France – Sarkozy’s Last Stand
I wrote yesterday about the French Election, and quoted the thoughts from 18 months ago of my garrett-dwelling polemicist friend, Fils De Danton on Nicolas Sarkozy.
Here are his thoughts in the aftermath of the campaign and the presidential debate:
Having watched the campaign, and Sarkozy in particular, I’ve noticed a few obvious things:
- The president’s performance was good, and in my view he won the big debate. What’s interesting is that during the first three years of his term, he appeared to be exactly as you describe him. In the last two years, he turned presidential, and the view is that he worked hard at it, successfully in my view. But the negative perception of the first three years has remained, strong and lasting.
- In many ways, he tried to be a different President in the 5th Republic, and he was. He is no product of the typical French elites (not from the ENA, Science Po or whatever) and he went out of his way to break all rules. He tried to sound like one of the people, thinking that would make him popular, and to be an unusual President, because at bottom, he hates the system he presided over.
- But it didn’t work. It is surprising that he did not proceed more lightly in the matter, but maybe he couldn’t because his personality is just what it is. Even in the campaign he could have said look, I made mistakes, I could not do everything, give me another term. But he never said that. You are right in saying that the French take issue with his style perhaps more than with what he did or attempted to do. But not just that. He is also blamed for not having done what he said he would. Almost everyone in France knows the system should be deeply reformed, and everyone wants that. He had a massive victory in 2007, and his program was admittedly ambitious. But still, he ruined the opportunity and as a result, Hollande will bring the country back full speed to its old evils. Many, including me, will not forgive the Sarkozy for that. At that level, you need to be supremely good at emotional intelligence, and he wasn’t. There were a few people like him in French history before, notably Napoleon III, the Emperor’s nephew, who was never popular and faced very similar failures as Sarkozy.
- But then, the very day after the “big” debate between the two candidates, I watched a 10-minute video of the President in a French radio studio (RTL). He was being asked what his views on the debate were, how he was assessing his performance, and so forth. And there I was watching and listening to a really nice guy, full of restraint, full of humour with journalists he was at war with for 5 years, expressing no bitterness and yet still expressing confidence. A guy you would really enjoy having a drink with, full of intelligence and respect for others. Far from his image of a Hyper-President telling a farmer to simply “f…ck off” a few years ago. Could it be that the pressure was off at last, that revenge was no longer necessary, that he was possibly looking at “another life”, as he put it, should he lose the vote? During his campaign, which was very good in my view, he played the game to the full, pushing unfavourable opinion polls aside, displaying even more positive energy than in 2007. Does he actually think the game is over? I am inclined to think that way. Was he the man he REALLY wanted to be in his 30 years of political life, during which he was the most efficient political “killer” of all? He sounded like a liberated man, and that I must say, took my breath away. But then it may be logical. Finding yourself, whatever you do in life, is no simple affair, and sometimes people take up careers in the belief that this is their meaningful way and then realize there may well be a better, different life after that. It goes the same way with politicians as it goes with many folks in a position of responsibility…
- What is such a great shame is that the clock is likely to be moved further back as the result of his Presidency than before. I persist in thinking he was not up to the job, and yet I strongly believe that a second term would have made him a much better President. It is as if he needed to blow so many fuses for a number of years before he calmed down a little and reconciled the man, the function and the way forward. At least more than in the early years. At this level, there is no room for second best.
But who knows ? Perhaps on Sunday the voters will give him that second chance. I very much doubt it, and I have always doubted it. Playing image games because you wanted something for so long out of revenge on life and love simply cannot propel anyone into the closed club of great leaders. And that is true in business and politics alike…De Gaulle, and to some extent Mitterrand, were not out for revenge. They were convinced they would have a place in history; they were not angry, vengeful men. Which was and always will be the problem with this man. What is likely to happen on Sunday will therefore be plain, human logic, independently of France.
So what is the future for Sarkozy? Perhaps not, as I facetiously suggested yesterday, Libya. Hopefully, as Fils de Danton suggests, he is on the verge of finding peace with himself – something we would all wish for ourselves.