Friday, March 4, 2016

Where Is the New Juppé?

I met Alain Juppé once, before the general strike of '95 and his subsequent disgrace, Canadian exile, and alleged moult from grizzly to teddy bear. The Juppé I met lo those many years ago was anything but humble, every inch the énarque and future prime minister. But they say he found humility in the Canadian woods, along with an inner warmth that would make him a less arrogant and unapproachable figure and therefore a more plausible presidential candidate. But yesterday he put in an appearance at the Salon de l'agriculture, a regular rite of passage for all candidates but especially candidates of the Right, since patting cow's asses was one of Chirac's specialties. And of course Sarkozy's famous "casse-toi, pauv' con" was uttered among the sheep and the pigs, so that avoiding this kind of unforced error has become another test of presidential stature. Yet here is a description of Juppé's manner among the peasants:

Dans la retenue, M. Juppé a maintenu une certaine distance avec le public, se contentant de poignées de main polies et de quelques mots. Peu de visiteurs ont osé l’interpeller directement. Beaucoup se sont montrés impressionnés. Un éleveur a souhaité s’entretenir avec lui pour lui faire part de ses difficultés :« Je ne sais pas si j’aurai le temps… Ecrivez à la mairie à Bordeaux », a-t-il répondu sèchement. Le camp Juppé assume l’opposition de style avec M. Sarkozy : « Les agriculteurs ont besoin d’humilité, d’écoute et de solutions. Pas de star. »
"Write to city hall." Is that any way to win friends? Juppé seems to be flunking Retail Politics 101. His young challenger Bruno Le Maire spent 25 hours at the Salon. Count 'em. Twenty-five. More than one full day nuzzling up to cows, sipping cider, tasting cheese, submitting to selfies with the fans, and listening to the tillers of the soil complain about having been sold down the river by Brussels. Le Maire, apparently, really wants to be president. Does Juppé? I sometimes wonder.

Of course, after last night's Republican debate in the US, Juppé's reserve looks like a genuine virtue. I don't expect we'll be hearing boasts about his dick size any time soon. Donald Trump would no doubt dismiss him as a "loser" and a "lightweight." He's certainly no lightweight, but I wonder whether he's figured out how to avoid becoming a loser.