Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Move Over, Burqa, You've Got Company

Scarecrows are useful to politicians: they frighten the birds out of the neighbor's field and send them winging on home. Sarkozy's career has had its share of scarecrows: "socialo-communists," racaille, burqas ... and now les Gens du voyage. The Roma have a bad reputation in France, and a group of Roma in Loir-et-Cher didn't help themselves by going on a rampage the other night after one of them was shot dead by police in an incident at a roadblock. But was this minor police incident really worthy of a major presidential intervention:

Ce matin, au cours du Conseil des ministres, Sarkozy a donc annoncé qu’il organiserait une réunion, le 28 juillet, à l’Elysée sur « les problèmes que posent les comportements de certains parmi les Gens du voyage et les Roms » et qu’on y déciderait « l’expulsion de tous les campements en situation irrégulière ».

Boutin Organizes the 21st Century

Christine Boutin is in Washington. Although she renounced her salary last month after being criticized for accepting the gift of a sinecure in exchange, allegedly, for not running against Sarkozy in 2012, she has set herself an ambitious goal: organizing the 21st century, no less.

Elle doit encore rencontrer des experts mercredi, ainsi qu'une représentante de l'administration Obama. "Ce n'est pas seulement une question économique et financière, c'est une question de civilisation : comment va-t-on organiser le XXIe siècle ? Va-t-on intégrer [à la gestion des affaires économiques] une dimension sociale et humaine ?", s'est interrogée Christine Boutin dans un entretien avec des journalistes dans la capitale américaine.

Yes, the "politics of civilization" is back. This was Henri Guaino's phrase for the new measures of governmental success introduced by the Sen-Stiglitz-Fitoussi Commission. Some of my best friends have also devoted considerable thought to the question of what constitutes a successful society (see the book pictured to the left). Christine Boutin may be reinventing the wheel, but once she hammers it into shape, she has several well-blazed trails she can try rolling it down. Presumably it will do no harm if a politician actually pays attention to what academics are saying.

The Government Vanishes

What has become of the French government? To be sure, there is Éric Woerth. And there is retirement reform, which has become so bound up with the Woerth affair that public discussion of the issues has been submerged. But is there action on any other front? Education? Research? Justice? The suburbs? Housing? Fiscal overhaul? Territorial reform? Defense? Foreign policy? Energy policy?

Sarkozy, who arrived in office beating all drums, seems to have concluded that the system can handle only one reform at a time. No longer the "omnipresident," he risks becoming what he once despised, the caretaker president that he accused Chirac of being, un roi fainéant. No doubt he is busy preparing his re-election campaign, or the promised October remaniement. In the meantime his ministers are either scouring the want-ads for future employment or lobbying quietly to be included in the shrunken government promised for the fall. With the government marking time, the papers have nothing to discuss but the tribulations of the soccer satyrs and their underage playmate.

It is truly a summer of discontent, but also, I fear, of ominous disconnect. The country is not happy, despite the apparent calm. France has exhausted its elites. Feeling let down by their énarques, the French decided to let the nouveau riche business elite--the Neuilly crowd--have a go at running the country. What they got in return was an expanded tax shield and the Bettencourt-Woerth affair. In place of the network of old boys from X and Sciences Po, they discovered a nexus of financial advisors, tax shelters, horse-race enthusiasts, luxury hotels, thermidors humidors filled with Cuban cigars, private jets, microparties, and appartements de fonction. So who is to govern now that these two elites have discredited themselves?