Sunday, January 24, 2016

Sarkozy's Mea Culpa

Several readers have asked me to comment on Sarkozy's new book. I haven't read it and have seen only excerpts in the press, but it's probably safe to assume that they've extracted the most significant bits. My impression is that this "confession," like every other move Sarkozy makes, is a carefully calculated part of his communications strategy.

He had hoped to be embraced as the party's savior, returning from ascetic retirement to bring order to a chaotic scene. That hasn't worked out. Juppé continues to best him in poll after poll. Other party leaders have tired of his imperious ways and are openly or covertly scheming to get rid of him. He is well aware that many Republican voters regard his presidency as a failure. So he has decided to change tactics and present himself not as a condottiere on a white charger but as a victim and sinner, betrayed by people he trusted (Buisson, Fillon, Copé), scorned by the media, and himself a fallible sinner (Fouquet's, the yacht, the "casse-toi pauv' con" episode--j'ai abaissé la présidence).

His base is increasingly made up of elder Catholics, so casting himself as a scorned sinner may seem like a wise strategy. Absolution may be slow in coming, however. He's adopted this pose before, often in interviews with the press. Expanding the confession to book length was probably a mistake. He still needs the strong man image, and while the occasional short confession is tolerable in a republican monarch, the extended one tends to magnify the artifice and create an impression of desperation, which is probably accurate.

The most amusing moment, I thought, was his assertion that he married Carla quickly in order to spare her prurient speculation in the press about the nature of their relationship. This is the same Carla who crooned "j'ai 40 ans et trente amants ..." I don't think she was overly worried about being portrayed in the press as a scarlet woman.


FrédéricLN said...

Thanks for this point of view!

Mr Sarkozy stands among these politicians who act as if, and probably believe, politics is a matter of communication and substance is no point (Mr Valls, Mr Hollande, Mr Chirac alike).

So this book must have been prepared very carefully by a communication staff, calculating some moves ahead — or, if Mr Sarkozy was the sole communication professional here, hat tip.

Under pressure from Mr Juppé, under the FN growing threat if not domination, and as many local leaders of the right choosing a centrist line, esp. after the Régionales, Mr Sarkozy had to retreat from the avant-postes to safer and stronger positions.

So he admits failures on the tone of the Presidency, esp. the famous "bling-bling" style.

But he rather admits under-accomplishments of what the rightist part of the electorate expected: against the threats from immigration and the "failure of integration" (speech at Grenoble), against the "35 heures" which exemplify the alleged preference of Socialists for laziness and State welfare instead of entrepreneurship and performance.

So I guess it looks like letting others carry the can for "pouvoir d'État", and reshaping himself as a humble commando leader against instituted authorities — actually the only "eligible candidate" for nationalist conservatism.

And I stick to my previous comparison to Mr Netanyahu's comeback until 2009 As Mr Netanyahu, the older Mr Sarkozy has to look wiser — but not embracing conventional wisdom.

Alexandra said...

I just don't see how this is going to work.

I also read Maxime Tandonnet, whose politics I REALLY don't agree with, but who can be an interesting mirror of right wing thinking, and he seems to have bought this move hook, line and sinker. Yes, he points out there is nothing substantive related to policy or a vision of the state between the covers. (Color me surprised!) But his main point is that it's really extraordinary to see a head of state apologize like this. He writes this in a very flattering tone. Now either Tandonnet is angling for another cabinet post in the increasing unlikeliness that Sarko 2.0 actually gets off the ground. But is anyone else buying it?

We Americans have mastered the art of the desperate apology but since I've been observing politics here, in the last four or five years, the elite here tends to be sterner and less interested in being liked as a faux-equal. (Yes, even in the rampant mediatization/"Americanization" of politics here.)

So, sure, this is "extraordinary," but is that "extraordinary" in the way that Sarah Palin's latest speech is "interesting"? (Because to me, it is.) But is it extraordinary in a way that will actually appeal to a general electorate that seems pretty tired of the same-old?

Art your point about his elder Catholic base is interesting, but isn't this book a play for the country at large? If this is simpy a move for the hearts and minds of the LR faithful, it's probably not too smart to blame it all on your former allies in the party. Even if everyone knows they hate each other, it's not a good look for a party heading into any election to sell each other out.

Granted these questions come from my American bias, where there are very few true second acts at such a high level, and where losers usually shrink off into the world of speechmaking and board positions and shadowy deals no one wants to look too hard at.

But does French politics do smarmy desperation? I put this out to the rest of you...

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