Seamanship Quotation

“In political activity, then, men sail a boundless and bottomless sea; there is neither harbour for shelter nor floor for anchorage, neither starting-place nor appointed destination.”
— from Michael Oakeshott's
Political Education” (1951)

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

For a grating style Sarkozy must go?

One way to avoid thinking about Europe’s dire circumstances is to treat the French presidential election as a matter of style. Who is best tailored for the job? Who has the right body language to grace the ugly meetings and photo-ops ahead?
The stylish Adam Gopnik of the New Yorker devotes his column this week to these aesthetic questions and, without hesitation, asserts that Nicholas Sarkozy must go.
Sarkozy’s style is unbecoming. Sadly for Sarkozy, Gopnik’s case against France’s most pro-American president is rather un-American. Here’s his opening argument:
“The Presidency of France’s Fifth Republic is a monarchical role, shaped to the elongated scale and the grand manners first of Charles de Gaulle and then of François Mitterrand. Although Jacques Chirac more recently gave the role a distinctly sleepy, roi fainéant flavor, it remains a throne more than a mere office. So the idea of a sort of citizen king, who giggles and wears glasses and is known to be on a diet, is a little unsettling.

Read more:
Gopnik concludes:
“People will forgive a short man with a beautiful wife if he seems sufficiently surprised; Sarkozy seemed merely showy, and his energy, over time, merely antic and self-pleasing.
“A mild-mannered, European-minded citizen king is, at least, better than a passionately convinced exceptionalist.”
Gopnik and other pundits may want the French presidency to be a sanctuary of high fashion, a place of cool, and big men who can accept failure but have no tolerance for Bling. Nevertheless, the office was consciously designed for an exceptional activist by an arrogant patriot who didn’t care greatly whether other politicians were comfortable with his leadership or not.
De Gaulle had a much slower temperament than Sarkosy by the time he returned to power in order to reshape France in 1958. However, the presidency he crafted, in the constitution he largely wrote, was designed to make big decisions, to get the country out of trouble, to change France. It was tailored to break out of consensus politics—to reach over the political elites—and, if necessary, ask for the consent of French citizens to save France from itself.

While the times again are humbling, the French presidency was not created for a humble politician.

Sarkosy also sees the office and himself in heroic terms. In 2007, he said he wanted to rally France around a new dream and that nothing and no one would stop him “going through to the end.”

Certainly, his ego is a problem. He sees himself as a problem-solver at a time when the problems are bigger than France. This is embarrassing.

His opponent, Francois Hollande, is careful to not diminish his already modest image—or France’s in the wider European context—by being too vivid about France’s unavoidable fiscal and economic problems. He speaks of the “effort” that lies ahead and insists that he’s “not dangerous.”

Hollande has the temperament of a survivor. In large measure, however, two generations of sophisticated survivors got France and Europe into its problems. These problems wouldn’t be so ugly if all Europe needed to do was put more inoffensive survivors in office.

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