Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Sarko in the US: boffo

French presidential candidate and Interior Minister Nicholas Sarkozy is touring parts of the US. As the most media savvy of French politicians, he knows how to keep his mug in front of the cameras and get quoted back home. An article in the IHT discusses Sarko's affinity for the US and the general manuevering in French political circles.

Here are excerpts from a NYT piece by one of my favorite columnists ($):

A restless politician came to town for the 9/11 anniversary. The man, a strong supporter of Israel, a firm believer in the vitality of the American economy, a straight-talker who sometimes misspeaks, thanked New York firefighters, handed out medals, attended a religious ceremony and moved briskly through crowds.

President George W. Bush? Nope, Nicolas Sarkozy, the French interior minister, leader of the center-right Union for a Popular Movement party, and the guy who wants to shake up Europe's most conservative country, France, by becoming president in next year's election. Shake it up with a dose of Americanism. As he put it to the crowd at the French Consulate on Fifth Avenue, in advising them to pass on the merits of the U.S. to compatriots back home: "You could tell them, for example, that when you want to earn more, it's not forbidden to work more!"

You've got to hand it to Sarko, he has chutzpah, perhaps inherited from his maternal family, assimilated French Jews who converted to Roman Catholicism. Choosing to tread in the footsteps of Bush, the man France loves to hate, on an occasion of solemn American remembrance takes some doing.

But Sarkozy may be onto something. He gets the hypocrisies of French life, where what is outwardly stated may not correspond to what is inwardly believed, and he knows the bottled-up Gallic anger that takes delight in seeing a politician shove the politically correct and stick it to somebody. [...]

Sarkozy was pretty funny here on the subject of that French aversion to American capitalism, noting that his presence in New York had ruffled feathers back home. Why, he mused, given that he wants to slash French unemployment to 5 percent, should he not seek some "inspiration" in a country where the jobless rate is around that level?

Fair question. And, given that he wants a democratic system allowing both "stability and movement," why should he not spend some time in a country that seems to have just that? [...]

Sarko on terrorists is spot on:
"Terrorists," he said here, "are assassins and barbarians, without faith or law," adding that nothing - not misery, not the situation of the Palestinians, nothing - could explain what happened here five years ago. The danger, he added, in starting to try to explain, was that attempted explanations can easily resemble attempted excuses. [....]
He is incredibly quick on his feet, very calculating, and has enormous energy. Should he win France's presidency, he will challenge the status quo like no other politician.