It’s not easy to run for president in a big government polity.
Although the stirrings of a presidential campaign can be heard in France, the issue that has exercised the neighborhood lately is whether Mr. (Monsieur, in French) Jean-Pierre Chevènement should be kicked out of his flat. My considered view, as I explained to the Moroccan garsown day caffeine (the waiter at our corner bistro, which is called the Petite Perigourdine — mind, this is not a placement ad, but you must taste their duck cassoulet if you have a chance) is that the mean-spirited harassment represents a lack of respect for the great man. It is inspired not by concern for the homeless poor, but by cold political scheming. The attack is being led by no less than the Socialist mayor of Paris, Bertrand Delanoe, and his point man, Pierre Aidenbaum, Socialist mayor of the Third arrondissement, who also happens to be the boss of the Regie Immobilire de la Ville de Paris, which is the Paris housing authority. It shows how tasteless politics can get. Mr. Chevènement is an , after all (ex Cabinet member.) A man of the east, he is a senator, a powerful man in the region of Franche-Comte, and president (honorary) of the Mouvement Républicain et Citoyen political party (Citizens United, in English). He is the party’s standard-bearer in the presidential sweepstakes, to be held in May.
In the Fifth Republic, which allows you to hold several public offices simultaneously, you get to vote twice for president — a twist on Jake Arvey’s admonition to the precinct leaders of Chicago’s 24th Ward preparing to roll up another big one for the ticket, “Tell your people to vote early and often.” I would like to think Arvey is giving admonitions to the new mayor, Rahm Emanuel, but he died in 1977 — though, come to think of it, no one has yet figured out what he meant by that. The first time, they have a field of more than two from which to choose, so the usual result is that no one gets the clear majority. The second time, they have a run-off between the two who got the mostest.
A small third party (or fourth or fifth) like Citizens United, not to mention a big third party like the Front National (tr.: National Front) can gum up a front-runner, as indeed happened to the Socialists in 2002, when a bunch of little left-of-left parties allowed the National Front candidate, a certain Jean-Marie Le Pen, to get a few more votes than their man. This made the second round a shoo-in for the incumbent, Jacques Chirac. The Socialists have a nightmare that it could happen again, due to stubborn spoilers like Mr. Chevènement and the Green candidate, Mrs. Eva Joly, a famous prosecutor. However, the Socialists and the Greens agreed to downsize and perhaps even phase out nuclear energy — which supplies three quarters of France’s electricity — so it is not sure how vigorously Mrs. Joly will campaign.
Mr. Chevènement, for his part, seems more interested in defending his right to stay in what we would call low-income housing than in running for president, but that is because in France no one runs for president until a week or two before the first ballot. It is not clear whether this is because no one has the money for a long campaign, or nobody wants to spend the money on a long campaign.
The French are a stingy race and they are not big on campaign contributions. There was a venerable tradition of getting a little help from certain friends in Africa, in the form of valises (suitcases) stuffed with francs. The custom began to wither when they switched to euros — another good reason to scotch the euro, according to certain sources in Paris whose names would not mean anything — but anyway the smart money sez they won’t be no euros in circulation by the time the election begins, due to the Greeks. No one knows why the Greeks have suddenly become the all-purpose European fall guys, but you can ask the German Chancellor, Frau Merkel, or the leader of Finland’s True Finn Party, Timo Soini. Both seem to have it in for the Greeks these days. Failing that you can always ring Mr. Caldwell at the Weekly Standard, who usually has the poop on the euro.
However, the French are notorious for being frivolous — an old word for ADD — and it may be, too, that no one would pay attention to a long campaign, so an American-style long campaign would be wasted effort. Instead, to warm up, they get into little character-assassination games, such as claiming a fairly wealthy man, as Senateur Chevènement is, should not be paying a monthly rent that is half what the place — 150 sq. meters, I gather, though I have not been invited (yet) — would fetch on the open market. Which, note, is sort of ridiculous as a notion, because in the land of Bastiat and Rueff about half the economy is under state control so who can talk about an open market anyway? The last serious open (free) market pol in France was a gentleman named Antoine Pinay, a man of some popularity in his time. He was prime minister, I believe, during the Fourth Republic. (This may be an old rumor, unverified.) But Pinay was a man of principle. He saved the franc. His successors, young technocrats educated at the elite Ecole Nationale d’Administration (management school, and do not ask why it is always preceded by the word “elite”), such as Dominique Strauss-Kahn and the Socialist Party presidential candidate, François Hollande, killed it. They claimed the euro would be much better.
However, I must admit I cannot explain why there was one election where a young ex-paratrooper named Jean-Marie Le Pen ran for parliament (and won a seat) under the colors of Pinay’s party, which if memory serves was, still is, called the Independent Peasants’ Center and National. Or maybe it was the National Peasants’ Independent Center. Party names are weird in some countries. In Germany, if you are a socialist you belong to the Social Democrats and if you are Oskar Lafontaine you belong to die Linke. I do not know from German but my guess is that die Linke translates as the Left. If you are a conservative you belong to the Christian Democrats and if you are a Danny Cohn Bendit fan when he was a municipal councilor in Frankfurt — where the money is — you belong to die Grunen, which if I were a betting man I would say means the Greens.
In England if you are a conservative you belong to the Tories and if you are all right, Jack, you belong to the Socialists. Formally, they are the Conservatives and the Labour Party, or New Labour, but since they abolished Clause Four under Tony Blair — a great man, according to those who know him — there is some uncertainty. I might add, while we are on the subject of England, that not one Englishman is in the professional tennis players’ year-end tournament, where the best play the best. There is a Scot, though, Andy Murray, who happens to play with the same racquet that I, myself, use, the — this is not a placement ad — Head Radical. I am a Murray fan, but I recognize the other great gentleman tennis pro, Roger Federer, is likely to repeat last year’s success at London’s O2 Arena. Mr. Federer — this is to show I am not shilling for Head — plays with a Wilson. He is very rich and his money is in Swiss francs. In Switzerland, and particularly in his hometown of Basel, where he is only average rich, they do not recognize the euro as legal tender.
So anyway, as I was saying to my young garsown de caffeine, “Where do you live, by the way, Fadel? Just curious, you know.” He said, “La Courneuve, c’est dans le 9-3.” Observe that I did not point out that I knew La Courneuve is a suburb in the nine-three, by which he meant the département (county, as I said earlier) of the Seine-Saint-Denis, to the north of Paris, whose postal codes (also auto license i.d.’s) begin with 93, which people pronounce 9-3 or ninety-three, depending. One of the “tricks” or “skills” of solid investigative reporting is to not ask questions — let the other person talk, he will reveal all. In tennis, this is called, “let ‘im beat ‘imself.” This, unfortunately, is what they say when facing Andy Murray, and for a reason. However, Murray is hot these days and there is no saying what will happen at London’s O2 when he steps on the court this afternoon to test his skills against David Ferrer, a Spaniard. It was not immediately known whether Ferrer — or Rafael Nadal, who won his match against the American Mardy Fish — rejoiced or mourned or paid no heed following the landslide victory of the Spanish Partito Popular (conservatives) in the weekend elections. But, already, Federer is ahead, having dispatched the French powerhouse, J. W. Tsonga yesterday.
“So it takes you what, 20 minutes to get to work?”
He laughed. “Oh non (no) monsieur, y faut compter une bonne heure avec le bus jusqu’a la station du RER.” Translating is a chore, but what he means is that it takes him an hour.
Good Lord, I thought under my breath, the poor immigrant spends two hours a day in public transportation — do you know what this means, in France? — so that I can loll around in this nice bistrot (restaurant-bar-coffee shop) and have my morning caffeine and quahsan while reading the International Herald Tribune, a fine paper, made famous by such exceptional journalists as Art Buchwald and John Vinocur.
It is pretty outrageous that a nice young man like Fadel should have to get to work under such difficult conditions. If they have subsidized housing in the city, should it not be for those who need subsidies? How would you like it if a Congressman or a Senator had a Section 8 place in Washington? Would that be fair? I know very well President John Kennedy said life is not fair. But does it have to be cruelly unfair?
I know why the Socialists are bringing up this matter. It is because they consider Mr. Chevènement a renegade. He played a key role in getting François Mitterrand the presidency, and he was rewarded with the big jobs, including the defense ministry. Then, he left in a huff. The reasons are complicated. But to put the matter in Anglo-American terms, he felt the party was drifting away from its Jacobin traditions. No, I am putting it in French terms, but you know, the big government thing. He felt they were abandoning big government.
The quarrel, in truth, was semantic and, of course, personal. Chevènement did not get along with the ones who took over after Mitterrand left the scene. Monsieur Pinay, the National Peasants leader who saved the franc and with only one arm, too (he was a World War I vet, badly wounded), was perhaps France’s only, certainly its last, small government man. But he was prime minister for less than a year and then there was the franc to save and he was unable to put his small-government ideas to work.
Also, he had a vivacious interest in young women and some witnesses from those bygone days claim it sapped some of the energy that he might have put into politics. There was some talk in his party (the Peasants Whatever) of running him against de Gaulle for the presidency at one point (he had been the general’s finance minister, but they wanted a challenge from the right, de Gaulle being above-it-all), but the Gaullist hard men let it be known they would publicize it all. All of it. It would be embarrassing, even in France. He declined to run and it was all forgive and forget. By contrast, that fellow who got into trouble in New York, minute he got back to France someone — a police officer of high rank — spilled some beans about a high-end international call-girl ring that did all manners of unspeakable things and guess who was a client.
In such a climate, no wonder Jean-Pierre Chevènement cannot campaign for president without somebody making a stink about his arrangements.
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