentious issue of genetically modified organisms (GMOs), which was being debated in the AN as he spoke. The president of FNSEA, Jean-Michel Le Metayer (good name for a farmer!), rebuked him rather nicely:

The president should know, in regard to GMOs in particular, that the time has come for transparency and fairness. Agitation in political circles and the media is no substitute for scientific expertise. If GMOs are a problem, fine, but tell us why. We are in Europe, and France can't make its own law on the matter. Germany applied for a ban on Monsanto 810, and it was rejected, yet France would like us to believe that it has additional scientific analysis on the question. This is false, and it has to be said that to ban the product without scientific evidence is going to make us look ridiculous. ... The FNSEA prefers research and truth to le plaisir de faire plaisir.

The pleasure of pleasing: what an excellent description of Sarko's pandering to Bové et compagnie. Sarkozy also suggested to the farmers that they increase the vertical integration of agrobusiness by creating investment funds similar to Unigrains and Sofiproteol, which have increased growers' market power in the grain and edible oils markets. The presumption is that this would yield better prices to growers in their negotiations with retailers, who stand accused of excessive margins on food. He did not address the potential of such a development to increase food prices still further.

"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.