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Sarkozy feeling increasingly nervous, turns to Blair for advice (and other thoughts)***

by Ben P Thu Jun 29th, 2006 at 03:52:49 AM EST

From Sunday's Guardian/Observer: Sarkozy Seeks Help From Blair It appears that Sarko is feeling the heat from Sego, and attempting to turn to advice from Blair's experience about how to improve his image. Apparently, a new sondage from TNS-Sofres shows some rather troubling information for Sarko, showing that Sarko worries 55% of French voters ("il vous inquiete") while reassuring only 36% ("il vous rassure"). More below:

***From the front page ~ whataboutbob


Now I don't know a heck of a lot about French politics. A bit, not a heck of a lot. But I DO know a lot about American politics. And one very important thing to keep in mind when reading polls is to look at polling on personal characteristics - ask good political strategists and pollsters and they will tell you that they are leading indicators of vote getting potential. The 2004 US presidential is a classic example of this. I don't thave the time or inclination right now to dig up the polling data from October and September 2004, but I can tell you why John Kerry lost. Basically, Bush was ripe to be defeated. Historically, his popularity numbers were (at the time - now they are considerably worse) right on the cusp of unsuccessful incumbents and in the ball park of people like Gerald Ford (who ultimately lost to Jimmy Carter in 1976, despite having reasonable approval ratings, near 50% - just like Bush in the fall of 2004). Of course, the context in which the 2004 and 1976 transpired were very different. Basically, Bush's campaign succeeded in making enough people who didn't like Bush very much to distrust John Kerry more, particularly in a very visceral and subconscious way about "toughness" and "decisiveness." This key 3% or so didn't like the Iraq War - but Bush had raised strong doubts about Kerry in the ways I suggest - swung to Bush perhaps in the voting booth. The point of all this is is that polling well before the election indicated these doubts about John Kerry even when the "top line" figure indicating voter preference between the two candidates didn't show it - a figure particularly important amongst undecided voters whose voices are lost in "horse race" polls. As such, finally returning to France, Sarkozy has good reason to be uneasy when he sees numbers like the ones I reference above.

I must say that I am partially baffled by the Sarko phenomenon. Well, in some ways I'm not. I've seen him speak on a number of occassions, in differnet contexts (not in person, of ccourse!) and he obviously offers a fair bit more than the current government or, for that matter, the various socialist pretenders (Lang, Fabious, Jospin, blah) in portraying a sense of competence, leadership capability, and the ability "to get things done." I understand how the appeals to law and order and some of his thinking on immigration plays well.

What I don't understand is how he is going to position himself on the central economic questions. Is he a neo-liberal? A populist? A faux-liberal Gaullist? A Christian Democrat in neo-liberal clothing (like Merkel)? My sense of him - without following things well - is that he is something of a neo-liberal. But neo-liberalism is not at all popular in France. I mean, a tame (if probably misguided) attempt to reform the employment code, was stopped by student protests and opposed by 70% of the population. And this was from arch-Gaullist De Villepin! What do voters really expect Sarkozy is going to do! (see this article, for instance) If something as tame as the CPE pisses people off so much, why the appeal of Sarko? Hence, my incomprehension.

I would like to hear more from other more knowledgable observers on the issue. Is it that Sarko is not clearly defined on the issue and is perhaps thought of differently? That he had no serious opposition for the Presidentielle until Royal came on the scene, and thus voters were willing to go for anything that looked like it could at least achieve SOMETHING (in contrast to the current Chirac/DeVillepin debacle)? Is his support in the polls simply tribalism on the French "right" (which is actually quite moderate by US standards - although its somehting of an apples and oranges comparison)? And if he does become clearly defined as "liberal" (in the French sense), how will that affect his chances?

Furthermore, how do you think the 2007 Pres. will play out? And what is wrong with Sego? She strikes me as the only hope the Socialists have. The rest of the Party's leadership is moribund, IMO. But Sego actually appears a more effective candidate than Sarko. Is she too "conservative"? For God's sake. Anyway, I'd love (and greatly appreciate) further insight from more knowledgable posters.

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It's entirely possible that the moribund PS will sabotage Sego.

A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Sun Jun 25th, 2006 at 04:09:11 AM EST
I doubt that will happen, the other elephants have been sabotaging themselves quite successfully I'd say...

And none of them currently stands a chance against Segolene Royal for the primary vote according to informal internal polls.

In my PS section I've been surprised at how much militants wants to win the election and are leaning to select the candidate with the most chance against their "natural" preference.

by Laurent GUERBY on Sun Jun 25th, 2006 at 10:49:55 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Sarko is sounding to me like a "compassionate neo-liberal," I know he's got Alain Madelin on board and it sounds like Alain Madelin has his ear. Wouldn't doubt the the former Finance Minister gets his old portfolio back in a new majority for Sarko, this time for longer than the like six months he got with Chirac/Juppe. Problem is when presented the real neo-liberal deal (Madelin) France rejects it (Madelin gets maybe 3% of votes when he runs himself). No doubt both pols worry many French voters deeply, liberalism is very much a minority position in France.

Royal otoh will say re-assuring things, talk somewhat vaguely about some of the main issues of the day in a way which indicates she's aware of the importance and content of the issue, but not so much her detailed plan for addressing it. When you see her talk details it will be an issue where there's a general consensus already in France that a problem exists and a general approach to that problem is agreed upon more or less (I'd put energy policy and maybe security in that bucket). She'll stick to vague generalities about some of the more controversial things, like 35 weeks and Europe, and to some she will sound sometimes a bit like her adversaries. Some time though she speaks code to lefties so we know she's one of us, like when she said the other day she was "not just a lefty but also a socialist".

She's going to crush Sarko.

by redstar on Sun Jun 25th, 2006 at 08:18:24 AM EST
The big thing this summer will be expulsion of "illegal" families with children formerly in school. This might be a turning point for popularity.
by Laurent GUERBY on Sun Jun 25th, 2006 at 10:51:33 AM EST
[ Parent ]
BTW, do you have a reference for the connection with Alain Madelin?
by Laurent GUERBY on Mon Jun 26th, 2006 at 03:59:11 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Only circumstantial. It is well known that Madelin backs Sarkozy:
http://www.humanite.presse.fr/popup_print.php3?id_article=449649

and if memory serves, they worked together in '04 for the European legislatives.

As for whether Madelin has Sarko's specific ear? No, I don't have anything but a hunch. But I do note a development of Sarko's themes which sound more and more like Madelin's (eg the stock-option talk he was giving the other day).

by redstar on Mon Jun 26th, 2006 at 06:06:48 PM EST
[ Parent ]
As I note below, the talk the other day was inspired (so says the Observer article cited in the diary) by Sarko's recent conversation with Tony Blair.

It's surely true that Sarko makes himself out to be part of the "liberal" segment of the French right that Madelin is a noted member of, and they may have (or perhaps will have) some understanding about Madelin's return to ministerial office if Sarko wins the presidential. But Madelin is so ineffably stupid, and long ago wore out whatever positive image he might once have had in public opinion, that I really can't get scared about the prospect of his return. I take Sarkozy for too smart a politician to lumber himself seriously or long-term with such a dummy.

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Tue Jun 27th, 2006 at 02:17:10 AM EST
[ Parent ]
It's not that Madelin is dangerous, it's that his economics are, and under Sarkozy's tutelage, that's what you're going to see.

Madelin is, politically speaking, an idiot to be sure, but Sarko is far from it.

My guess is you'll start seeing sub rosa connections made; I wouldn't be surprised if the PS starts making the same sorts of insinuations lefter shades have been making in this regard. In fact, I bet Hollande's been polling and/or focus-grouping on this already.

And now to something entirely more important, the game.

by redstar on Tue Jun 27th, 2006 at 02:59:39 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Ségolène Royal has good chances to win, and for that reason, I think the Socialist Party members will endorse her: it's too late now to block her.

However, I think Laurent Fabius will run for the presidency whatever the choice of the Socialist Party members. That could jeopardise Ségolène Royal chances...

"Dieu se rit des hommes qui se plaignent des conséquences alors qu'ils en chérissent les causes" Jacques-Bénigne Bossuet

by Melanchthon on Sun Jun 25th, 2006 at 10:10:49 AM EST
Who is Sarko and what is his 'orrible power of attraction? I think the essential point is that he has spent years hammering the security/authority theme. He uses his position as Interior Minister to play the media constantly -- day after day -- showing how he gets personally concerned by the problems of ordinary (probably ageing) people of "French ethnic origin" (insofar as such a thing exists). As he does know how to sell himself as an uncompromising Mr Efficiency, the security/authority image sticks.

Perhaps it's now a problem for him that he has gone fishing too far to the right and for a demographic that is ageing. His clear calls to Front National voters may well be part of the reason he can be seen as "worrying" (inquiétant). His attitudes toward children may also come into play. Doesn't every candidate know that you have to kiss babies? Sarko doesn't, and it's a bit late for him to start now. His support for psycho-profiling of pre-schoolers was met with stiffer opposition within the country than he probably expected. His campaign to expel from France children of undocumented immigrant workers is also meeting active opposition, and above all (with the above) casts him in a dangerously ambiguous role: is he a tough-loving father or a bogeyman?

That's all the difference with Ségo: when she talks of teenage offenders being subjected to military discipline (personally, I wish she wouldn't!), she's talking of a category that does worry people (unlike preschoolers and immigrant schoolkids supported by their classmates), and she's believably playing the part of the strict but impartial mother, which she can do all the more convincingly because the fact of her being a mother-of-four is part of her public image. (Fatherhood, otoh, isn't part of Sarko's image, though he has children).

Sarko's neo-liberal leanings may also be a source of concern for many French. When he sends a message to his supporters in economic liberalism, he overlays it with almost Vichy-like language, perhaps in order to reassure his stodgy middle-class followers at the same time; the result sounds frankly out-dated and scary, and may lose him as much support as it gains.

I don't greatly like triangulation, but I think Ségo has used it brilliantly of late to occupy the centre and bottle Sarko up on the right. She caught him just when he was working on his base on the far right, and it seems to have "frozen" him there. Given his personal image, he's going to have a hard job, imho, getting free to move back towards the centre.

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Mon Jun 26th, 2006 at 03:41:37 AM EST
And... Blair is the go-to-guy on how to be popular??

"Once in awhile we get shown the light, in the strangest of places, if we look at it right" - Hunter/Garcia
by whataboutbob on Mon Jun 26th, 2006 at 08:13:55 AM EST
On how to smile, and smile, and be a villain...
by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Mon Jun 26th, 2006 at 08:27:19 AM EST
[ Parent ]
What, on reflection, should be amazing us is that Blair finds that the right thing to do is support Sarkozy.

According to the Observer article linked above, Sarko was inspired by his conversation with Blair into making the speech last Thursday that I find creepy-crawly with Pétain-talk about famille (family) and travail (work). Sarko won't get out of the box with this stuff, imo.

Perhaps also this news will put an end to the "Ségo is a Blairite" meme?

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Mon Jun 26th, 2006 at 11:38:21 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Not any longer. Sarko was keynote speaker at the recent "convention" (no longer "congress") of the PP, whose former leader Aznar was very good friends with Tony Blair.

A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Mon Jun 26th, 2006 at 11:41:37 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Yes. Though Blair is still officially on the other side of the political divide from Aznar (or Burlesconi). Which is why I italicised the "should".
by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Mon Jun 26th, 2006 at 12:10:26 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Then we should have been amazed since 1997. In Spain we were.

A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Mon Jun 26th, 2006 at 02:12:29 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Anyone have any idea how much the US govt and the neo -cons and -liberals are involved in this?  They do like to get in on regime change action and meddle like that.  I just would really be surprised if Sarkozy didn't have some backing and cultivation from this side of the pond.

Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities. -Voltaire
by p------- on Mon Jun 26th, 2006 at 01:35:34 PM EST
See the comment by redstar upthread about Alain Madelin, and then read his wikipedia profile. Just a hunch, but I think that's the connection you're looking for.

A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Mon Jun 26th, 2006 at 02:15:18 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Actually, I do mean direct involvement, possibly monetary, on the part of people either in the US Administration or their lackeys at places like AEI, PNAC, Heritage Found., etc.  

Although Madelin does provide an obvious ideological link.

Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities. -Voltaire

by p------- on Mon Jun 26th, 2006 at 02:23:12 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Well, assuming you feel lucky about googling Alain Madelin you'll find a link to a place called cercles libéraux which, in its list of links is a hall of shame of neoliberal think tanks and fundations. We should probably research any links between the French organizations listed and the American ones you mention.

A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Mon Jun 26th, 2006 at 02:43:49 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Wowzers!  This guy is a piece of work.

Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities. -Voltaire
by p------- on Mon Jun 26th, 2006 at 03:37:58 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The best is where he talks about "opportunities to get to know the fabulous universe of think tanks".

A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Mon Jun 26th, 2006 at 07:36:45 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Madelin is, as you say, a "piece of work", but he's mostly a wannabe as far as the contacts with big bad neo-lib US outfits go. He's extremely stupid and doesn't have much of a positive image in France. In other words, as I say in a reply to redstar above, I don't think he's hugely dangerous (though I wouldn't be happy to see him offered a ministerial post).
by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Tue Jun 27th, 2006 at 02:22:19 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Excuse the garbled grammar.

A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Mon Jun 26th, 2006 at 03:59:49 PM EST
[ Parent ]
This has been one of my questions, also. How are foreign factions, North America in particular, whose support for Sarkozy might be seen as implicit, going to weigh in on the elections.

From the Observer piece:

According to Le Monde journalist Philippe Ridet, 'La Firme Nicolas' is a crack team of thirtysomething workaholic men, with the latest mobile phones, Ralph Lauren suits and an image-building obsession that stops at nothing: 'It's a political style we have never seen in France before.'

I see this as being unprecedented, also. To me it suggests that politicians are taking a leaf from the book of Anglo-American political campaigns and careers. Political debate and inquiry are being shut out by content-poor media domination of what remain, for the moment, two purported candidates.

Both Sarkozy and Royal have abandoned true political debate in favor of bolstering high profile media personae, and are effectively being exempted from scrutiny and debate.

I'm confident that the population is too smart to be fooled by such vacuousness, but time is nigh to be asking pointed questions of these two.

by cigonia on Mon Jun 26th, 2006 at 03:26:21 PM EST
[ Parent ]
'neigh', of course
by cigonia on Mon Jun 26th, 2006 at 03:47:15 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Nigh was correct, neigh is what horses do.

A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Mon Jun 26th, 2006 at 04:03:52 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I become confused between languages.

Glad to have correction, here

by cigonia on Mon Jun 26th, 2006 at 04:11:09 PM EST
[ Parent ]
A Polish friend describes the new right-wing youth in similar terms. Smart in dress and mind and extremely dangerous. The left needs to up their game. We ain't seen nothing yet.

A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Mon Jun 26th, 2006 at 04:02:51 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Thanks for your insights, Ben.
Some of your questions have not been addressed in the comments, like the absence of debate on Sarko's positions on economy.

I suspect it's on purpose: yes, neo-liberalism is not at all popular in France; Sarko wants to keep the debate on the law & order field that made him popular in the first place and won't touch any controversial issues on economy (like the L word) with the proverbial 10-foot pole.

As for the voters, many expect that he won't act (or won't be able to) on his neo-liberal penchants, lest he'd have to face a crisis of CPE proportions and have to back off, like virtually any French politicians for the past 30 years...

That's the paradox of present days French politics: citizens voting someone to office, while fully expecting that he or she won't be executing on their program. Those who try are shown the door. Don't rock the boat is the rule. Politicians who have succeeded in reforming anything had to do it by stealth, for better or worse.

Since 1981, at every parliamentary election in France, the incumbent majority has been overthrown and was replaced by the then opposition; no exceptions. And there's no reason to think 2007 will be any different. This may probably be a record in Europe.

As for Segolene, no there's nothing wrong with her. You may or may not agree with her ideas, but so far she's  doing quite well, thank you very much. For the past 4 years, I've been wondering what's wrong with the PS leadership rather (moribund, you write... that's why they're nicknamed "elephants").

For that matter, you might as well ask: what's wrong with the Dems? How come they're not running roughshod on BushCo? But that's another story...

by Bernard on Tue Jun 27th, 2006 at 05:30:20 PM EST


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