Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Les Voeux Présidentiels

It's an instructive exercise to compare this year's New Year's voeux du président with last year's. Gone is the pugnacity. This year's style is grim, compassionate rather than hortatory. There are a few gratuitous swipes at les conservatismes (always plural in Sarko's vocabulary) that stand in the way of reform, including of course le conservatisme des lycéens. There is praise for the "admirable personnel" of French hospitals, though the institutions themselves exhibit certain of ces conservatismes that make redoubled efforts of "reform" imperative. The crisis is une épreuve but also un défi: this is Sarko's version of Rahm Emanuel's dictum that "a crisis is too important to waste." How he plans to capitalize on the opportunity was left suitably vague. He mentioned his stimulus plan and aid to auto manufacturers, conditioned, he said, on a promise not to outsource (ah, but how ironclad is that promise, if subcontractors are not bound by it?). He once again took credit for coordinating the international response by organizing the G20, an exercise in immodesty that has become so habitual it hardly seems immodest any more.

The backdrop of leatherbound volumes in the Elysée library was suitably impressive and broke with tradition. Sarko looked somber, beleaguered, worn, and a bit off his game, but he has renewed his promise to go to Israel next Monday despite Israel's advance rejection of any cease-fire, which would seem to reduce his chances of pulling a rabbit out of a hat. But, as always, nothing ventured, nothing gained, and no one can accuse Sarko of an excess of Sitzfleisch.