Saturday, February 7, 2009

Sarko-Pander

Jean Quatremer makes a good point: Nicolas Sarkozy's crisis discourse is internally contradictory. On the one hand he calls for a coordinated global response. On the other hand he excoriates the idea that a French car company might want to cut costs by outsourcing some of its manufacturing operations to the Czech Republic. It's OK for Renault to build an auto plant in India to sell to Indians, but to build in another EU country to sell to Europeans is not "economically patriotic."

Of course Sarko is not alone in being of two minds about liberalized trade, especially in these times of crisis. Just witness the flap in the US over "Buy American" provisions in the stimulus bill. But it's one of the frustrations of Sarko's style of "communication." He loves the didactic mode, in which hand-picked interviewers toss him softball questions that he can twist as he pleases, and he allows himself to say one thing and then another to put the questioner in his place without bothering overmuch about possible contradictions between this and that. No one is going to challenge him to reconcile X and not-X, not as long as he occupies the bully pulpit. His ability to maintain this pose through an hour and a half of questioning is impressive in its way, but wouldn't you really like to see him go for just 15 minutes with a couple of well-chosen economists rather than 90 with Pujadas, Ferrari, Lagache, and Duhamel?

13 comments:

bernard said...

Who I'd like him to go with is this famous British BBC interviewer who once asked 27 times the same question from a Minister until he actually answered the question. Can't remember his name though.

Boz said...

Unfortunately such talk is still kryptonite to political popularity. Just remember the outrage when little known (at least to the general public) Greg Mankiw dared say that outsourcing was a good thing in the long run. Sarko's smart enough not to pin himself down - we've seen what can happen: "I'm not going to put my lot in with economists..."

James said...

Bernard is thinking of Jeremy Paxman's tussle with then-Home Secretary Michael Howard:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Uwlsd8RAoqI

Leo said...

Bernard,

I believe the BBC show is "Hard Talk" and the interviewer was Tim Sabastian.

We definitely miss his kind on French television.

bernard said...

James is right. I had Paxman on the tip of my tongue.

MYOS said...

Looking into "publication des chiffres de l'emploi", I found this European Congressman interviewed on Parlement Hebdo (we're probably a handful minus one to watch that :p). It's a blow-by-blow commentary on the "Face à la crise"program - an excerpt from the interview, an interview with two politics specialist and the congressman about the excerpt.
http://www.lcpan.fr/emission/72753/video

First, there was the jarring disconnect between the furniture and the royal palace surrounding. It set the tone for an interview that was overly respectful. Pujadas sounded stupid and got stumped when asked "what do you mean?", preventing any effective follow-up.
Do you think that a "hard Talk" - style show is even possible on French TV?
Do you think that, if it existed, French politicians would dare go?
Was Jeremy Paxman "let go" or "put away in a fancy closet" after his resilient questioning?

James said...

No Paxman remains very much in his perch. I think it would be probably considered that an unwillingness to face him would disqualify one from the top flight of politics. It is said that his approach to any interview is based on the question "why is this lying bastard lying to me". I think this approach has its downside (frequently more heat than light is the result) but it can be entertaining.

Arthur Goldhammer said...

Paxman's polite British imitation of a pit bull is not my ideal of a political interviewer. A rapier wit, some subject knowledge, and a gift for ensnaring the subject in logical contradiction might be more illuminating, if less entertaining.

In any case, the subject of Paxman's questioning hardly lent itself to wit or logic. He wanted Howard to admit having threatened a certain act. Howard, knowing that the only other witness to the scene possessed no more credibility than he, could stonewall to his heart's content, and the most damage that Paxman could do, and did, was to depict Howard as a stonewaller. Ho hum.

What is galling about the interviews with Sarkozy is that he is allowed repeatedly to get away with false dichotomizing: "Now, Monsieur Pujadas, in regard to X, we could do either A or B. But B is patently foolish, unjust, and repugnant to all men of decency. Hence I will do A. Would you have me do otherwise?" Instead of saying, "But what about alternatives C, D, and E, Monsieur le Président?" the interviewer moves on to the next subject, and the press the next day reports that "Sarko maintient le cap."

MYOS said...

I was being sarcastic with my questions, ahem - just trying to say that what Paxman could do is not quite possible in France.
I wholeheartedly agree with Art here: why can't French journalists follow up? They would not need to pound the president or even speak out of turn, but they could simply do what most other journalists do in democracies. Their behavior on that day did not seem very professional to me.
Art, thanks for that per-fect description of the process.

James said...

My theory is that this is partly a downside of executive (rather than purely symbolic) presidencies - the French president, like the American, enjoys a deference premium in interviews because he is head of state.

Admittedly this doesn't explain a wider culture of deference towards politicians.

Arthur Goldhammer said...

James,
Yes, I agree on the executive vs. symbolic, but in general I don't see deference as a problem in France (as opposed to the US). Politicians are pointedly interrogated by one another as well as by journalists, but presidents are not.

In the US, public discourse is so anemic, and the perceived intolerance of the public toward what is dismissed as "policy wonkery" so rampant, that serious discussion is mostly avoided in public and positions are reduced to labels rather than defended by anything resembling rational argument.

In this respect, Sarko's 90-minute public defense of his policies might be seen as an advance. He does at least articulate a rationale for what he does, however flimsy. But one would like to see him articulate responses to serious objections rather than simply spin out yet again his well-honed campaign themes.

MYOS said...

Art, James, Bernard: You've been heard! :)

http://www.mediapart.fr/journal/culture-idees/090209/paxman-l-intervieweur-qui-manque-a-l-elysee

bernard said...

Myos,

we have Art for the starart department, James for the conceptual department. may I suggest that I take charge of the provoc department and that you head the derived products department?

Art just scored another one: Valerie Pécresse is going to rethink her décret... A polite way of...