Sunday, March 21, 2010

A Tale of Two Presidencies

It is an irony of fate, I suppose, that tonight's low point in Sarkozy's presidency coincides with Obama's resurrection. Sarkozy's first year was a triumph of the will (n'en déplaise à Leni Riefenstahl). He had his majority, he passed his reforms, he made himself ubiquitous. Obama took office in a moment of such heightened expectations and disastrous calamities that disappointments were inevitable. He faced a vituperative and obdurate opposition and an uncontrollable majority. And yet he persevered. Victory will, for a time, reorient the narratives on both sides of the ocean. The same qualities that had been cast as weakness and indecisiveness in the American president will now be taken as signs of steadfast resolve and tactical genius. By the same token, Sarkozy's confidence and dynamism will be recast (if they were not already portrayed as) arrogance and psychological instability. Too much political writing fits the structuralist image of the overdetermined text, which purports to describe but in fact merely externalizes the structure in which it is embedded. Sub specie aeternitatis, there are better ways to describe what has happened today in France and what will happen tonight in the United States. But there is perhaps a human need to provide the French narrative with an anti-hero and the American with a hero. I'm not really pleased with the French outcome, which the Socialists are already trying to present as an Answer when it is in fact merely a restatement of all the Questions that have gone unanswered since 2002. I am pleased with the American outcome, for all the bill's shortcomings, because, to coin a phrase, it keeps hope alive--hope that for a time had been made to seem a naive illusion by the Republicans, the ugly mobs, the appalling Fox network, and the indiscipline of the Democrats.

The Second Round

Forgive me if I barely take notice of the Left's resounding victory in the second round of the regional elections. It's just been announced here in the U.S. that the Stupak 10 -- the small band of Democrats who threatened to hold health care reform hostage to their views on abortion -- have at last been persuaded to vote for the bill. Obama is therefore on the verge of an historic achievement, which makes the claque delivered to Sarkozy seem insignificant by comparison.