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NICOLAS SARKOZY'S BIG MOUTH: NEITHER ASSET NOR LIABILITY, IT IS A WAY OF LIFE

While Nicolas Sarkozy's lack of propriety and diplomatic nuance will likely cast him in the role of the "European Bush" - despised by his international counterparts and ridiculed by media - he will undoubtedly win re-election. The French are funny that way. Paris BFM TV journalist Harold Hyman comments.

The Editors

By Harold Hyman

PARIS, 22 APRIL 2009 - The various piques administered by the mercurial French President against his foreign counterparts has pundits and opponents wondering if he is a respectable leader.

Dog turned wolf

He is not bothered, however, by this noise. It is because he thrives on noise, on the din of duels by media. He was long considered a faithful party barking dog, defending anything and everything his party would do. Now he is showing that he is a wolf. He showed it first by turning on Jacques Chirac in 1995, making the mistake of backing a challenger.

This pushed Sarkozy into a long political desert, more cruel than anything Barack Obama could imagine. For months, in the late 90s, he was invisible, and obviously forgotten by any foreign leader. His long return to the fore was a masterpiece of perseverance, calculation, and political strategy.

No ordinary bourgeois

He usually talks policy in terms laymen can understand in a quick glance at the TV. He has advisors to give him simple guidance, much as Ronald Reagan did. He even allows himself to be progressive at times, as at heart he is not defending a class privilege or even a social stereotype. He is not bourgeois in the French sense, or at least not enough. Ordinary bourgeois types do not brag and put down their peers.

Feeling good

In short, all the ironic things Nicolas Sarkozy said about Angela Merkel, José Luís Zapatero, José Manuel Barroso, or Barack Obama, are in keeping with his style. Why did he blurt them out in front of the parliamentarians? Because it made him feel good about his power in the world. He showed off in front of this group, reminding them how inept they might be in world affairs. He allowed them to repeat what he said, which allowed them to betray their pettiness. After all, if they loved their country so much, they would not wish to harm it by relating such stories.

The concerned parties will not remonstrate, they have better things to do. But the tattle-tales will need to wonder, perhaps not today but further down the road, why Nicolas Sarkozy has an aptitude for solving international dilemmas, whereas they do not. They are mostly good at tattle-taling.

A detestable emotivity, but easy to understand

It is the detestable nature of the man which is his force: all affect, all emotion, all concentration. He is not a slick communicator as is Barack Obama; he is a touchy, temperamental, hot blooded boxer. He knows of no equivalent power to his own. He only admires those with as much talent, as much gumption, as much drive. He had no such people for his little verbal excess. And it is the measure of the hollowness of the opposition, and even of the press, that it seeks these snippets to make the President look bad. The voter may have hardly noticed. Saying "Silvio Berlusconi is a winner because he wins elections", or Obama is perfect but does not know how to run a government department, or Merkel did not know how bad her country's economy was doing... all these things are intelligible to everyman.

Perhaps Sarkozy went too far recently - according to a weekly newspaper - when he pretended to have pushed George Bush into launching the first G20 meeting to solve the financial crisis. The White House had the French ambassador listen to taped conversations between George Bush and Nicolas Sarkozy, in which it was apparently plain that Sarkozy did not galvanize Bush into action.

Elections above all else

But that was with Bush. It is forgotten. Nicolas Sarkozy will do anything he wants as long as he does not harm his election prospects. The European Parliamentary elections take place on the 4th and 7th of June of this year: these noises from Sarkozy will cause his opponents to waste time, will cause papers to be printed, and will not harm his election prospects. Strangely, the French people seem to have understood the Sarkozy way of life. Harsh, emotional, nasty, and above all real. Add a few concrete results, and you have a president who can lead the hordes to reelection.

Harold Hyman is a Franco-American journalist, based in Paris, specializing in foreign affairs and cultural diplomacy. He works for BFM TV. The opinions expressed in this comment are his own.

Related External Links

AFP: Sarkozy under fire over 'criticism' of world leaders

The New York Times: 3 Courses With Sarkozy, Skewered Leaders on Side

Times of London: Why Sarkozy can't cope with Obama

The New York Times Op-Ed Contributor: Liberty, Equality, Envy

The Guardian: Why a 17th-century novel is a hot political issue in France

Related Culturekiosque Archives

Pardon My French: Bloggers Debate France's Presidential Candidates

Title image: President Nicolas Sarkozy at the G-20 Summit
Photo courtesy of G-20 Summit



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