November 21, 2007


Who Is Sarkozy? (William Pfaff, 12/06/07, NY Review of Books)

Sarkozy dazzled the press and the public following his election last May by forming a government including Socialists, centrists, and an unprecedented number of women and persons of immigrant origin. Naming several prominent Socialists to important posts, including Bernard Kouchner as foreign minister, he greatly damaged a party already weakened by rivalry over its presidential nomination and the refusal of Ségolène Royal, the eventual candidate, to run on the orthodox party platform. Royal continues to be attacked by other Socialist figures for having lost the election, thereby preventing them from doing so.

A quarter-century ago François Mitterrand created the modern French left, rescuing the Socialist Party from minority irrelevance by forming a common electoral program with the Communists. The alliance succeeded in taking power in 1981. This robbed the Communists of what the advertising industry would have called their unique selling proposition, revolution, beginning a Communist decline that by now is near terminal. In the 1980s, the Socialist Jacques Delors, made finance minister, rescued Mitterrand's government, which had been foundering in economic difficulties, by in-troducing "market socialist" reforms designed to liberalize the French economy. However, Delors has retired, Mitterrand is gone, and his legitimate successor, ex–prime minister Lionel Jospin, has been reduced to writing a spiteful and distressingly ungentlemanly book about how Ségolène Royal stole his party and robbed him of the presidential nomination.

No one can be confident that the Socialists will be in any condition to mount a serious national challenge when the opportunity comes in five years. Several of the Socialist "elephants" beaten by Ségolène Royal for last year's nomination are on the way to the political graveyard. Dominique Strauss-Kahn, once a favorite, now has global horizons, thanks to Sarkozy's nomination of him to head the International Monetary Fund in Washington. The unfortunate François Hollande, the dignified estranged father of Royal's children, will leave the party secretary post but still hopes to become the Socialist presidential candidate in 2012. The remaining failed candidate for the party's presidential nomination, Laurent Fabius, who claims to lead the Socialist left, is likely to be overrun by a younger group of militants, some from the Trotskyist "left of the left," others followers of Ségolène Royal. Jack Lang, Mitterrand's flamboyant minister of culture, considered a Sarkozy appointment or ambassadorship before announcing that he would not serve a government of whose immigration and fiscal policy he disapproved.

Royal retains the presidency of the region of Poitou-Charentes and is the only major Socialist to indicate a new party direction, toward a centrist alliance, as the Italian left has just done, breaking with the post-Marxist shibboleths of revolutionary change. She is described by admirers as possessing "the most powerful charisma of any Socialist in fifty years," and polls now make her France's favorite to challenge Sarkozy in 2012.

Confidence in Sarkozy remains high (56 percent in the regular end-of-October poll). In a poll published in late September, belief in his "sincerity" had gone up by thirty-five points among those who voted for Ségolène Royal. A majority of respondents approved nine out of the ten social reform proposals Sarkozy has identified as most important. He lost points in overall approval, but among what pollsters identify as the less-well-off (moins privilégié) categories of the population he enjoyed more support than among the more well-to-do, his presumed natural constituency.

On the reforms the Socialist opposition characterizes as "anti-social," meaning harmful to the less well-off, the polls indicate that the less-well-off classes actually support Sarkozy. These reforms include sanctions for the unemployed who refuse two job offers, modification of the thirty-five-hour work week to allow unlimited paid overtime, and "reemphasis on the value of work."

Are we supposed to be sorry that he lacks confidence in a Socialist resurgence?

Posted by Orrin Judd at November 21, 2007 8:20 AM
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