Previews of Coming Attractions

Out here in Hollywood they remake French films – La Cage aux Folles (1978) became The Birdcage (1996), Trois hommes et un couffin (1985) became Three Men and a Baby (1987) and Le Retour de Martin Guerre (1982) became Sommersby (1993). It happens all the time. There’s probably a long list of these somewhere – and as you can see here, Robert De Niro and George Clooney are filming 36, a remake of the French thriller (that’s the genre, not an assessment) 36 Quai des Orfèvres.  That was Gerard Depardieu and Daniel Auteuil – rival detectives trying to solve a series of armored car robberies in Paris. Filming of the domestic version, with the American dudes, is underway in New York for an August 2008 release.  Whatever.

 

There is the political equivalent of course. France just had a presidential election, and we may be doing a 2008 remake of that – except they have a system where a large number of candidates from various parties stand for the office, and if no one gets more than fifty percent of the vote, the top two face off in a run-off election.  That May 6 run-off should be interesting – conservative candidate Nicolas Sarkozy and Socialist Ségolène Royal will go head-to-head.  That’s the election that will provide the French original story for our November 2008 American remake, as everywhere you find people comparing Sarkozy to Rudolph Giuliani and Royal to Hillary Clinton.  That actually works pretty well, and at this time – late April 2007 – it looks as if Giuliani and Clinton could very well be the final candidates on this side of the pond.

 

As for the initial April 22 election in France, see the on-the-scene account from Our Man Paris, Ric Erickson, editor of MetropoleParis, with cool photographs – or go ahead, read the bland account in the New York Times.  There was a record turnout. 

 

The issues seem awfully familiar – a declining economy and immigration problems. And the personalities can be cast with American players.  Sarkozy, in 2005, referred to the rioting young folks in the suburbs of Paris as “scum” – and has pledged to reform labor laws and cut taxes. Giuliani can play that part – notoriously abrasive and the enemy of all unions (the New York firefighters union just hate him for having members arrested when they wanted to continue to try to find the last of the body parts of their buddies and Giuliani wanted his business buddies to start rebuilding things right away so they could all make a lot of money).  He’ll do. Royal vows to “reform France without brutalizing it” – safeguarding the state’s worker protections and social welfare system.  Hillary Clinton wrote that book – It Takes A Village (the tax system should favor people who do social and community good). She can play that part.  Centrist François Bayrou finished third.  John Edwards can play him in the remake.  Jean-Marie Le Pen, the elderly xenophobic far right proto-racist, didn’t fare very well – so Pat Buchanan can play him, a Jeremiah ranting in the streets (or in his case, on MSNBC).

 

Some Americans are watching how this plays out.  Michael Stickings at “The Moderate Voice” wonders how things will line up – “The question now is whether a unified left-center opposition to Sarkozy will emerge out of this round. Le Pen’s supporters presumably will go with Sarkozy. Will Bayrou’s go with Royal?”

 

On the far right, Nidra Poller, isn’t sure they will

 

All the far left whackos threw their support in her favor tonight. Lovely, no? No. Because with support like that, you’d rather have a headache. They are going to bug her from morning to night. She’s not anti-capitalist enough. … She’s not sweet enough to the youths of the banlieue. She’s not mean enough to junior executives. She won’t reduce the 35-hour work week to 32 hours. … So how about getting some help from François Bayrou? There must be quite a few juicy votes to munch in his 19% picnic basket! Fine. Except that when you reach down … to get the Far Left votes, you tip the basket and the Centrist votes go scattering. So you reach down (or over) to gather up the Centrist votes and the Far Left goes ballistic. … So that’s her problem and I don’t think there’s any way she can turn the tables between now and the 6th of May.”

 

That’s the old line about how Hillary will destroy herself – if she goes with the left side of the Democratic Party she loses the moderates, and if she doesn’t, she loses the core left.  She’s toast.  The right smiles.

 

Over at “Captain’s Quarters,” Ed Morrisey says the French are just like us.  Everyone moves to the middle –

 

Of course, what will happen in the runoff is that both candidates will move to the center in an attempt to capture those voters. … With the chronic unemployment and economic ennui in France, a heavy dose of Socialism will not have the attraction it once did. Or, it might. As one of the commenters from France put it on the Times of London website, French voters tend to elect those who will protect them from reality. We’ll see.

 

Yep, they’re just like us. They hate reality, or something.

 

Slate’s wine critic (really), Mike Steinberger captures the weekend’s dilemma

 

A few days before the first round of the French presidential election, I had a conversation about the upcoming vote with Hervé, an acquaintance who works at a Paris wine shop called La Dernière Goutte in the 6th Arrondissement. Hervé, who speaks very idiomatic English, recalled the shock he felt when Jean-Marie Le Pen made the second round of the presidential election five years ago; dreading a repeat performance by the far-right candidate, he said he would be seated in front of the television Sunday night “shitting in my pants.”

 

If true to his word, Hervé wasted a good pair of underwear. Le Pen finished fourth in Sunday’s vote, polling just over 10 percent.

 

Everyone was talking of volatility and unpredictability – and we got pragmatism.

 

And we got odd behavior –

 

Sarkozy, who took an impressive 31 percent of the vote, gave a typically polished performance in an appearance before his supporters. Royal, by contrast, managed to turn what should have been a triumphant night – given concerns that she might not even make the runoff, the fact that she took just over a quarter of the ballots cast was no small victory – into a minor debacle. For one thing, she inexplicably waited two hours before addressing her supporters, a delay that left French TV commentators baffled. Even more baffling, though, was her tense, wooden delivery. There was no conviction in her words, and one had the impression that if a gust of wind blew away her written remarks, sparks would have started shooting out of her head. Her partner, Socialist Party leader François Hollande, was in a TV studio in Paris watching her speech, and he looked distinctly unimpressed, something the network anchor was quick to point out. Throughout the campaign, Royal’s biggest hurdle has been overcoming doubts about her command of details and her fitness to be president. Far from allaying those concerns, her speech Sunday night reinforced them.

 

Well, compared to Bill, Hillary looks wooden, awkward, and blatantly opportunistic.  On the other hand, Giuliani scares people. And so does Sarkozy –

 

From the many conversations I’ve had with people regarding the election (and, no, there wasn’t a cabdriver among them, I’m pleased to report), it is clear that Sarkozy inflames his enemies more than he excites his supporters. I met lots of people who were planning to vote for Sarkozy, but none seemed particularly fond of the man or inspired by him. There’s not a lot that’s likable or inspiring about him. He’s a pugnacious figure who smiles through clenched teeth and who appears to have had his eyes on the Élysée Palace from the time he left the womb. To most of his supporters, it seems, Sarkozy is simply the bitter pill that has to be swallowed if France is to be cured of its malaise.

 

That’s odd – for the evangelicals of this country’s Republican Party, Giuliani is often described as the same sort of bitter pill – they hate that’s okay with gay folks, has supported abortion right, has been married three time and been a jerk in those marriages – but if you want to win you do swallow that bitter pill.

 

And the people who don’t like him? That’s easy –

 

They are terrified of him. They see him as a human battering ram who has little regard for civil liberties, opposing opinions, and other conventions of democratic rule. Sarkozy’s authoritarian streak has earned him comparisons to Rudy Giuliani, and there is something to the analogy (right down to the marital woes that both men have experienced). There may not be enough of an anti-Sarko vote to derail him at this point, but it is probably strong enough to make for a narrow margin of victory on May 6 and to deprive him of a convincing mandate. And if a victorious Sarkozy pursues the draconian reforms he has pledged to institute, he will face a mobilized, energized opposition that could make the next few years hellish for both him and for France.

 

Maybe we just don’t want to remake this particular movie.

 

And after all, we are not like the French. Forget the wine critic and turn to Philippe Marlière, senior lecturer in French and European politics at University College London, He might know a few things, and his point is that the French are not what you think – Do not be fooled by Sarkozy: France’s soul is still leftwing.

 

Writing for his UK audience, here is the key –

 

The Marxist left, commentators argue, has lost its supremacy in French political culture. French society has finally fallen in love with capitalism and craves an injection of reforms (neoliberal reforms, naturally). It may have taken them 28 more years than the British, but in 2007 the French have seen the light. They are ready to turn their back on statist policies and embrace free-market solutions.

 

But the truth is more complicated, just as the depiction of Sarkozy’s march to the Elysée as a Thatcher moment is simplistic. After five years of neoliberal reforms carried out by a rightwing government, France is in fact very much in line with Britain when it comes to flexible hours and low-paid jobs. Between 1997 and 2002, Lionel Jospin’s leftwing government privatised more than all the previous conservative governments. Only the most fervent of free-market propagandists could seriously believe that France is a socialist state.

 

The massive vote against the European constitutional treaty in May 2005 proves that, or so he says.  And so does recent polling –

 

These polls underlined the deep attachment of the French to the values of solidarity and community. Themes that have traditionally been associated with the left – equality, social justice, free secular education, free health services, public services owned and run by the state – still enjoy majority support. The French are hostile to policies proposing the reduction of unemployment benefits or cuts in the number of public-sector workers. Social movements that have fought the neoliberal policies of the past five years are backed by most. If it is true that a majority of the French accept a market economy and free enterprise, then they are more adamant still that the state must play a crucial role as regulator.

 

They are not like us at all – or like what the Republicans say all American are like.  They value community and find all that “rugged individualism” stuff distasteful, at best.  And they like government regulation. How odd.

 

But there is trouble –

 

Ségolène Royal, meanwhile, conducted a lacklustre and centrist campaign that alienated much of her electorate. Instead of coming out in defence of the social state and social justice, she emulated Blairite tactics in an attempt to triangulate Sarkozy’s politics. On law and order (the monitoring of young offenders by the military), nationalism and patriotism (the exaltation of the flag and national anthem), the economy (the dismantling of the 35-hour working week), education (the suggestion that teachers were lazy), she tried – unsuccessfully – to occupy the natural territory of the right. Politically and electorally, the strategy backfired.

 

She really does sound like Hillary Clinton.  That “centrist” stuff is a killer.  Royal demoralized and angered traditional leftwing voters, and at the same time disoriented working-class voters, who were unable to see any difference between the left and the right. Gee, that’s happening with Clinton here now – with her defending her vote for the Iraq war and trying to appear “strong” on defense and all the rest.

 

On the other hand, Royal has not lost her major asset, Sarkozy himself – “Surfing on a Tout Sauf Sarkozy coalition (‘Anybody But Sarkozy’), Royal might just make it.” 

 

Clinton can wait for Giuliani to offend enough people to allow her to win. That’s a gamble, however.  Things are not in your own hands.

 

Other views just reinforce all this. Charles Grant, Sarkozy – the new Napoleon – “Painful though it may be to admit, a Nicolas Sarkozy victory may be the best outcome for France and for Europe.” Bill Emmott, Now for a referendum on Sarkozy – “The question for France is: do you want a bully as a boss?”

 

“Do you want a bully as a boss?” That’s a good tagline for the American remake of the 2007 French movie opening here in 2008 at a theater near you – trailers with clips of Giuliani from his early days as mayor of New York, or later clips. 

 

No wait, that runs the other way.  We made that movie first, and the French may be imitating us now – Sarkozy channeling the Bush stubbornness and the Cheney mean streak.

 

In any event, all this is a boon for American political consultants – free trips to Paris, Lyon (great restaurants), Marseilles (the bouillabaisse!). Since the French are going to go through this all first, someone has to go over there and analyze what’s going on – what works and what doesn’t – then come back and advise Rudy and Hillary.  How do you get that gig?

 

About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
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