Saturday, November 1, 2008

Sarko Does Palin

Nicolas Sarkozy speaks to Sarah Palin. Well, not really. But what can I say? The clip speaks for itself. It's not even very funny. But I suppose she might have been expected to know that Sarko's English isn't quite at this level.

Rocard-Besancenot, Même Combat

Michel Rocard seems determined to turn the confusion on the left into chaos. I mentioned the other day his recent proclamation that if Milton Friedman were alive, he ought to be tried for crimes against humanity. Today he is back at it, drawing a distinction between "liberalism" (good) and "ultraliberalism," "that criminal school of thought founded by Milton Friedman," which he holds responsible for the debacle and all its antecedents.

This is unfortunate. The part of the left that Rocard represents cannot succeed unless it can persuade its electoral base to adopt a less Manichaean view of the market economy. Rocard, with his defense of liberalism, continues to pay lip-service to this vital necessity, yet he has now chosen to mobilize Manichaean rhetoric for the sake of the cause. So we hear only of the evils of ultraliberalism and nothing of the errors of, say, the futile pursuit of fine-tuned full employment via the Phillips curve, to which the critique of Friedman, Phelps, et al. put paid.

The sad thing about this rhetorical excess is that it obscures the valuable point that Rocard makes along the way: that rising inequality and declining labor share in output are among the antecedents of the crisis. But the case that has to be made here is roundabout and subtle, and Rocard hasn't fully thought it through. His purpose in these recent interviews is far from clear. He seems to be venting his spleen rather than aiming toward some political goal. He is too old for personal ambitions, but he might nevertheless think of the younger comrades who once supported him and might still look to him for leadership. The lack of nuance and sheer demagoguery of his recent pronouncements would have appalled the politician he took as a model for his own career: Pierre Mendès-France.

UPDATE: Econoclaste's comment.

Sublimely Off Topic

Political news seems to be in abeyance pending the U.S. elections, so I'll mention a cultural event that I wish I were in Paris to see: the Van Dyck exhibition at the Musée Jacquemart-André. The thirty Van Dyck portraits and dozen drawings on display would alone be worth the detour, but I also have a special fondness for the museum in all its splendid, gaudy excess. For one thing, I translated Zola's La Curée, and the home of financier Aristide Siccard therein described bears an uncanny resemblance to the erstwhile home of banker Édouard André, even though Zola places the house on the Parc Monceau, which is actually a short distance away from the museum's location on the boulevard Hausmann. For another, I like the romantic love story between André and the portrait painter Nellie Jacquemart, who painted his portrait and then married him more than a decade later. Together they scoured Europe for the works of art that now fill the house and stand as a monument to their marriage.

André, a scion of la Haute Banque Protestante, had nothing in common with Zola's vulgar upstart Siccard except his southern origins. His highly cultivated taste was already out of fashion in his own day, but it has left us eclectic post-moderns with a remarkable specimen of high-capitalist nostalgia for pre-capitalist magnificence. If any of you Parisians go to the show, I recommend reading La Curée first and then trying to imagine the extraordinary scene of incestuous seduction that Zola sets in the Jacquemart-André solarium, which he populates with a range of exotic plants drawn from a catalog of the Jardin des Plantes across town. Of course he never set foot in the building that he describes in such detail, relying instead on newspaper accounts of the André galas.