Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Dwarfed by Versailles


Sarkozy may have thought that speaking to a joint session of the Assembly and Senate--"the Congress"--at Versailles would magnify his omnipotence, raising him to the level of the Sun King. Instead it had the effect of dwarfing him. As he ambled with his distinctive gait down the long haie d'honneur of Republican Guards, he seemed oddly small, and incongruous in his business suit, not quite the attire for a 17th-c. palace of grandiosity.

The speech itself combined a whimper with a bang. The whimper was the plaintive cry, "Je me pose la question de savoir pourquoi il est si difficile de réformer notre pays. Pourquoi il est si difficile de résoudre les problèmes structurels que tout le monde connaît?" Here we have the characteristic Guaino anaphoric construction (the repeated "Pourquoi il est si difficile") but in an uncharacteristic Job-like lamentation: "Oh, Lord, here I am, your humble servant, endeavoring for two years now to do what you have put me on this Earth to accomplish, to bring everlasting peace to the Gentiles and reform to the French, and yet these hard-hearted and stiff-necked people refuse to hear my message. Why, oh why, Lord, is it so difficult to reform our country?"

Well, for starters, my Son, let's consider centralization, your original sin. When every university in the country must be "reformed" at once, with a national plan promising equality for all and excellence for each, the task becomes unnecessarily difficult. But it would be prosaic to descend to such quibbles in analyzing a State of the Union address, which is pitched at the level of aspiration rather than politics, so let us move on.

As for the bang, Sarko launched the War on the Burqa (which is spelled burka in the official text). "Let us debate the matter," he said, but only after having pronounced that this instrument of "oppression" of women is "not welcome in France." A pronouncement that would seem to leave little room for debate. This unnecessary and pointless diversion will no doubt prove to be good politics for Sarkozy. This is "not a religious problem," the president says, "it is a problem of the liberty and dignity of woman." Neither was the slitting of sheep's throats in bathtubs a religious problem. But raising either issue--surely minor ones among the problmes besetting the Republic--does direct the nation's attention in one direction rather than others. In that choice there are certain ancillary political benefits, but it would be cynical to dwell on the use of a state occasion of great pomp and circumstance for squalid political gain.

For the rest, the speech was a great grab-bag of vapidity. The neoliberal Sarko is gone. Now we have the Colbertian Sarko, proposing a great national debate to choose those sectors of the economy worthy of the state's largesse. And if the state's largesse is inhibited by the "empty coffers" so pointedly mentioned in an earlier speech, why, that small problem will be remedied by appealing to the People for un emprunt national, a quaint absurdity from another era, which I'm sure will make bond dealers on Wall Street and in the City quake with fear at the prospect of losing out on the prospect of underwriting a share of French sovereign debt to be invested in some hypothetical Vallée de Silicon between the Durance and the Rhône. Oh, and "Europe must change. It can no longer function after the crisis as it did before." Noted.

For further details, I refer you the newspaper of record. and the newspaper of cheek. For rhetorical analysis, see here and here. The NY Times takes a broader view of "Sarkozy Black Label."

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

While Sarko's out protecting the liberty and dignity of women, I wish he would do something about the lingerie ads in the Metro!

Unknown said...

You are too harsh on the "emprunt": there has not been one for at least 15 years, and it is always useful to maintain open an avenue of financing. One never knows. In any case, this emprunt will eventually be traded on the market, I suppose, and thus will eventually reflect market conditions.

The real problem anyway is not to find investments for savers, it is to get those savers to part with their money and spend it. Like the moviemaker once said in the city he ruled "when the going gets tough, the toughs go spending!".