Jean-Yves Camus has a column in the latest Charlie Hebdo (June 3rd) on the trend among far right populist parties in Europe—particularly in the northern countries—to give themselves names that represent the precise opposite of what they stand for, e.g. Sweden Democrats, the Norwegian Progress Party, and Geert Wilders’s Party of Freedom in the Netherlands, to which one may add Christoph Blocher’s Union Démocratique du Centre in Switzerland. The main focus of Camus’s column, however, is the far right party in Finland that has named itself The True Finns (this is the precise translation of its name from Finnish), which is the second largest party in parliament there. So if this party is the “true Finns” tout court, Camus asks, does that make Finns who don’t vote for it not true Finns? And what of Finland’s Swedish minority, not to mention Lapps and naturalized immigrants?
Camus didn’t mention it but he no doubt had in mind Nicolas Sarkozy’s engineering the change in his party’s name from the UMP to “Les Républicains,” which was consecrated in the latter’s “founding congress” last Saturday (perhaps the subject of Camus’s next column). For the Gaullist movement and its successors, this is the tenth time—count ’em, ten—that they’ve changed their name—and with seven different acronyms—since the founding of the RPF in 1947 (since then: UNR, UNR-UDT, UD-Ve, UDR, RPR, UMP). Rebaptizing the RPR in 2002 as the UMP made sense, as the UMP involved the merger of the RPR with other conservative and center-right formations (DL, most of the Nouvelle UDF)—creating a big tent of the right and center—so it was indeed a new party. But there’s nothing new about “Les Républicains”—and the party’s juridical status, as Le Canard Enchaîné (June 3rd) points out, has, apart from the name, not been altered one iota. Legally speaking, it’s simply the UMP with a new name, Sarkozy wanting to cast off the UMP label, identified as it had become with scandals (Bygmallion, etc)—all dating from his presidency, during which nothing happened in his party that he didn’t authorize—and to deprive Marine Le Pen of her cherished sobriquet “UMPS.” A “sham reinvention,” as my blogging confrère Art Goldhammer put it. As for the brazen usurpation of the republican label—cherished on the left, where it’s a fetish word—and with no adjective or qualifier (rassemblement, union, parti, etc)—just “The Republicans,” as if, like The True Finns, we’re the only ones—, this has been denounced by numerous civil society actors and intellos (e.g. here, here, and here), and been the subject of a lawsuit (here and here; though Sarko has won the first round of this, it’s not over). Sarkozy’s response is that, yes, the PS may be republican but it’s socialist first (as for the FN—which, under Marine LP, has been wrapping itself in the republican mantle—they’re nationalists first, so Sarko says; on this at least, he’s not entirely wrong). In the case of the PS, not only has it never said that it was “socialist” before being “republican” but the very idea that it is socialist at all—that this is a label one can affix to François Hollande, Manuel Valls, and Emmanuel Macron, entre autres—would be viewed as a laughable joke by sizable numbers on the left. And as it happens, the cover story of the latest issue (June 4th) of the somewhat left-leaning L’Obs (ex-Le Nouvel Observateur) is entitled “Le PS est-il de droite?” (Objectively speaking, the French Socialist party is no longer socialist by any commonly accepted definition of that term, but that’s another discussion).
An even more laughable joke is that Sarkozy’s party—which is increasingly indistinguishable from the Front National on just about every issue except Europe—can call itself “republican” avant tout, of which more on below. In any case, I, along with everyone else on the left side of the political spectrum, will decline to refer to Sarko’s machine de guerre by the name it has usurped. As Sarkozy refuses an acronym for his renamed party, I will refer to it as LR (I could take a leaf from ex-US Republican Bruce Bartlett—the Reagan and Bush 41 administration policy adviser who, disaffected with the GOP and its extreme right-wing lurch, has labeled it the “wanker party”—and call Sarko’s formation “Les Branleurs,” but will resist the temptation).
Many who have commented on Sarko’s show last Saturday—and on his stump speeches over the past few months more generally—have remarked on his verbal violence, on the virulence of his attacks not only against the government and its policies but the person of François Hollande himself. Even seasoned political analyst Thomas Legrand was taken aback by the tone of Sarkozy’s speech on Saturday, observing that Sarkozy was now becoming a caricature of himself. Journalist and commentator Bruno Roger-Petit, in a column on Sarkozy’s “one-man shows” before the UMP/LR faithful, also noted Sarko’s penchant for showering President Hollande with insults. Calling such comportment “unworthy of Republicans,” Roger-Petit had this to say about Sarkozy’s stump style
La mine tendue. La mâchoire serrée. Le poing brandi comme un marteau. L’œil noir. Quel communicant osera dire à Nicolas Sarkozy qu’une telle posture en meeting, si elle est de nature à rassurer et galvaniser le noyau dur des militants fanatisés, n’est guère de nature à imposer l’image d’un ancien président de la République, empli de sagesse et de sérénité? Pour qui connait les us et coutumes de la cour, la réponse est évidente : aucun.
Some three years ago I called Sarkozy “le voyou de la République.” Needless to say, the man has not changed. Once a voyou, always a voyou.
In his commentary, Roger-Petit also remarked on Sarkozy’s Napoleon Bonaparte wannabe act
Pour l’ancien chef de l’Etat, tout est joué, tout est plié. 2017 sera une épopée à la Napoléon revenant de l’Ile d’Elbe. L’Aigle de la Sarkozie volera de clocher en clocher jusqu’aux tours de Notre-Dame et François Hollande contraint de s’enfuir, en pleine semaine sainte, pour Bruxelles, dans son carrosse Citroën hybride, lourd et pataud, emporté par une irrésistible vague populaire…
Sarkozy’s Bonapartism may be an old story but it nonetheless merits mention, as it so dominates his political persona. Alain Duhamel, who is no gauchiste, thus entitled his column in the June 4th Libération “La République bonapartiste de Nicolas Sarkozy.” Noting Sarkozy’s “personal attacks of extraordinary violence” on François Hollande, Duhamel wrote that the UMP/LR faithful at the congress loved every second of it. They lapped it up. And they’re desperate for an homme providentiel. If Sarkozy can play Bonaparte to the UMP/LR base—whose precise American equivalent is the kind of people who show up at a Ted Cruz or Sarah Palin rally—it’s because that base is Bonapartist. It wants a strongman in charge. Thus Sarkozy’s emphasis on the need to reestablish “authority,” which is one of the pillars of his discourse and what he will propose to the French electorate in the unthinkable event that he’s LR’s candidate in 2017.
As for the other pillars of Sarkozy’s discourse—of what he has to say to the French people these days—one would think that, with unemployment inexorably on the rise and GDP growth near zero, they would be focused on the economy. But, amazingly enough, they’re not. Sarkozy has almost nothing to say about it. For Sarkozy, the primordial issues facing France today are immigration, national identity and, above all, Islam. That Sarkozy is throwing red meat to his hard right base—which is not only not unemployed but does not relate to those who are—and trying to keep up with Marine Le Pen goes without saying. He is also doing something that he does extremely well—which comes naturally to him, and to hard right-wing politicians generally—which is to polarize the electorate, stigmatize a part of the population, and play the politics of resentment (e.g. see these pages from the new book on Sarkozy’s erstwhile Rasputin adviser, Patrick Buisson, whose influence looms large in Sarkozy’s head). Bruno Roger-Petit, in his column on the Challenges website yesterday, asked “why such an obsession with Islam?” on the part of Sarkozy (and the FN). He thus began
Que seraient les droites, LR et FN, Sarkozy et Philippot, Guaino et Le Pen, sans l’Islam? Qu’auraient-elles à dire, et à faire, sans les musulmans, réels ou supposés? Quel projet porteraient-elles si elles ne pouvaient plus brandir sans cesse l’épouvantail de l’époque ? Sans l’Islam, LR et FN seraient deux coquilles vides. Le vide et le silence. Le néant et le néant.
Le néant. Tout à fait. In his conclusion, Roger-Petit delivered the coup de grâce
Par la faute de leur président, “Les Républicains” ont donc une obsession collatérale de l’Islam. Ce n’est pas tant cette religion qui les obsède que l’usage qu’en fait le Front national. Résultat : LR court après le FN de Marine Le Pen et Florian Philippot, mais sans savoir où cela mène, et pire encore, sans se demander si cela vaut la peine de courir. Dès qu’il s’agit d’Islam, de FN, de religion et de laïcité, “Les Républicains” explosent, se ventilent et se dispersent, façon puzzle. En route pour le terminus des prétentieux ?
Indeed. As for what Sarkozy is proposing on the question of “Islam,” who knows? He has no idea where his rhetoric on this is supposed to lead and likely doesn’t care. If it is politically expedient for him to demagogue the Islam non-issue—or any issue or non-issue—in the here and now and point the finger at France’s Muslim population, then he will do that. Period. So yesterday Sarkozy convened an LR “Journée de travail sur la question ‘islam en France ou islam de France’,” but which was closed to the media and at the end of which no communiqué was issued. And which, to their honor, LR’s honest, real republicans—Alain Juppé, Bruno Le Maire, François Fillon—declined to attend, as did just about every Muslim personality who was invited. Seriously, can one imagine, as writer-artist Joann Sfar rhetorically asked Sarkozy hitman Geoffroy Didier on BFM the other day, what the reaction would be if LR were to organize a closed-door study session on the Jewish Question in France? We would, at the very least, not consider LR to be “républicain.” Given its present obsession with Islam, it stands to reason that LR, today, cannot be considered republican. Point à la ligne.
Returning to Sarkozy’s penchant for verbal violence and trash talking everyone but his sycophants—and even then—François Hollande has hardly been the only target of his acid tongue these days. As the latest Canard Enchaîné reports, Sarkozy, in speaking about François Bayrou in a discussion with UDI centrists, said that “I’m going to whack that stutterer” (le bègue, je vais le crever; Bayrou apparently had a stuttering problem in his youth, long overcome). Classy guy, that Sarko (Bayrou’s properly ironic response on France Inter Wednesday morning: “C’est une remarque distinguée. Avec des déclarations comme ça, voici qui élève le niveau de la politique française…”). On the same page of Le Canard (p. 2) is an account of the informal “debriefing” Sarkozy gave to journalists at LR HQ on Monday, in which he knifed in the back his LR rivals—Juppé, Le Maire, Fillon—but also party nº2 Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet—who was put there by Sarko, to give LR a moderate, big tent facade—for her backhanded criticism of his demagoguery on Islam and her generally non-reactionary tone, that was so driving Sarkozy up the tree that he was getting ready to eject her from the party leadership, but then desisted when his pollster Pierre Giacometti—who was the genius behind the “Les Républicains” label, as we have learned—told him that that would not be a good idea at all. So NKM is safe for the time being, though she has made it pretty clear that she’s not going to toe Sarko’s Buisson line.
What all this confirms, and for the umpteenth time, is that Nicolas Sarkozy is the worst person in the top tier of the French political class. Period. I have already asserted this on several occasions (e.g. here, here, and here; if anyone has somehow missed my 2012 election eve treatise on Sarkozy, go here), though qualified it by not including Marine Le Pen in that tier. But now I will categorically state that Sarkozy is worse than Marine. At least with Marine, you know what you’re getting. There is some consistency in her positions. MLP has core principles and values, however odious they may be. Sarkozy has no core principles or values; he believes in nothing but his own personal ambition and vanquishing anyone and everyone who gets in his way. That he could find himself back at the helm of France’s largest political party—after losing re-election—and preparing to take back the presidency speaks not only to the deliquescence of the French right but also to the political and moral depravity of the UMP/LR militant base that has made this happen.
But as I have been insisting since the day Sarkozy made his ambitions for 2017 known, he won’t make it. Alain Juppé will beat him in the 2016 primary. The French people in their great majority—72% in a poll last week (and 31% of UMP/LR sympathizers)—don’t want Sarkozy to even be a candidate in 2017, let alone the next President of the Republic. At this point I will even bet that Juppé beats Sarkozy (a bottle of halfway decent wine, of my choice; maximum three bets).
One final thing, on which I have seen no commentary. Sarkozy’s congress last Saturday was reported by most of the media as having taken place at “la Porte de la Villette,” which is a geographical location (and metro station). But the LR’s “founding congress” was, in point of fact, held at an exposition and meeting hall near the Porte de la Villette—built by a private company and that opened last year—called the Paris Event Center. Not Le Centre Événementiel de Paris but Paris Event Center. In English, and with “center” spelled à l’américaine, not the EU-standard, British way (centre). France Inter anchorperson Patrick Cohen thus pronounced it, on the Monday morning news, “Ze Pareese Ivente Centaire.” I find this amazing. How was this allowed to happen? How could the public authorities approve such a center in the city of Paris carrying a non-French name and for no legitimate reason? Whatever happened to the Loi Toubon, la défense de la langue française et de la francophonie, Article 2 of the Constitution de la République française, et j’en passe?! So, in opening LR’s congress, did they say “Soyez le bienvenu au Pareese Ivente Centaire!”?? Did the Buissoniste “Républicains” present not have a problem with their party holding a “founding congress” in an arena with an Anglo-Saxon name? Même moi je suis choqué. La France m’inquiète, honnêtement…
UPDATE: I linked above to two smart columns by Challenges columnist Bruno Roger-Petit. I now see, however, that he had a column yesterday (June 5th) in which he all but said that Sarkozy is a shoo-in in the LR primary, that it’s a foregone conclusion he’ll win it, it’s in the bag, and that Alain Juppé
seul aujourd’hui au sein de la droite à pouvoir faire barrage à la réélection de Nicolas Sarkozy en 2017, ne parvient toujours pas à convaincre de sa capacité à éveiller un imaginaire susceptible d’ébranler les hordes de militants et sympathisants de LR prêts à confier, encore et encore, le destin de leur camp à Nicolas Sarkozy. Quant aux autres, les Le Maire, NKM, Bertrand ou Fillon, ils sont d’ores et déjà les idiots utiles de la primaire LR, les rasoirs dont Nicolas Sarkozy usera pour faire manger la laine du pauvre mouton juppéiste.
Ah bon. In his column, Roger-Petit links to the latest CSA-Les Echos-Radio Classique baromètre (released June 5th) but whose numbers he manifestly did not analyse. What the CSA poll shows is that Alain Juppé remains the most popular politician in France—and by far—with a 57-39 positive-negative image. As for Nicolas Sarkozy, he is at 35-64. These numbers are about the same as in other polls taken over the months, i.e. they’re not outliers. What is interesting, however, is the breakdown of the numbers by partisan affiliation. It is being said, particularly by Sarkozyistes, that Juppé’s higher popularity is coming from voters on the left but that Sarko remains the champion of the right—and it is rightist voters who will decide the nominee in the LR primary. Now it is indeed the case that those on the left have a rather higher opinion of Juppé than they do of Sarkozy: 54-42 for Juppé (and with PS sympathizers at 67-30), according to the CSA poll, with Sarkozy at 16-83. But what is interesting is the numbers on the right: for the “droite” as a whole, Juppé is at 73-24 and Sarkozy 64-34, i.e. Juppé beats Sarko even in their broad camp. As for UMP/LR sympathizers, their numbers are identical: Juppé is at 73-24 and Sarkozy 73-25. Where Juppé massacres Sarkozy is among UDI and MoDem sympathizers—who will be voting in the primary: 85-15 and 76-24 for Juppé vs. 14-86 and 30-70 for Sarkozy. Juppé is more popular than Sarkozy even among FN sympathizers: 46-51 vs. 34-65. Conclusion: If these poll numbers hold steady between now and the LR primary—and, barring a game-changer in Sarkozy’s favor (or in Juppé’s disfavor), there is no reason to believe that they won’t—and some 3 to 4 million voters participate in the primary—which, in view of the 2.8 million who turned out for the 2011 PS primary’s 2nd ballot, is likely—then Alain Juppé will beat Nicolas Sarkozy. Hands down. It’s as simple as that.
Oh yes, for those who missed it, the Odoxa-Le Parisien poll two weeks ago had Juppé beating Sarkozy 55-45 in the 2nd round of the primary.
À mon avis, M. Roger-Petit devrait revoir sa copie…