Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Not a "Crumb Sweeper"

The UMP is not a "crumb sweeper." Ramasse-miettes: it sounds better in French and puts one in mind of one of those fancy restaurants where the snooty waiter makes you uncomfortably conscious of what a messy eater you are by ostentatiously cleansing the table of the detritus of your meal. But in this case the term is being used metaphorically, by Axel Poniatowski, to describe Eric Besson, the Socialist turncoat who seems promis à un bel avenir in Sarko's UMP. Sarkozy likes the chap, for whatever reason, and it's no secret that he isn't all that keen on any number of the caciques of the party that served him so admirably as a vehicle to the presidency. So he's doing a makeover with young, fresh blood: Xavier Bertrand, Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet, and now Besson. Gone are the streetfighters who came in from the cold, abandoning the extreme right for the corridors of power. The new cadres are sleek, ambitious, telegenic--"modern," in a word.

It's an interesting maneuver. One would have thought Eric Besson, the economist, a better man to take charge of the stimulus plan than Devedjian, the brass-knuckled party enforcer, but Sarko has switched their roles. Besson is beholden to the president, sa créature as they used to say in the Ancien Régime; Devedjian was not, and wasn't altogether with the program. Perhaps that's why he's been kicked upstairs. Bertrand also owes his ascension to his principal.

But a strategy of noyauter de loyauté is no doubt too simple an explanation. There is also a change of rhetoric from harsh and combative to smooth and persuasive: le boniment, quoi! Bertrand used to sell insurance. Now, in a time of crisis, he will sell assurance, and Besson will help him out with statistics for the boys with the green eyeshades. The party's not a ramasse-miettes: it's a corporation, and the staff at human resources has sifted through the talent and put the people with the best front in the publicly visible posts. The guys with the brass knuckles can work in the bowels of the organization.

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