Monday, May 07, 2007

Bonjour tristesse

David Seaton's News Links
The first big question about Sarkozy's victory for all of us who aren't French or don't live in France has to be: is it contagious? Because, don't kid yourselves, Sarkozy has taken us a giant step down the road to making racism respectable. He has dressed Le Penism in the clothes of Horatio Alger... to deafening applause.

Personally I can't get beyond the "Karcher" remark.
The question for me is if Sarkozy is really just a socially acceptable code word for Le Pen. I wonder if Josephine Baker (the beautiful lady in the collage above) would still feel comfortable in Sarkozy's Paris, or Richard Wright, or James Baldwin, or Sydney Bechet? Or moving away from African Americans for a moment, would Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald still waste any time on France. Something very important has been lost for all of us.


Sarkozy is a total opportunist and aside from his hunger for power there is probably no fixed point for him, however, to get where he is he has made rather a devilish pact with two contradicting forces. On one hand the super rich and their "bobo" wannabes who are looking for a lowering of taxes and the cutting of entitlements and lots of immigrants to clean their houses and care for their children and on the other hand the Le Pen voters, many of them hardscrabble proletarians who once voted Communist. These are people who depend on the welfare state as much as any beure. They will resist any flexibilization of the labor market or any other loss of their entitlements. (Remember that Hitler called his movement "National Socialism", not "National Free for All Capitalism).

What Sarkozy is attempting isn't that original, it is a French version of Nixon's "Southern Strategy". Southern poor whites had voted Democratic since the civil war. They were called the "Solid South" and were prime receivers of the New Deal's largesse. When the Democrats supported the civil rights movement, Nixon (the American Sarkozy? Le Pen the French George Wallace?) was quick to discover that southern poor whites hated black people more than they loved themselves or even their own children. Being offered "states rights" (code word for legal racism) they voted Republican, thus denying themselves and their descendants health insurance, good public education etc.

I really doubt that Sarkozy could pull anything like that off. Southern poor whites have this crazy, "Apocolypse Now" (John of Patmos not Coppola) streak that makes them so treasured by lovers of the grotesque like Tennesee Williams, Flannery O ' Conner or John Kennedy Toole. Just trying to imagine your average pisse vinaigre French workman in a frothy "born again" hysteria is a real knee slapper. To imagine that Frenchman (or his wife... especially his wife) voting against his pocketbook is impossible.

Sarkozy might be able to keep all the balls in the air for a while if the world economy doesn't falter in the slightest, but there are lots of red flags and flashing lights from experts warning of a probable downturn. In that case it will be impossible to hold such a coalition together. The Bobos and the Po' Whites will part ways. Sparks will fly.

The caveats in this leading editorial from the FT below are interesting. "Now he must put populism behind him" says the FT. Is that possible?
The "Anglo-Saxon" press has tended to see Sarkozy as a reforming liberal, eager to Thatcherize France. But Sarkozy has taken the votes of Le Pen and these could prove a very heavy burden. Let us see how long the honeymoon lasts. DS

Sarkozy wins a mandate for change - Editorial - Financial Times
Abstract: The most disturbing aspect of Mr Sarkozy's campaign was his readiness to play on populist fears of excessive immigration and of unfair competition from globalisation in his drive to win voters from his right as well as his left. His attacks on the European Central Bank were ill-judged, in laying the blame for France's sluggish economic performance on outside forces, not excessive rigidity at home. Now he must put populism behind him. Immigration controls are not the answer to a failure of integration policies that has led to miserable ghettos in the suburbs. Improving education, creating more jobs and easing labour market flexibility will have far more positive effects. Hiding behind protectionist trade barriers and defending inefficient national champions are not the ways to make France more competitive. Reducing red tape and bureaucracy will do far more good. READ IT ALL

1 comment:

janinsanfran said...

If it is contagious, we'll get Giuliani here.