France Insider/Paul Ben-Itzak

November 26, 2008

François Bayrou versus the media

Boy, I tell you: If there’s one factor that would determine me to become a French citizen it would be the chance to campaign and vote for François Bayrou. It might only be one small pinky finker in the dyke trying to stem the Left-wing media tide against him, but maybe if my friends on the French Left saw a Lefty American vote for the man ill-defined as ‘centrist’ they might start to question the pidgeon-hole the French Lefty media has tried to box him into. One need only to have listened to the Left-leaning crew of my favorite radio program, the morning show on France Culture, to be reminded of how a determined effort by this same media during the 2007 presidential election succeeded in convincing enough French that the man from Pau was ‘flou’ or mushy to beat him down from a second-place 19 percent in pre-first tour polls and prevent him from reaching the second and final round, thus paving the way for Nicolas Sarkozy’s victory against the hopelessly entrenched Socialists.

The lowest moment came during the final 30 minutes, when commentator Olivier Duhamel refused to accept that Bayrou was not rejoicing at the squabble between Segolene Royal and Martin Aubry for premiere secretary which threatened to engulf the Socialist party over the last week. (Royal, who lost by 102 votes, finally conceded last night.) Allowing that he might reap a benefit here or there, Bayrou explained simply that for this battle to consume so much time and energy and attention at this particular time was not good because it detracted focus from the real world at a time when we needed it most. This was not good enough for Duhamel, who proceeded to waste five prescious minutes trying to get Bayrou to admit he was dancing for joy. Et voila, these were five minutes that the president of the Mouvement Democratic could have used to answer the morning’s final question, from the only commentator who was not piling on (and who indeed was chastising the others for doing so), Catherine Clement. She’d asked what he’d do for Culture. Bayrou, who had earlier pointed out that, contrary to what Socialist propaganda would have us believe of him, it’s not capitalism but humanism that he exalts as a mode of life, began by noting that the tenets of this humanism were three non-merchandisable elements of society: Education, Research, and Culture. Clement pressed him to expand on Culture; when he said he wasn’t sure in what sense she meant, she elaborated, trés presicely, that the State has been pushing responsibility for cultural expenditure to the regions and even localities — a crucial question for the artistic sector, in which I count myself, across France. Bayrou had barely time to begin, “Pour le spectacle vivant…” when host Ali Badou cut him off because there was no more time left — which would not have been the case if Duhamel, unrestrained by the host, had not wasted five minutes trying to get Bayrou to act like HE expected a politician to act. Bayrou had already alienated, or at least riled, his host by saying he should go hide himself for not opposing the government’s proposed changes in the audio-visuel regime on the grounds that they would enable the president to appoint the heads of France Television and Radio, thus robbing journalists of their independence. (Once again proving the abrogation of the Socialists on crucial issues where a firm stance from the supposed Opposition is called for — who’s flou now? — the Socialist leader in Parliament yesterday flatly refused Bayrou’s call to censure the government on the audio-visuel law.)

If I have one constructive suggestion for Bayrou — offered from one who has the same tempting but sometimes self-defeating tendency — it would be that he should guard himself from the urge to personalise his polemics in this fashion. (He also likes to employ Pinochio’s nose to evoke politicians who in his view are being hypocritical. “They wouldn’t even fit in a stadium!” he once said of one group.) Take it from one who knows from personal experience, Monsieur Bayrou: Just because you have the gift of a rapier wit doesn’t mean it’s always the best weapon to employ. Or to use an old American aphorism (thank you, Mark Dendy!): You can catch more flies with honey than vinager. (Tr, approximatif: “On a plus de chance a tiré des mouches avec le miele que le vinaigre.”)


November 14, 2008

TSS, meet TSP; Dancing Guignols at the Socialist Temple; Olivier gets his voice back

Filed under: Uncategorized — franceblogger @ 9:09 am
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It was only yesterday that commentator Olivier Duhamel returned to France Culture’s morning program after three days out because he couldn’t speak, and this morning, Olivier got his voice back.

The guest was Pierre Moscovici, yet another Socialist leader who seems more concerned with the party’s navel than the stomachs of francaises. The context is that as the Socialist party opens its congress, it continues to be consumed by internecine battles, this time over who will succeed François Holland, who’s quitting as party secretary supposedly because he thinks that the best way to remedy the fact that in 11 years he hasn’t succeeded in electing a Socialist president is to run himself. Fencing off to succeed him are Segolene Royale, who lost the presidential race to Nicolas Sarkozy last year; Martine Aubry, whose main claim to fame is the 35-hour work week Sarkozy has been set on eviscerating; Benoit Hamon, reportedly the Left-most candidate and who doesn’t like Segolene because she dared to take the very practical step, before the second and final round of the presidential election, of saying that if elected, she’d consider appointing centrist François Bayrou prime minister; and Paris mayor Bertrand Delanoe, a darling of the national media who, in this former Parisian’s view, turned the City of Light into the City of Bruit (Noise) and Pollution for six long years, with calamitous results for many merchants and residents.

The first sort of straw poll among Socialists militants took place earlier this month, in the form of a vote on propositions submitted by the various candidates. (Don’t ask what they contained; the media here is so obsessed with the horse race that it hasn’t divulged the contents of the propostiions — what program the candidates would actually promote if elected.) Segolene came in first with 29 percent of the vote, Delanoe and Aubry locked at second with 25 percent, and Harmon brought up the rear with 19.

“Delanoe lost because he’s a Parisian,” Duhamel boomed out in his chronicle this morning. “Our country has had it with Parisian arrogance.” (I’m liberally translating; in French he said the country ‘ne supporte plus’ this arrogance.) In effect, he was arguing, rather than speak of the possible emergence of a ‘Tout sauf Segolene’ movement — anybody but Segolene — we should be paying attention to ‘Tout sauf Parisians.” (It may have been host Ali Badou who coined this phrase; to follow one Moscovici had recourse to later, my attention was floating at that point.) To which I can only say “Amen.” If there’s one thing moving from Paris to the France Profund a year ago has taught me — besides that it’s not a good idea to live in a 300-year-old poorly insulated stone house in Winter — it’s that the conception of Paris in the rest of France is very different from the conception of Paris in the rest of the world. Essentially, people roll their eyes because of the place’s just reputation that I’ve evoked above — noise and pollution. Culturally, the city’s lords are out of touch with tastes of the general public d’ailleurs — and, I’d argue, with the non-elite in their own city. Contrast the top-down decision making on all fronts, but particularly in culture, of Paris with that of Toulouse, which for the past few months — also under its first Socialist mayor, Pierre Cohen, in years — has been conducting a series of city–wide forums, in all quartiers, to determine the future cultural projects of the city. Now that’s consulting. But the most notorioius example of what I’d call more Delanoe’s arrogance than Parisian arrogance (he was sometimes referred to as the Socialist ayatollah for his reluctance to listen to other views) was the embarassing and unsuccessful campaign to win the 2012 Olympics. As proof of arrogance, Duhamel pointed out the way in which Delanoe acted as if it was a done deed; how could the Olympic committee even think of selecting anyone else? But for me, the worse aspect was the way in which Delanoe and his team debased the most beautiful and elegant city in the world with this campaign, the lowest point of which was to plaster the Eiffel tower — perhaps the most beautiful monument in the world — with a tacky five-ringed flag saying “Paris loves the Games.’ Paris doesn’t need the Olympics to be glorious or pull the world’s affection and attention, but Delanoe — *its mayor* — seemed to project otherwise, a dependency which left us wide open to the malaise that followed the non-selection. The final insult was that colored filters which had been attached to the streetlights along the Seine and her bridges during the campaign were unceremoniously stripped after Paris was not selected, as if we ordinary Parisians didn’t deserve this luxury and had to return to living in black and white.

But back to Olivier, who wasn’t done. In his commentary 35 minutes earlier, Alain-Gerard Slama, who tends to hold the conservative fort on the program, had compared Royale’s performance before an adoring crowd at the Zenith auditorium to a scene evoked in a ’70s novel of a Congolese temple director who lost his head giving a ritual dance before a council of ministers. Re-listening to the commentary now it seems pretty inoccuous; Slama is apparently comparing Royale’s televisual charisma to that of the dancing minister. Duhamel seems to have been piqued by the African analogy — not so much towards his colleague, but towards Moscovici, whom he reproached, the anger mounting in his voice, for not calling Slama on the reference. Moscovici plead ‘two excuses’: that he’s not matinal — a morning person — and that, as the son of a psychologist, he has a ‘floating attention span.” This might make him an apt audience for a guignol or marionette show (in this bicentennial of the guignol’s invention in Lyon) and indeed, taking his turn in ‘pile-on-the-hapless-socialist-leader,’ Marc Kravitz chimed in that for a decade the Socialists keep repeating “It’s time to put our shoulders to the wheel” (that’s a very loose translation by me; he said ‘met au travai’), making him think more than anything of guignols, ceaselessly repeating the same spectacle. (I may not have the right analysis here; ‘guignol’ is one of fthose French words that receives multiple, often droll usage. Male buddies of mine once referred to what they considered the loser boyfriend of a gal I was interested in as ‘her guignol.’)

Let the show commence!

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