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Pepe Escobar on France’s “bling bling” President Nicolas Sarkozy

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PEPE ESCOBAR, THE REAL NEWS ANALYST: Exhibitionist, unpredictable, vain, erratic, with short-attention span and craving celebrity, Sarkozy in fact may be the ultimate 21st century total politician. The 2008 US presidential election already happened, sort of, where in France in 2007, Barack Obama in France was a woman, Ségolène Royal. She was young, she didn’t have a lot of experience, and she was running a campaign with basic mottos: hope and change. Hillary Clinton was Dominique Strauss-Kahn. Very well connected, old-school Socialist Party, former minister, but he was basically old school. So Ségolène got the nomination by the Socialist Party to fight against the right. The problem is afterwards they made a crucial strategic mistake. The Socialist Party did not really rally behind Ségolène. She was always complaining while she was campaigning [that] she was running against her own party. So what happened on the other side? On the right? Nikolas Sarkozy, he was also young. He had a lot of experience. He had been the top cop of France, among other important posts. He rallied the right early on. Okay, he was young and extremely ambitious. And basically he has his own court, what they called the Sarkozisme—Sarcozism—his own current, his own cosmology, vision of the world. And they all rallied behind him. He managed to convince the other bigwigs of the right to rally behind him, even people who were in favor of Jacques Chirac, the former French president. He managed to get most of the votes of the extreme right, the National Front, I would say, fascistic organization conducted by Jean-Marie Le Pen. And he won the election hands down, handsomely. But afterward what happened? All, it all went downhill. Sarcozy monopolized the news cycle completely in France in the summer of 2007, after he was elected. He rented a yacht from one of his millionaire friends. The French hated it, because unemployment and a stringent [inaudible] of living is in the minds of all Frenchmen. And everybody started talking about the “bling bling” presidency, yes, like he was a sort of vertically challenged mix of a Napoleon with Puff Daddy, especially the gold chain equivalent, which in Sarkozy’s case are some Prada suits and especially his Breitling watch, which is his most prized possession. One hundred and fifty calls, 180 calls a day on his cell phone at least. He’s on TV everywhere. He co-opted all the TV networks, the French press, including Le Monde, Libération, Le Figaro. Even intellectuals, leftist French intellectuals start to migrate to the Sarkozy camp because, well, they were lured to get a post or a very, very important job in government. He went back to the US for the UN Assembly in New York, where he coined what may be the definitive neocon motto: the Iranian bomb or the bombing of Iran. He was sounding like John McCain at the time. He still does, because he views Iran, as an absolute threat and Ahmadinejad as a sort of new Hitler, just like the neocons in the US. When he start really to govern, he didn’t deliver. Especially he didn’t deliver in terms of alleviating unemployment, the number one preoccupation of Frenchmen and Frenchwomen of all ages. And he couldn’t tackle the unions. The unions in France are extremely power. You cannot do a Margaret Thatcher on them. You have to sit down and talk to them. They can paralyze the country at the drop of a hat, and that’s exactly what they did in the fall of 2007. So people were starting to look at Sarkozy for what he is: all gloss, no substance, or in a famous Hillary Clinton phrase, all hat and no cattle, borrowing a Texas motto. The thing is, in France, all Chanel and no clothes, in fact, was visible because Sarkozy, instead of governing, his private life became the number one talking point all over France. You cannot run a government when you are exposed all the time and your private life is exposed all the time. And that’s exactly what happened with the Cécilia soap opera. Cécilia Sarkozy, former Schiaparelli model, a very well-articulated woman, thinks by herself, would be like a French equivalent of an American feminist. In the beginning everybody was speculating she should have a role in government, which is something that most first ladies in France never have. They were always very discreet. The thing is, after awhile they divorced. They had a very stormy relationship beforehand. She had an affair before he was campaigning. So after they divorced, everybody was, “Okay, so what is he going to be up to next?” That was what everybody was saying in every French café. So he came up with something to upstage the Cécilia soap opera: he got a model-cum-singer, very glamorous and a talented brunette, Carla Bruni. He took her on a trip to Luxor and then Petra in Egypt [sic], followed by 400 paparazzi. Every French woman can follow the story live, practically, Sarkozy’s affairs, and the rest of Europe for that matter. So they finally got married. During all this time, his ratings went downhill big, big time. In summer of 2007 he had, like, 80 percent approval. Now he’s at 39 approval and going down fast. And the chances that he’s going to reach George W. Bush’s approval levels are extremely high because of two things. Bush is trying to convince Sarkozy to send French soldiers to die in Afghanistan in the NATO war. This is something that will not go down in France with maybe 90 percent of the population, if he accepts Bush’s intimations or offers. And the second thing is he is ramming through Parliament what the French massively voted against in 2005, that was the referendum on the proposed European constitution. Most of the French voted no to the new European constitution. They voted no for two reasons. They said it would risk more unemployment in France and the rest of Europe as well, because basically this constitution is too pro-multinational companies and too neoliberal. To try to define the phenomenon, the very Cartesian France invented the term peopolisation—a rough translation to English would be people-ization. This means politics as just a branch of trashy entertainment. That’s what Sarkozy does best. Maybe he is in the wrong business. Maybe instead of being a politician he should be in show business. As a matter of fact, he already is.


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Pepe Escobar, born in Brazil is the roving correspondent for Asia Times and an analyst for The Real News Network. He's been a foreign correspondent since 1985, based in London, Milan, Los Angeles, Paris, Singapore, and Bangkok. Since the late 1990s, he has specialized in covering the arc from the Middle East to Central Asia, including the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. He has made frequent visits to Iran and is the author of Globalistan and also Red Zone Blues: A Snapshot of Baghdad During the Surge both published by Nimble Books in 2007.