Friday, January 30, 2009

Now What?

The president is going to "respond" to yesterday's strikers. "Je vous ai compris," he says in substance. The refrain is familiar. In my judgment, Sarkozy's judgment of the "social movement" is accurate: it's too "disparate" to develop into anything of alarming magnitude. The crowds in the streets were indeed impressive, but the range of complaints was dizzying. Hospital workers want this, engineers in the semiconductor industry want that, teachers want x, profs in this or that UFR want y, etc. Sarko, who likes to rail against the "conservatisms" in the plural that stand in the way of "reforms," faces the multitude of "corporatisms" that turn French politics into a Rubik's Cube: you twist things to solve problem X and you find that you've only created another problem Z.

Of course the trick for the president is to avoid becoming himself the factor that unifies the various corporatisms. The problem with la politique par manifestation is that it has often in the past led the opposition to overestimate its strength and coherence. There is something about the heady atmosphere of the streets (I know, I've been there) that persuades otherwise sober people that "c'est la lutte finale/Groupons-nous et demain/l'Internationale sera le genre humain."

There is of course no lutte finale, ever. History has no end. Politics is always with us. But presidential recalcitrance can turn la lutte du moment into a semblance of la lutte finale, and that is what Sarko has to avoid. Thus far, he's been superb at tactical retreat. I don't expect he will have lost his touch, nor do I expect the opposition suddenly to have found its center. So yesterday's carnival will have been yet another picturesque contribution to a French genre.

To say this is not to minimize the importance of periodic renewals of solidarity, of ces grandes messes thar are also a part of politics very different from the "long, slow boring of hard, dry boards" that Max Weber saw as the essence of the thing. But the long, slow boring remains.


kirkmc said...

What stunned me, watching the news briefly this afternoon, was the comments from the union leaders saying things like, the people don't think the current stimulus plan is effective (ie, the people are all economists), and the people want a stimulus plan that affects consumption (ie, the people want government handouts). I thought this was a protest movement about something, not just about asking for money. In addition, the people, those wonderful economists, don't seem to realize that any handouts they get will have to be paid back in taxes sooner or later...

Dunno, as always, these "movements" are beyond my understanding. It seems like the French need to get this stuff out of their system, and I guess it's better to have them march and chant for a day than go postal in some school. But it seems pretty pointless to me.

MYOS said...

Based on my observations yesterday, there's a strong feeling among people from all walks of life- and this diversity is what surprised me most, along with the numbers - that money has been jeopardized by others and then those "others" get handouts but regular people are asked to pay, without getting any return AND having to suffer.
As if they were whipping boy for the prince?
Essentially, people feel that the government is practising unfairness either on purpose or because of shortness of sight.
In addition, many of them resent how Sarkozy is constantly saying "my way or no way" - his sentence "I listen but I don't pay attention" irritated people who usually don't protest or strike because it seemed to sum up the Sarkozy philosophy of bipartisanism and power exercising.
(original sentence: "j'écoute mais je tiens pas compte" - if you have a better translation?)

MYOS said...

The question remains: now, what?

C dans l'air has an ambitious answer:
- a new society
(or a new compact)

Anonymous said...


I couldn't agree more.

Furthermore, when I look at the current political landscape in France I don't see what alternative to Sarko there is. I can totally imagine a big part of the population ranging from "enraged" to "middly annoyed" by the time the next presidential election comes around. However I still don't see anyone (within opposition AND the UMP) standing out as a credible alternative that could gather the votes of all these "désabusés".

David in Setouchi said...

Art, how come you just don't get it?
It's not that hard really.

The social movement is not too disparate and the range of complaints is not dizzying.

I was in the streets yesterday, walked the protest up and down, down and up, and the vast majority of the people protested for the same reason:

Enough of Sarkozy and his constant bullshit.

(it's even the first protest of my life where I have heard the name of the Prime Minister being mentioned just once, not twice. Sarkozy's? Everywhere, constantly.

You say that he has to avoid becoming the unifying factor, but he's been the factor since the very beginning: this protest wouldn't have happened (or at least he wouldn't have had such a scale) if not for him.

Unknown said...

Ron Tiersky, in response to David:

To paraphrase Lloyd Benson on Dan Qualye, We know Sarkozy, and Sarkozy's no de Gaulle, even in the capacity to create social ras-le-bol. Could anyone imagine a profound, sustained protest against Sarkozy as in 1968 against de Gaulle? Could this sort of massive one-day wonder manif' happen in any other established democracy except France (and perhaps Italy?

Anonymous said...

Les Français portent un jugement mitigé sur la journée de manifestations et de grèves de jeudi, selon un sondage OpinionWay pour Le Figaro et LCI.

Sur 1.048 personnes interrogées jeudi et vendredi, 45% estiment que c'est plutôt un succès, 11% plutôt un échec et 44% ni un succès ni un échec.


la gauche ne ferait ni mieux ni moins bien si elle était au pouvoir, disent 45% des sondés. Pour 33%, elle ferait moins bien, tandis que 22% des personnes interrogées estiment que la gauche ferait mieux que le gouvernement actuel.

I just saw this. I always take surveys with a grain of salt, and this one is no exceptions. The questions could be biased. However, I found that the last question (reproduced above) actually illustrated what I was trying to say: "au royaume des auveugles les borgnes sont rois."

Full text available at:

David in Setouchi said...

Well, your poll is for Le Figaro/LCI...
I don't think one needs to look any further.

(don't get me wrong, I don't believe polls for Liberation either)

Unknown said...

Everyone in the streets yesterday may agree that things would be better without Sarkozy, but a) that would still leave a good many whose feelings on the matter cannot be gauged by the attitudes of the protesters and b) Sarkozy's disappearance would not magically end the crisis, increase the purchasing power of the French, staff the hospitals, resurrect the universities, make French industry competitive, shore up the banks, etc. Sarkozy is a mild, cautious reformer with regrettable autocratic tendencies, but he is hardly a despot, and he faces an opposition whose program is ambiguous. If the social movement were to swell to the point where it threatened serious upheaval, you would quickly find that you are not unopposed, that France is not unaninmous in its rejection of the government, and that toppling a government from the streets is not easy, nor is governing.

kirkmc said...

I continue to find it stunning that the French - well, a subset of the French - think that Sarkozy is the cause of all their problems. Most of the economic problems that the French are seeing are the result of decades of mismanagement, going back at least to Mitterand. This anti-Sarkozyitis is pathological; it started with the "tout sauf Sarkozy" movement, which was juvenile and a dead-end (negatives don't often win out), and continues by blaming him for every ill that ails the country. When will the French - or that subset of the French - grow up and realize that _they_ are part of the problem, and assigning blame to one figurehead is just making things worse?

MYOS said...

Art, I totally agree with your response to David above, except for your use of the word "cautious".
( I still remember his rash announcement of pairing a 10 year old with a dead child so s/he would learn all about dying at the hands of the nazi. Something the CRIF most definitively would not have thought of asking..)
Kirkm: Most French people do not think Sarkozy is the root of all evil nor the cause of the crisis. However, his handling of the crisis is unsatisfactory and most of them do feel it is Sarkozy's responsibility as their leader to handle the crisis fairly.
Basically all countries had the foresight to require garantees for their bailout plans - Sarkozy only thought of it 2 weeks later and obviously it was too late, your conditions must be writ when the contract is signed, you can yell all you want later. Same thing with the "stimulus" plan: in other countries, it included some help for small businesses and families, not so in France. The feeling the protesters shared as well as many people who did not protest is that the government MUST distribute the burden evenly.

kirkmc said...

Mmm hmm, the US plan had no guarantees in it, which is why much of the first round of money is "lost". These people aren't demonstrating about guarantees, they want money from the government, and they're not logical, because it's their money that they'll have to pay back. I've yet to see a proposal from the unions (all wonderful economists, I'm sure).

They can't keep complaining about things just to complain...

Unknown said...

I have to agree with Kirk here. If you think the crisis has been better handled elsewhere, you should take a close look at the report Elizabeth Warren's oversight commission released a while back on the management of the Troubled Assets Relief Program in the US. And Sarko was tougher on bankers who awarded themselves bonus than even Obama has been.

As for my use of the word "cautious" to describe Sarko, I'm referring to the core of his reforms, not to his symbolic and verbal excesses, of which you mention one. But look at the TEPA. Instead of eliminating the bouclier fiscal, he rolled it back ever so slightly. Instead of eliminating the 35-hour week, he eliminated taxes on overtime pay. Instead of overhauling the retirement system, he has modified it incrementally. These are cautious moves.

David in Setouchi said...

-Art: a) You’re right, not everyone think the same as people that were in the streets. I won’t tell you what my opinion of the other ones is. But you’re touching another point that make Sarkozy and his goons despicable. Of course, there always was and always will people that will agree and disagree with the President, whoever he is, that’s not what I’m talking about here (Kirk, pay close attention and don’t put words in my mouth I haven’t said/wrote). But what Sarkozy managed to do with his hawkish methods and team is to put a wedge between the pros and cons to the point they seem irreconcilable, and nowadays France looks like the US more and more on that matter. The Left and the Right (I’m talking about the people here, not the politicians) could always live together without much problems. Nowadays, the divide is getting stronger and stronger, and the French neo-cons are to be blamed for that.
b) Sarkozy’s disappearance would not end the crisis (did I tell you that nobody ever said that, despite the fact you keep on thinking that’s what protesters think?) as for the rest, it’s up to debate (more on that later).
As for your “mild and cautious”, what can I say? Were you too obsessed by the fratricide fights in the PS for the past few months that you haven’t paid attention? Sarkozy’s reform are anything but mild and cautious, he’s tearing down as many sectors of the society as he can. And of course he’s not a despot. Not yet at least, because he’s doing everything he can to get there.
Toppling a government from the streets is not easy, but drastic times call for drastic measures, do I wish that to happen? Not yet, I know what it entails. But if Sarkozy and the government don’t make a serious change of direction (which they won’t), I don’t really see any other option. And seriously, do you think that the Pro-Sarkozy would go down the streets to oppose a revolt? They’ll be scared to death in their luxury apartments. We know what teargas tastes like, they’re afraid to go out at night.

-Kirk: Please, don’t insult me and people that think alike. Do you think we’re stupid or are you just that uninformed? Nobody thinks that Sarkozy is the source of France’s problems, we just think that he’s making them worse for most of the population in order to make it better for a happy few. We just think that he’s all words and no results behind. The “tout sauf Sarkozy” came from people that were aware of his record and not just believing blindly all the lies and empty promises he made during the campaign (for your record, he doesn’t come out of nowhere, he’s done (or rather not) many things in the previous years). We think he’s the worst thing that could have happen to France in those times when yes, France is in trouble (and I’m not talking about the crisis which is just the icing on the cake), and he’s just making matters worse.

Anonymous said...


So what, or who, would have been the best thing that could have happened to France in those times when yes, France is in trouble?

Unknown said...

well, I'm not going to go into the lively debate on the coming revolution and counter-revolution in France. I only hope that it does happen in my neighborhood, thus putting it firmly on the map for rising real-estate values.

The thing about Sarkozy, I suspect, is that he is both a radical and a keen connoisseur of the fundamental reluctance of most French for change, ie their conservatism. When you go to these one day demonstrations (which I haven't in this case being in Africa), and listen not to the slogans but to what people are chatting about, you do realize that change is not that easy in France.

So Sarkozy the radical recruits (ambition) frustrated ex-socialists in the hope of building a less partisan image that would allow him to pass some very radical reforms. And he recruits a mild mannered Prime Minister. But it doesn't really work because the man he uses to reform, Hortefeux, is very definitely scary. Just look at his ice-cold face. So what Sarkozy does is he tries to navigate around shoals and it's very difficult at the moment because a financial hurricane is blowing. he is forced to change course increasingly often and must be wondering whether he shouldn't lower all sails and hope to ride this out for a couple years and then get reelected if the economy starts to turn up. It seems to me that the almost perfect illustration of this is the slow moving change of government where, one week, a minister changes attribution, another week another gets promoted to would be member of parliament 500 km east and next month, well whatever. Or take his dance with W. early into his presidency and then the panicked assurances that he loves O and O loves him - chances are O doesn't give much of a toss at the moment: this too looks much like navigation amid shifting winds (were the educated idiots at the Quai d'Orsay sleeping or what?).

So, to answer the real question lurking beneath most comments, yes Sarkozy wants to dismantle social welfare as the French know it, no he isn't going to do it now because you do not do that when the whole radical right ideology has been discredited while you were sleeping. Sarkozy will want to survive another day and journalists comparing him to Bonaparte are mostly comparing their physical size and not their grandeur.

kirkmc said...


What hatred. "Goons"; "despicable" "French neo-cons"... It's amazing.

You do recall that more than half of the French people voted for him, so even if you don't like him, democracy suggests that you bow to the majority...

David in Setouchi said...

Democracy has never been the dictatorship of the majority. That too is neo-con rhetoric.

And you can argue all you want about goon and despicable, those are I admit highly subjective terms, but you can't argue that Sarkozy and his followers are neo-cons.

And yes, hatred is the word.

kirkmc said...

Hmm, my last comment didn't get posted.

Responding to David, I said that he doesn't know what neo-conservatism is apparently:

And that Sarkozy, in the US, would be closer to the Democrats than to the Republicans.

And I feel sorry for someone who has "hatred" for elected officials...

Anonymous said...


I still don't know what alternative you propose. Let's suppose Sarko suffocates tonight over a bretzel, aside from the joy you would feel:

so what, or who, would be the best thing that could happen to France in those times when yes, France is in trouble?

kirkmc said...


That's part of the problem. The socialists have made themselves irrelevant with their "French Idol" reality show, and Segolene is looking more and more like she's only playing with half a deck (especially after her bogus comments about "inspiring" Obama)...

David in Setouchi said...

Kirk, don't start playing with the definition of words, that's the degree zero of debating. You know exactly what I mean by neo-con, regardless of the definition of the theory. We all know that in politics definitions and real life things are never the same. Is the PS socialist? Was the USSR communist?

And if you think that Sarkozy would be a Democrat, it's high time you learn about either who Sarkozy is or who the Democrats are.

Passerby, I don't subscribe to this rhetoric of allowing oneself to criticize something only if you have the magical replacement for it in your sleeve. I'm not sure who be best, and that doesn't mean I can't see what is there is terrible. And seriously, I think that anybody would be better than Sarkozy and his follower: "old school" UMP, MoDem, PS, LCR/NPA (the FN is of course, not an option, the PC is dead, despite the fact that it's still moving).
More realistically, the "old school" UMP is quite out of the game, and the PS is becoming irrelevant too. That leaves us the MoDem and the LCR/NPA, and Id be happy with any of them. Despite the fact that they have little in common, today, they seem to be the only ones that are honest (I'm not talking about corruption here, but about being intellectually and morally honest) and that try to be pragmatic on one side, and not afraid to drastically change things on the other.

kirkmc said...

Gee, David, I'm not playing with words. No, I don't know what you mean by neo-con. If you mean "neo-con" in English, then you're incorrect. And, yes, he would be closer to the Democrats than the Republicans in the US: health care, environmental issuse, there are tons of places where he's very far left (for the US). You're an example of people whose image of Sarkozy - and the UMP - is tinged by some sort of ideological confusion, almost religious, it seems, that makes you see the socialists is saviors, though they aren't capable of saving much. As a result, you can only react with anger, rather than with ideas.

And if you think the LCR/NPA has _any_ sort of relevance, then you're _really_ out of touch... (With all due respect.)

MYOS said...

Okay Art, what you call "cautious" I call "shrewd".
I only quoted the one action that seemed to exemplify irresponsible rashness, as I took "cautious" to be the opposite of that, but you're right, there are many more. :)

I conducted a round of interviews and the basic idea is that the way Nicolas Sarkozy is handling the situation is unfair. People did not protest for handouts but because of injustice. Now, it may be PERCEIVED injustice but it's the prevalent feeling in France right now. Revolt, a little bit - people like David are likely about 30% French people right now.

While W. did not do much either, I think the last round of decisions by President Obama are a lot more than what President Sarkozy did.
Nicolas Sarkozy was promising the State's help to the Steel industry in Gandrange about 1 year ago (it was right after his wedding, I remember he made a joke about it, and didn"t he get married around Valentine's day?) Nothing came. You can compare this with President Obama's plan for American steel. It may not be as grandiose as Sarkozy's plan, but somehow I believe that a year from now he'll have signed a bill, allocated money, or done something to respect his promise. I may be wrong but I hope that, in that respect only at least, I won't be wrong about Obama's intent on keeping promises.
(I do not know whether Sarkozy promised knowing full well he'd do nothing, whether he forgot, or whether he simply could not go through with his plan).
I may be wrong, but Angela Merkel and Gordon Brown chose more restrictive measures, especially re: funding oversight. Even when Congress voted, it required restrictions to automakers (for example).
Once again, it does not matter whether President Sarkozy managed to get bankers to renounce their bonuses. The response I get, re: such a point, is "I too would relinquish my bonus, if I could make 2 million a year". ON Thursday, there were many private sectors employees who make $600 a month and WANT to work more but can't. They voted for Nicolas Sarkozy because they wanted to work more and feel like they were just useful idiots.