Les Misérables de 2010
As the French return gleefully to the barricades in protest against the raising of the retirement age to 62, a stream of invective falls upon the hapless President Sarkozy. A discussion on the BBC World Service this morning on the French crisis revealed an interesting opinion poll. According to the poll, 60% of the population support the strikes, yet 60% also accept that pension reform, including raising the retirement age, is inevitable. So the BBC commentator suggested that the apparent contradiction was down to a perception in France that the manner in which the legislation is being rammed through by Sarkozy is as much the cause of the strikes as the proposed changes themselves.
Political invective is a grand tradition in France (as of course it is in England). The fiery speeches of Danton, Marat and Robespierre inspired the French Revolution. In more recent times General De Gaulle was an equally fine orator.
A few months ago a French friend of mine happened upon this fine piece of modern day pamphleteering, written under the name of Fils de Danton (Son of Danton). Those of a sensitive disposition should pass quickly across the somewhat earthy language. In his polemic, the writer compares the President with the celebrated 19th century music hall artist, Joseph Pujol, also known as Le Petomane. Pujol was celebrated for his ability to deliver sound impressions through his backside, thanks to a unique physical malformation.
Here’s the piece:
As France celebrated General De Gaulle’s historic call to the French on June 18th, 1940, I could not help wondering how the current President of France would go down in history. The comparison with the great man is not to his advantage, to say the least.
First of all, he is as small, in every respect, as the General was big. Then, his vision of France, its role and influence in the world, is as thin as cigarette paper, apart from taking along the usual bunches of French business leaders on his trips to various regions of the world. And worst of all, his language and attitude as President would make the General turn in his grave. It is worth reflecting on his constant, determined and outstandingly effective degrading and vulgarizing of the presidential function, which in my view will cost him the next election. How would I best describe him at this point? As an anal impressionist, a petomane of modern times whose act, unlike that of the real petomane in days gone by, Joseph Pujol, the celebrated 19th Century impressionist who could fart the Marseillaise, is anything but odourless. In fact, it is shockingly unpleasant, like a bad smell on a warm summer day. And it has done considerable harm to the image of France, internally and externally.
Both seeking to be seen as using the language he assumes is that of the people, and also riding on his boundless, inflated ego, this man, who so desperately and successfully climbed the social ladder, has been using insults and vulgar language on a regular basis. Let me give you a few examples. To a farmer at a show who would not shake hands with him, he said outright “ Just f**k off, you a******e”. Prior to that, when he was minister of the Interior, this petomane of vulgar politics claimed that he would “clean up” suburban areas of “the filth” that lived in there. How lovely. How presidential. How effective in terms of conveying messages that would contribute to addressing and solving the problem. To most people, even to the majority of citizens who well recognize that something must be done to tackle crime issues in some suburban areas, he made only one impression: he is a man of utter contempt. That impression was of course further reinforced by his statement at the show. Then, the anal impressionist turned president organized a few talk shows at which he appeared surrounded by so-called representatives of various French social classes, pretending to listen to their problems and proposing solutions. He convinced no one. In fact, he appeared to behave in a way contrary to his own nature, remaining exceedingly calm when seriously challenged by a trade-unionist. He did not struggle with his answers, but he struggled with his nature. It showed, and he did not turn perception round. In fact, he came across as being even more insulting.
A lot could be said about the man, though, about his determination, his determined progress, his political astuteness, and his outstanding presidential campaign three years ago. One could also forgive him for not having been able to quicken the pace of badly needed reforms, and for having been unlucky to be the man in charge when the global financial crisis erupted, a crisis that he handled better than many of his counterparts, not without using it to his advantage and behaving, yet again, as an anal impressionist on the world scene through a series of more than awkward contradictory statements. None of these considerations will save him. The President forged his own image to his own disadvantage. An image of a man who made the grade, which he said he would use for the common good, but an image systematically defiled and destroyed with his brutal, vulgar, and contemptuous statements. Would we have heard the British Prime minister, the German Chancellor, the Chinese President or the President of the USA come up with the statements mentioned above? Definitely not. Not to mention General De Gaulle, his so-called mentor, with whom he compares in no way whatsoever.
The President most certainly went down the path of losing the next election every time he made those statements, as he was forging an image of an uncaring, vulgar man, just as Marie-Antoinette, Queen of France when the French revolution broke out, did when she said: “if they do not have bread, let them eat brioche”. I do persist. The President is an anal impressionist whose act will soon end. If that happens, he is rumoured to have said privately, he will go away and make money. I am sure that he will. Unless he can’t help it and becomes a boardroom petomane this time round, a temptation that he might not resist. Congratulations, Mr President. Your anal impressions, including your latest political, shameful planting and manipulation of the so-called niqab issue, have further divided the country, significantly helped the French National Front to rise again, insulted the majority of the population, and worst of all further destroyed the credibility of the presidential role at a time when so many needed hope and respect. Do not fear any competitors for your impressions. You brought it to a fine art indeed, and you will be remembered in history for that. And in the meantime, like many, I shall flush the toilet and will never vote again. I have now seen enough anal impressionism from you and your counterparts in the other parties, who will no doubt learn a lot from you.
Ouch! To the barricades, mes braves, it would seem….
I have no opinion on President Sarkozy one way or another, except to note that leaving aside the current brouhahah, he provided additional fuel for Fils De Danton by the Government’s decision to expel a large number of Roma immigrants in apparent defiance of EU law.
Though the writer denies any resemblence between Sarkozy and the great General, a few British and American politicians over the years might have recognized a familar stubbornness in the present incumbent that drove them up the wall when dealing with De Gaulle. Churchill, for example, once referred to him as the “Monster of Hampstead” when he was in exile in London during World War II. I vividly remember visiting France in 1968, when the barricades last went up, hastening the retirement of the General. His unpopularity at that time was comparable with that of Sarkozy today.
If Fils De Danton‘s views are shared by the majority of French men and women today, the President will soon be joining Tony Blair on the lecture circuit. However, if Sarkozy’s reforms fail, where will that leave France? Waiting for an even bigger “rupture” further down the line, I suspect.