L'Ombre de l'Olivier

The Shadow of the Olive Tree

being the maunderings of an Englishman on the Côte d'Azur

04 June 2009 Blog Home : June 2009 : Permalink

Sarko The Sex Dwarf?

Clive Davis' blog at the Speccie links to an interesting article about Sarkozy in Prospect magazine. The author is a British lady who has lived in France for decades and who therefore knows quite a lot about her subject but I do wonder if she didn't write this particular piece working backwards from her conclusion.

Her discussion of why the French voted by signifcant margin for Sarkozy compared to his rival Ségolène Royale seemes to me to be at best partial. Here's what she says:

In a culture unreconstructed by either of the great movements that have fashioned Anglo-Saxon society (Protestantism and feminism), the libido is still a force to be reckoned with in France. The last presidential election was not a battle between left and right but rather a contest between two “styles”—one gentle, the other tough; one consensual, the other coercive; one feminine, the other masculine. In the end, the French opted, not for the reassuring arms of Ségolène Royal and her “gentle revolution,” but for Nicolas Sarkozy, the libidinous sex dwarf. All the iconography of the presidential campaign pointed to the subliminal forces in the battleground. Picture Royal, dressed all in white, as if in homage to that alliance of virginity and female power embodied in such icons as Elizabeth I and Joan of Arc. Now picture Sarkozy, short and strutting in an oversized and sweat-stained suit, like France’s favourite dictator, the potent and charismatic Napoleon Bonaparte. Sarkozy, like Bonaparte, has all the characteristics of the sex dwarf: he is short, shamelessly flirtatious and tireless in his pursuit of women.

Maybe I move in the wrong circles but it didn't seem to me that my neighbours wanted Sarko because he was a sex dwarf but because they wanted a change from the drift of the Chirac era and for that matter the whole cohabitation thing that meant that both Chirac and his predecessor Mitterand had governed by some sort of consensus. In many ways you could compare the Sarko Ségo battle as a prequel to the Obama campaign - though Sarko was significantly more experienced than Obama - with Sarko, like Obama, campaigning for "change" and "can do" spirit. Ségo also came off terribly in TV debates and interviews where she seemed to be fundamentally clueless about key issues. Sarko, on the other hand, could rattle off statistics and trends with the best of them. France two years ago was a nation crying out for change and a general chucking out of the then current out of touch elites. Sarko, despite being an insider, managed to portray himself as an outsider (it didn't hurt that Chirac and other UMP grandees visibly hated him) whereas Ségo, despite her victories against the socialist elephants, still seemed to be one of the gauche caviar. It certainly didn't help her cause that the media, apart from those bits owned by Sarko buddies, lined up on her side. What one got by watching, particularly, the state France 2 and France 3 channels was that Sarko was (if I can translate to British terms) a kind of pushy little oik with pretensions above his station whereas Ségo was "one of us" and therefore entitled to be elected.

[It may not be a coincidence that Sarko has forbidden France 2 and 3 from having advertisements at certain popular times of day and thereby almost certainly reduced their budget.]

Having said that a lot of her article is very sound. Both on Sarko's achievements to date - significant but not as "rupture"ous as some of us hoped for - and his relationship with the French populace. These couple of blog post from Charles Bremner are also informative on Sarko's reforms and it is interesting to compare and contrast the two.

In terms of political strategy it seems to me Sarko has been practically Napoleonic. He has shamelessly nicked popular ideas from both the left and further right and also co-opted any number of sound leftish politicians with the result that his opponents come across like the lunatic fringe they mostly are - at least they do so when they aren't too busy with inter/intra-factional fights that remind one of Monty Python's Life of Brian and the Judean Peoples' Front vs the Popular Front of Judea. As Bremner suggests it is hard to imagine him losing power at the next election - not even Bayrou, his most coherent opponent, would win in a head to head today despite Sarko's generally negative ratings. I suspect this is because Sarko is seen as the best of a pretty bad bunch. No the French don't really like Sarko and yes he does shoot his mouth off and yes he has a remarkably thin skin but he does actually do things, France's economy is not (yet) mired in depression the way the US, UK and German ones are and so on.

On balance then he's just another politician with all their faults. And this brings me back to Sarko the Sex Dwarf. When he and his previous wife divorced, and he then swiftly shacked up with Carla Bruni I think people worried that he was going to be just as sexually active as previous presidents but that he'd do it in public instead of being discreet the way they were. The last year has shown this to be untrue and, since Carla Bruni is unlikely to remain quiet if he strays, it seems he is now faithfully monogamous, no matter what rumours swirl about his past. Sarko may, as Ms Wadham suggests, enjoy looking at attractive women but he doesn't seem to acting the Sex Dwarf with anyone other than Carla. Arguably this is a rarity in French presidents.

I will however note one other major way that Sarko and his allies differ from almost any other group of politicians except - interestingly the UK's Cameroons are similar. Sarkozy and co are joggers. Sarko was in the news fairly recently because his neighbours complained about the disturbance caused by his early morning runs - the problem is that he has numerous security outriders on motorbikes IIRC. This year (and IIRC previous years) Sarko pal Christian Estrosi - currently mayor of Nice and minister - ran the Nice Half Marathon (he finished in about 1h55 which is quite respectable). Other members of Sarko's cabinet have also been seen running - including the Prime Minister François Fillon. I don't know how much this endears them to the non-sporting parts of the populace but it seems to me that the large numbers of French people who do sport rather appreciate having political leaders who also sweat and don't just show up in the VIP section at sports events.