by Jerome a Paris
Mon Mar 12th, 2007 at 11:13:01 AM EST
Chirac has announced that, thankfully, he would not run again for President.
Until he actually leaves the Elysée, France has the sad privilege to be one of the last countries in the world to be ruled by a “dinosaur”, i.e. a political leader which rose to power in the early part of the second half of last century and has not left that place since. Amongst the other specimens of that race, one can include Fidel Castro, Dick Cheney, Muhammar Khadafi or, until recently, Yassir Arafat. Jacques Chirac, who was a Cabinet member for the first time in 1967 under de Gaulle, can rightfully claim to be a full member of that select club whose main (and only) competence is to grab power and keep it, on the back of the general populace.
Note: if you want more substantial commentary on the French election, go see afew's diary from earlier today.
To be fair to Chirac, he has been consistently – and mostly fairly - elected and reelected in his various posts, and the French thus bear a heavy responsibility for his continued presence in power. The man is clearly a gifted campaigner, able to run campaigns well suited to the mood of the day (as a Thatcherite in 1986, as a social populist in 1995, on a law and order platform in 2002) and able to make the French people forget that he has been utterly ineffective each time he has actually been in power – and that he has each time been voted out two years later (1976-78, 1986-88, 1995-97, 2002-04*).
How to explain this apparently irrational love of the French for such a manifestly incompetent politician – whom a majority agree should be in jail (maybe that's what he means when he says that he will "serve in another capacity" after this election?) The mediocrity of the alternatives? Nostalgia for a long-lost (and presumably glorious) past? Pity for a man who made it clear that he would not give up until he reached the supreme job? The feeling that it is not so important? Or the peculiarly French trait to stick it up to others (including other Frenchmen)?
As has been noted elsewhere, a few good things can be said about his presidency: the recognition of France's role in the deportation of Jews during WWII, his opposition to the invasion of Iraq, the sustained drive to lower the number of deaths on French roads. But these count little against the feeling of drift, rudderlessness and cynicism in France and the loss of its influence with in the EU. He simply did not care and did not bother.