Thursday, July 10, 2014

Political Suicide

The long knives are out at the UMP. The trouble is that the wounded king, whom all the princelings are prepared to do in, has the support of 78 percent of the rank-and-file. It's not easy to explain why the lambs of the UMP are so eager to be led to slaughter. The extravagance of Sarkozy and the man to whom he bequeathed the party, Jean-François Copé, has left the UMP in debt to the tune of €74 million. Sarkozy's desperation to be re-elected nearly bankrupted the party, not only in cash terms but also in ideological terms, since he virtually erased the distinction between the UMP and the FN on the advice of Patrick Buisson, a turncoat of the extreme right who turned out to be a double agent, secretly recording Sarkozy's conversations even before the judges installed their wiretaps, which have allegedly revealed yet another vein of "active corruption." It's no wonder the deputy Bernard Debré says that if the UMP chooses Sarkozy as its once and future leader, the party will be committing "political suicide."

The trail of devastation is so complete that one wonders how 78 percent support among the party faithful is even remotely possible. Yet the polls seem to say it's there, and the caution of Sarkozy's would-be deposers suggests that they, who are presumably in intimate contact with the base, believe it's real.

So what is the basis of Sarkolatry? I submit that one saw a fair sample of it in the interview he gave to J.-P. Elkabbach immediately after his mise en examen. It's the combination of chutzpah and pugnacity, of punchiness and poise. Sarkozy always evinces confidence. He rarely stumbles. He aligns sentences with the rapidity and lethality of machine-gun bullets, forcing his interlocutors to keep their heads down. No one dares to ask the devastating question. No one dares to say, as Fillon said to Copé in the party committee meeting that deposed him, "Je ne te crois pas, Jean-François." To be sure, Sarko is an ex-president, and the residual majesty of the royal presidency may be intimidating to some, but Sarkozy should by now be vulnerable. He trails so many casseroles, as one says in French, that he should present a broad target. But no one yet dares to strike the fatal blow, unless it's Edwy Plenel at Mediapart, who has been striking fatal blows for a decade now without obvious effect.

Or maybe it's just that Sarkozy is so much more entertaining to watch than most other politicians. His stylish shamelessness has no equal. Bill Clinton was equally shameless and had a certain style but lacked Sarkozy's tough bravado; there was always something vulnerable in Clinton's brazenness. Richard Nixon was shameless, of course, but also styleless. Some have compared Sarkozy to Berlusconi, but Berlusconi is a guttersnipe compared to the Frenchman: the vulgarity of his shamelessness is pathetic. A woman of Carla Bruni's class would not be interested in bunga bunga. Sarkozy is a political phenomenon. No doubt about it. It's a pity that he couldn't parlay his talents into some achievement worth remembering.


Anonymous said...

Is he perhaps the measure of the European political class? And if so can we expect euroscepeticism to expand exponentially?

Passerby said...

Given the number of scandals, I have also been puzzled by the lack of rejection of Sarkozy by "la base".

The only explanation that I have is that the rank-and-file have had 5 years of intensive training in how to become his best advocates.
Sarkozy was such a polarizing figure that he drew an unprecedented amount of fire from the left. He was attacked whatever he did (or not). Often it was ad hominem attacks, instead of doctrinal debate. Not a week went by without his supporters having to defend him and his policies.

The way I view it, his supporters have become used to defend the man, even more than the party itself.

Massilian said...

Well said and excellent. IMHO the 78% of UMP sympathisants who (still) wish (to day) that Sarko be a candidate in 2017 doesn't so much represent their inextinguishable "Sarkolatry" but true despair because they don't see any other potential winner in 2017 among the grey wolfpack of hungry-shaggy-scraggy present UMP leaders...

Robert said...

"Or maybe it's just that Sarkozy is so much more entertaining to watch than most other politicians. His stylish shamelessness has no equal"

The American equivalent: Marion Barry.

bernard said...

Couldn't the 78% be simply explained by: he is the only person to have won them the presidency in a long time? There was Chirac of course but he retired quite a while ago.

FrédéricLN said...

This post is very relevant imho, including the conclusion.

I would add that Mr Sarkozy is remarkably independent-minded. Which is great, within a Parisian "classe politique" that has forgotten since decades what thinking might mean (well, they know thinking is taking risks, which should be avoided by all means). And, imho, it may be one of the key reasons for the popular support he raised.

But Mr Sarkozy's independent mind is a not much more than a business lawyer's one, and a lawyer who never practiced law. He invested all his energy into politics, which may be great, but at Neuilly-sur-Seine, the preserve of the wealthiest. He is said never to have pushed the doors of a factory until 2004.

So, all his independence was wasted in supporting the most conservative sectors of "Wall Street". A pity.

Alex Price said...

An entertaining and perceptive description of what makes Sarkozy such an entertaining politician.

I think one reason his supporters haven't deserted him has to do with the familiar refrain you quoted in your NY Times piece, tous pourris, but with a twist. How many important politicians, particularly those on the right, have avoided involvement in some sort of affaire judiciaire? Not many, it would seem. So these affaires lose their significance: if everyone breaks the law, no one does, because the rules of the game allow for it (apparently). All the more so since these affaires don't for the most part appear venal: the politicians aren't trying to line their own pockets, they are just, for example, finding ways around campaign finance laws. There is also the sense of an evolving political morality, of practices that were formerly tolerated, against the law but ignored, now being prosecuted. This was a topic at the time of Juppé’s conviction, if I recall correctly. (And it’s interesting that his conviction seems to have been a political plus. No longer just an arrogant egghead, he has suffered and done so with a kind of Roman dignity that was admired.) When politicians talk about judicial overreach, I think they mean that by insisting that the letter of the law be followed the judges are meddling with long-standing arrangements, unwritten rules that supersede crude and inflexible laws.

In the public, among the politicians themselves, there seems to be an unresolved ambivalence, a grudging acceptance of increased transparency along with a certain respect for gamesmanship that includes practices requiring shade. And of course different political actors hold different positions: the zealous reformers, the old reprobates.

The NY Times the other day had an article about how the US soccer team is at a disadvantage because American players don’t practice “diving” – faking or exaggerating contact in order to draw a foul. It goes against their sense of fair play. Diving is against the rules and will be penalized if caught. But it’s also something regularly practiced by the best players in the world and very much a part of the game (a bit like fighting in hockey, I suppose). Against the rules but tolerated and even enjoyed (some players are gifted actors).

By appearing in so many judicial dossiers, Sarkozy seems, to many observers at least, to have gone too far, like a soccer player in danger of getting a red card. But admiration for the way he plays remains.

Anonymous said...

I was very puzzled by this result since I'd read another poll with opposite results last Thursday, and that one meshed with my impressionsthat many right-wing supporters are dismayed. Some launch into conspiracy theories but most agree that Hollande is too weak/soft for a "chasse aux sorcières", just not his style. There's animosity toward Taubira but no one sees her as spear heading a witch hunt. And, truth be told, SOME of these allegations are believable. After all, Copé had to quit and that Bygmalion scandal won't stop there, no one believes Sarkozy knew nothing. There's a difference between UMP rank-and-file and sympathizers, and ways to ask questions to get the result you want, so I don't know which poll did what - always suspicious when polls a few days apart find such different results. Sympathizers are much less likely to excuse Sarkozy and to look for other potential leaders than UMP party members. But the issue remains: who else?