Monday, August 25, 2008

Sarko Apologizes

As is well known, Nicolas Sarkozy does not think presidents ought to apologize for faulty behavior in France's past. His refusal to apologize suffered an exception today, however, when he appeared in Maillé to evoke a massacre that took place there during World War II. The exception to Sarkozy's rule was more apparent than real, however. As is also well known, Sarkozy has no compunctions about evoking the suffering of the French as opposed to the suffering that France inflicted on others. The former is, in his eyes, a "usable past," and he returns to it again and again. In this case, France was guilty of a "moral lapse," the president said, for having failed to commemorate what happened in Maillé in August 1944.

Of course it's not quite true that France failed to commemorate this event or, in Sarkozy's words, sought to "erase it from memory." The event has been remembered annually. A German officer was tried for war crimes in 1952 because of it. A German investigation was launched to identify other guilty soldiers. What is different, of course, is that this year the head of state chose to go to Maillé and raise the annual commemoration to national status. In this respect, Sarkozy's own action demonstrates that his policy of selective memory is by no means haphazard.

Laurence Ferrari, who took over the TF1 news tonight following the ouster of PPDA, presented the day's news, including the Maillé events, with an indelible smile and crisp, rapid-fire delivery. For the rentrée, then, a smiling speakerine and a somber president set the tone for the new public relations strategy of Year II of the Sarkozyan revolution. Two pros. No false notes--and no doubt the Elysée hopes that this memorial will "erase the memory" of the unfortunate presidential chuckle at another memorial that has become something of a samizdat hit on the Internet.

Frangy, A Year Later

One year ago, Arnaud Montebourg hosted his annual gathering of Socialists at Frangy, and I blogged about the state of the party. This year's Frangy gathering has just taken place, and things are no clearer now than they were then.

Montebourg invited his current ally, Pierre Moscovici, as guest of honor. Moscovici promoted his candidacy for the leadership on the grounds that he is the only "disinterested" candidate--one without presidential ambitions and therefore unlikely to "presidentialize" the party, which Mosco regards as a bad thing. Yet he also says that he wants to mold the party into something more than "a shapeless mass." This would presumably mean clarifying its line, excluding or marginalizing dissenters, enforcing "message discipline" on squabbling factions, etc. A présidentiable as leader would presumably do the same thing.

There are advantages and disadvantages to leadership by the impending candidate. The most important advantage is that leadership keeps the candidate in the public eye, but that visibility has to be managed carefully lest it become a disadvantage. The well-known usure that afflicts those who inflict themselves too often on the public can be fatal to a prospective candidacy.

To run away from presidentialization, as Mosco is doing, might be seen as repudiation of the only winning formula the Socialists have yet found: Mitterrand's. Mitterrand knew how to maintain the necessary gravitas while keeping himself constantly in the public eye. No doubt Moscovici sees himself as rather rejecting the Sarkozyan anti-model, for Sarko also presidentialized his party and successfully managed the transition from attack dog de service to potential head of state. Moscovici apparently believes that none of the likely PS candidates has the wherewithal to follow the path of either Mitterrand or Sarkozy. The challenge for him, then, is to explain how he would go about establishing the image of the eventual candidate. Of course, if that candidate is to be Strauss-Kahn, whom Moscovici nominally backs, then he probably sees his own role as party chair as preparation for a future prime-ministership, in which case his characterization of his motives as "disinterested" would in fact be disingenuous.

Not that it matters much. He seems unlikely to win the impending contest no matter what he does. But a year has passed since the last weekend at Frangy, and the absence of palpable progress is a measure of the party's disorganization.