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June 5, 2005 - Fallout from the French Kiss of Death

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The news on the French rejecting the EU constitution was covered in last weekend in columns, with photos, from Our Man in Paris, Ric Erickson, editor of MetropoleParis.  You will find the pre-referendum column here and the post-referendum column here.

Late Monday night Ric sent this along from Paris –


In France - radio news says Dominique de Villepin is next prime minister.  He's got to put a crew together; maybe to be announced tomorrow.

I half-heard that Sarkozy will be returning as Minister of Interior - that's what de Villepin was doing.

I don't know - Sarkozy had to leave Finance when he took over as UMP party leader.  He was at his most successful at Interior.  Seems odd that Chirac would want him back there.  People voted against 'liberalism,' and Sarkozy is an extreme proponent - an ultra Thatcherite no less.

I see Sarkozy as another midget Napoleon, popular, clever but flawed.  Sort of an ideal nobody really wants in reality. When his wife was around he called them the 'Dream Team.'  I wonder where she is.  Can he be a 'Dream Team' alone?

Will the French vote for a short president?  Think De Gaulle, Pompidou, Giscard - all tall - and Mitterrand so mysterious his height didn't matter.  Have you noticed that De Villepin is tall?  Too bad he's too poetic for his own good.  De Villepin makes peasants feel uncomfortable.  Sarkozy probably makes them feel like being cunning.

At this point in time it looks like France needs a new idea.  Where it will come from and who will have it is the big unknown today.  All the 'elephants' have been exposed as shoeless.


And as I was scanning that note from Paris the news broke.

De Villepin appointed French PM
BBC News World Service - Tuesday, 31 May, 2005, 15:16 GMT 16:16 UK


Dominique de Villepin has been named as France's new prime minister, following the country's rejection of the EU constitution in Sunday's referendum.

The former interior minister replaces Jean-Pierre Raffarin, who tendered his resignation following the vote.

President Jacques Chirac promised cabinet changes after the referendum, in which almost 55% voted "No".

Correspondents say the result reflects domestic discontent as well as wider anxiety about the European project. …


Well, no kidding.  Chirac had campaigned hard, sort of, for the "Yes" vote, along with government and main opposition parties.  And it seems he made an address Tuesday evening to present a policy for the new team that should be in place until the 2007 election – whoever that team may be.  He hasn’t named anyone else yet.  The BBC notes that reports say Nicolas Sarkozy, the leader of the ruling UMP party, will return to the interior ministry, as Ric says, the post de Villepin had.  Sarkozy may be the new president in 2008 – but as Ric says, de Villepin is taller.  In any event, Opinion polls seem to show that Raffarin himself was one of France's most unpopular prime ministers, and the BBC notes, since the Fifth Republic was set up in 1958.

BBC’s analysis?


Mr de Villepin is best known abroad for expressing France's implacable opposition to the war in Iraq at the United Nations, and is likely to go down well with European allies.

He is also regarded as a consensual politician and is personally loyal to Mr Chirac.

But the BBC's Caroline Wyatt in Paris says that as a career diplomat never elected to public office, he of all candidates most typifies the French elite so roundly rejected by the French people on Sunday.


As Ric on the ground there notes, de Villepin makes peasants feel uncomfortable.

There’s an interesting dynamic here.  This fellow makes the neoconservatives who run our government more than uncomfortable too.  As noted in these pages in June 2003, we know this de Villepin guy writes a lot, a history of Napoleon here, poetry there, and he's a suave devil who dresses well, and he runs marathons and seems to have a sense of humor, and he's awfully articulate in English too.  This really ticks off the folks here who argue fancy words don't matter, because the only thing that matters is what you do.  Folks here don't cotton to glib, fast taking foreign folks.

Is Chirac trying to piss off George Bush?  Is this the French answer to John Bolton?  Talk about contrasts!

And here, in May of 2004, Thomas Frank suggests de Villepin is the perfect foil for Bush – the opposite of everything Bush stands for.

The Elitism Myth
Tom Paine, May 7, 2004

Frank recalls the UN disagreement –


Here he was, a well-dressed and accomplished man, soundly refuting the arguments of the Americans, speaking several different languages, even receiving open applause from the UN representatives of much of the world as he berated the US Secretary of State, who stoically endured the abuse of his social superior, for this obvious error or that.

What the brilliant De Villepin missed utterly was that American conservatives don’t care when their arguments are refuted. The United States is the land of militant symbolism, the nation of images, and in the battle of imagery Bush played De Villepin for a sucker. For Bush the task at hand was obviously not winning over the UN, but rallying domestic support for the war, and in doing so Bush couldn’t have asked for a more convincing populist drama. Saddam Hussein was a monster right out of central casting, and for opposing him the poor unassuming Americans were being castigated by this foppish, over-educated, hair-splitting, tendentious writer of poetry (De Villepin’s dabbling in verse was much reported in the American media). And a Frenchman to boot! The French are always characterized in American popular culture as a nation of snobs: they drink wine, they eat cheese, they’re polite. This man was the hated liberal elite in the flesh: all that was missing was the revelation that he wore perfume or carried a handbag.

In his erudite, principled opposition, De Villepin thus sold the war to Americans far more effectively than did Bush himself. Indeed, had the foreign secretary of any other nation led the fight against the United States, the war might not have happened. If Bush is really smart, he’ll engineer a repeat confrontation with De Villepin just before the elections.


Bush didn’t engineer a repeat confrontation with de Villepin, but that would have been classic.

The dynamic?  Dominique de Villepin really is the hated liberal elite in the flesh – a living, breathing challenge to the inarticulate, anti-intellectual proud-of-just-scraping-by-with-a-low-C-average-in-college, I-don’t-read-nothin’ Bush crowd.  That Bush stands behind the angry, abusive, simple-minded John Bolton as the best thing for the UN (he’ll slap them around) – and Chriac stands behind Dominique de Villepin – says it all.

As Ric implies, the French equivalent of our Bush-loving NASCAR fans feel the same way about this de Villepin fellow.

Maybe David Brooks was on to something with his column last weekend in the New York Times - Karl's New Manifesto (May 29, 2005) – a riff on what Karl Marx might write today –


The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggle. Freeman and slave, lord and serf, capitalist and proletariat, in a word oppressor and oppressed, stand in opposition to each other and carry on a constant fight. In the information age, in which knowledge is power and money, the class struggle is fought between the educated elite and the undereducated masses.

… The educated class reaps the benefits of the modern economy - seizing for itself most of the income gains of the past decades - and then ruthlessly exploits its position to ensure the continued dominance of its class.

The educated class has torn away from the family its sentimental veil and reduced it to a mere factory for the production of little meritocrats. Members of the educated elites are more and more likely to marry each other, which the experts call assortative mating, but which is really a ceaseless effort to refortify class solidarity and magnify social isolation. Children are turned into workaholic knowledge workers - trained, tutored, tested and prepped to strengthen class dominance.

… Undereducated workers of the world, unite! Let the ruling educated class tremble! You have nothing to lose but your chains. You have a world to win!


Amusing, but here we are today.  Bush sends Bolton to the UN and Chirac elevates de Villepin to Prime Minister.

It begins.  Or continues.


A late afternoon clarification from Ric in Paris that day –


The French equivalent of our Bush-loving NASCAR fans feel the same way about this de Villepin fellow?  Not exactly.

I have been sloppy.  In France the term 'liberal' means, roughly, rabid capitalist, in a Thatcherite context.  The French have just voted against the danger of 'liberal' capitalism that they think was posed by the European Constitution.

Both Jacques Chirac and Dominique de Villepin are conservatives politically.  So is Nicolas Sarkozy, but he preaches even more 'liberal' economics.  It's astonishing how popular Sarkozy seems to be while he champions what so many French seem to be against - the dismantling of the socialist state.

As good conservatives Chirac and de Villepin are naturally at odds with socialism, but the reality of France dictates that they approach it with kid gloves.  The last few years of conservative rule's 'reform' attempts has produced only shipwrecks, the greatest being on Monday night.

Sarkozy, the conservative, is the true 'liberal' Thatcherite.

How realistic Chirac can be, how realistic de Villepin wants to get, is unknown.  By 'realistic,' read able to compromise with France's social reality.  How or if capitalism fits into this is secondary.

None of these three are 'Liberal' in any philosophic sense.  But all three are pragmatic.  You have to be to get along with the French.  If you listen to Sarkozy, if Sarkozy believes what he says; he will never be elected president of France.  If he changes his spots, changes his tune... all should beware.

And Brooks - '... Undereducated workers of the world, unite! Let the ruling educated class tremble! You have nothing to lose but your chains. You have a world to win!'

In France, in Europe, the under-educated are likely a minority.  Not even peasant farmers are under-educated.

Instead of under-educated we have under-employed or unemployed.  But for random chance it could happen to you.




A note on orthography as the BBC clarifies matters (Published: 2005/06/01 18:30:14 GMT)


What do you call him? His full name, Dominique Marie Francois Rene Galouzeau de Villepin, is out.

So which short version is correct: Mr Villepin or Mr de Villepin? Should the "De" be capitalised or not?

It is not just foreign media that seems confused. French newspapers are too.

Le Monde - often called the "newspaper of reference" - mostly refers to Mr de Villepin, but is not consistent.

The Communist L'Humanite - perhaps out of disdain for the aristocratic "de" - tends to plump for Mr Villepin.

Official fog

Can government websites help?

A May 2002 press release from the foreign ministry - which he headed at the time - proclaimed that "Mr de Villepin [had] reviewed bilateral relations" with Morocco.

But two months later, the ministry referred to a "working dinner between Mr Villepin and his German counterpart".

There is no point reaching for the Larousse encyclopaedia to shed light on the issue - three years in government have not been enough to give the man an entry.

Readers may be tempted to reach for a bottle of rouge instead. But help is at hand.

"It is Dominique de Villepin. And if you use an honorific, like Monsieur, you keep the particle," Blanche de Kersaint of the Bottin Mondain - France's high-society directory - told the BBC News website.

What if you lose the Monsieur? Did "de Villepin" shake the president's hand, or was it plain "Villepin"?

"Villepin did. In that case the particle goes."

The rule is this - a "de" attached to a single-syllable name stays no matter what. Anything longer, and removal of the honorific means removal of the "de".

So you read de Gaulle's books, but you peruse Tocqueville works - and Villepin's, as the minister is also an author.

And "de", by the way, is NEVER capitalised.


Can we all remember the rules?


Received from Ric in Paris, Wednesday, June 01, 2005, 3:45 PM Pacific Time –


PARIS - As I have already explained - more than once damn it - nobody in tomorrow's new government in France is a Liberal, but some government ministers may have 'liberal' tendencies, especially if they think like Mrs. Thatcher.  Alles klaro?

Today's news concerns the top personalities of the new government.

Apparently there is no doubt that Dominique de Villepin will be Chirac's new prime minister.  However a radio report did say that Nicolas Sarkozy will also be a top minister.  To be perfectly exact the radio said he will be like a 'prime minister,' or perhaps a 'prime-minister-bis.'

If this seems a bit novel just remember that France is an exceptional country and if it wants to introduce the notion of semi-prime ministers or co-prime ministers, or - can I say it? - dual prime ministers! - well, France has a perfect right to lead the world with modern political concepts.

Even more amazing is that fact that the two co-prime ministers detest each other, almost with passion - especially on the part of de Villepin, who, although seemingly noble, is a passionate noble.  Sarkozy, without any sign of any 'de,' is too short to be noble, so his hate is merely burning, like a Polish fire hydrant.

The question of the hour is why has Jacques done this to us?

Besides voting against his beloved Constitution, what have we ever done to deserve this?

Maybe I'm too hasty.  Since little Nicolas got his wish, namely that after Monday, regardless, trotz nein - he is going to run for president of France for the next 22 months nonstop.  A short guy on a long marathon like this could cause motion sickness.

There he'll be, visiting cop shops all over France, taking his bodyguards to Saint-Denis, showing up in Corsica the day after bombs go off - giving endless unasked-for advice to other ministers' customers - for 22 flaming months!

Little Nicolas has been taking speech lessons too.  The closer he gets to the presidency the shorter his sentences get.  These days he talks in bursts of seven words or less.  Rata-tat-tat-tat-period.  Rata-tat-tat tat-period.  He can pause anywhere and often for the applause, and does.  When there's only 10 months to go he'll be down to rata-tat-period.

Villepin is quick.  He'll let Nicolas rattle on, rata-tat-tat-period-etc., until he's nearly out of breath and then he'll poke a stick into the spokes - Nicolas rides bikes if journalists are around - and suavely say something cunning, clever - oh - how the knife will ease in, how deftly he will slip it in, with a beat to spare before Nicolas can react.

And each time he does it to poor little Nicolas the hoi polli will put another black mark on the blackboard opposite de Villepin's name, this asparagus topped with wavy hair going silver over the forever tan.  Maybe I was too hasty; maybe it'll be fun.

This morning while I was trying to restart my head after the weekend it occurred to me that the real story isn't going to be this sitcom with canned laughter featuring major actors like Chirac, de Villepin and Sarkozy.  The real drama is going to be about the total destruction of the Socialist Party and its resurrection, its rise from the gray ashes of defeat and stupidity and aimless wandering in the lumpy swamps.

But as exciting as this epic will likely be, we have to wait until a new cast of characters steps on to the stage.  The ones they have now need to sort themselves out and maybe look around in their closet and see if there's any spare overlooked talent available.  Without fresh blood they aren't going anywhere.

I doubt if it matters.  Nobody will notice the pain of the Socialists because we'll all be watching the center-stage Sarkozy-de Villepin show.  Thrust, stab, trip, poke in the eye, let the air out of tires, nasty rhymes, lies, innuendo, all flavored French, all tastily nasty, nasty, nasty.  It should be good.  Maybe a bit overlong though.


Most curious.




Ric’s rendering of Dominique de Villepin and Nicolas Sarkozy –

The new French rivals....



Ric says the real drama is going to be about the total destruction of the Socialist Party and its resurrection, its rise from the gray ashes of defeat and stupidity and aimless wandering in the lumpy swamps.


French Socialists oust 'No' camp

BBC World Service - Saturday, 4 June, 2005, 15:42 GMT 16:42 UK


The deputy leader of France's Socialist Party, Laurent Fabius, has been sacked after he broke ranks with the party and campaigned against the EU constitution.


France voted "No" to the constitution in a referendum last weekend, putting its future in doubt.


The main opposition Socialists voted on Saturday to oust former Prime Minister Mr Fabius from the party leadership.


Members also voted out Mr Fabius' supporters, electing a "homogeneous" leadership committee, a spokesman said.


At the instigation of Socialist leader Francois Hollande, the party voted for a new list of leaders that excluded Mr Fabius and several allies.


The decision came at a tense meeting in Paris, during which Mr Fabius and Mr Hollande were jeered by each other's supporters. …


Right on schedule!


Copyright 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006 - Alan M. Pavlik
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