The Man Who Would Be le Président

Tuesday, February 28th, 2006

Christopher Caldwell of The Weekly Standard describes Sarko, Nicolas Sarkozy, as The Man Who Would Be le Président:

One thing Sarkozy does not resemble in the slightest is a traditional French politician. “I am a man of the right,” he says over breakfast, “even if I’m not a conservative in the traditional sense.” This is an extraordinary admission. No presidential hopeful in decades, even in the UMP created by Jacques Chirac in the wake of De Gaulle’s RPR, has ever accepted the label. Never in his political life has Jacques Chirac made a similar statement. From his time as prime minister in the mid-seventies, when he described his goal as the creation of “a labor movement à la française,” to his recent New Year’s address, in which he again attacked American-style capitalism, Chirac has taken many positions, but none of them on the “right.” Since Sarkozy’s profession leaves him liable to accusations in the French press that he is the favored candidate of Americans or free-marketeers, he is anxious to spell out exactly what he means by a “temperament of the right.” It is something he has obviously thought about a lot. “First, the primacy of work; second, the need to compensate personal merit and effort; third, respect for the rules, and for authority; fourth, the belief that democracy does not mean weakness; fifth, values; sixth, . . . I’m persuaded that, before sharing, you have to create wealth. I don’t like egalitarianism.”

Out of this value system come plans for everything. Between stints at the interior ministry, Sarkozy also spent time as minister of finance. He intends to shrink the state, reform the profligate, bureaucratic, and job-killing “French social model,” cut taxes, promote ethnic harmony (through the controversial expedient of affirmative action), normalize Islam in French society, and shore up France’s alliance with the United States. These plans amount to what supporters and detractors call la rupture. As Sarkozy told a roomful of journalists at UMP headquarters in January: “You can’t run France on the ideas of 30 years ago.” This may sound old hat. Since 1974, all French presidential elections have been run on the theme of “change.”

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