Sunday, January 1, 2012

"Mes chers compatriotes"

I watched last night's Sarkovoeux. The president did a pretty fair imitation of gravitas, amplified by his increasingly drawn features and the dimmed sparkle in his eyes. In substance his speech contained no surprises: the crisis was bad, very bad, worse than anyone could have imagined, and only he--a president inured to crisis and wise in the ways of the world--can save the economy while at the same time protecting French sovereignty and independence.

If you believe him, it was an effective performance, but is there any reason to believe that he is the only person capable of grasping the magnitude of the problem and the contours of a solution? Clearly not. Opinions about the nature of the problem abound, yet there is little consensus about the solution or certainty that any particular course of action will succeed. Sarkozy's record has not been the abysmal failure that its opponents claim--this was in fact the gist of Hollande's contre-voeux--but neither does it stand as a testimonial to presidential clairvoyance, perspicacity, and fortitude. He underestimated the initial difficulty--a failure that was not his alone, to be sure. He believed, or professed to believe, in any number of solutions that quickly proved to be inadequate--and that many observers predicted would be inadequate even as they were enacted.

So an accurate portrayal of the record would require the president to defend himself by claiming to have learned from his mistakes as only a head of state can. Learning from failure does not make for a particularly attractive campaign theme, however, so instead we have the gravitas ploy: I have grown in office in ways you cannot see, just as I have aged in ways that you can see and matured as I intend to convey to you through my subdued, sober tone and restrained body language. Events are likely to overtake communication before the election, however, and this latest round of presidential theater will fade into the past with all the others: the jogger, the president in Luxor, the president courting at Disneyland, the president tongue-lashing the editor of Libération Laurent Joffrin, the president presiding over the EC or the G20, the president as shuttle diplomat, etc. etc. Perhaps I will assemble a photomontage of "the many faces of Nicolas Sarkozy." It would be an interesting document.