As I have noted recently ("Sarko's Revenge," March 1), France's diminutive president goes after his perceived enemies with all the ferocity of an enraged, toothy fox terrier. While still aggressively suing his political rival, Dominique de Villepin, for alleged complicity in a smear campaign designed to derail his run for the presidency, Sarkozy has found time to heap new humiliation on his former court favorite and justice minister, the glam Rachida Dati.
He and she go back a long way. Dati, a raven-haired looker of Moroccan descent, was a media relations operative during Sarkozy's campaign in 2007. He called her affectionately "my little Arab girl." After his separation from his second wife, Cécilia, it was an elegantly gowned Dati who was on his arm at a White House state dinner. He openly squired her other places, like a World Cup rugby match. He made her his minister of justice despite the absence of any visible qualifications for the job, to the vocal consternation of the country's magistrates. When she became a single mother and refused to name the father, the inevitable rumors ran. (To this day, the public has never seen a photo where the child's face is visible.)
But, reacting to public revulsion at his personal style, Sarkozy suddenly changed it. Out were the flashy sunglasses, wristwatches as big as the Ritz, vacations on friends' floating palaces. In was a new sobriety -- and a new wife, Carla Bruni. Carla was unenthusiastic about her husband's close relation with Dati. Once showing Dati around the Elysée Palace, she paused in the bedroom. "You would have liked to be there, wouldn't you," Carla purred. Finally Dati's nouveau riche taste for Dior, Prada and Vuitton ostentation became unwelcome, as did her use of plush executive jets for her frequent trips abroad, insisting that the French ambassador be on hand to welcome her.
Sarkozy unceremoniously fired her at justice and gave her the option of becoming a member of that graveyard of political hopes, the European Parliament in Strasbourg. For the last year she has attended so many pointless meetings and listened to so many droning speeches that she confessed to a friend that she couldn't stand it anymore. Then came the rumors.
They buzzed through the blogosphere: the president's third marriage was on the rocks. Carla was having an affair with a French pop singer, even taking trips to Thailand together. Sarkozy, to riposte, had taken up with his comely young minister of ecology. Asked about it during a press conference in London, he said he didn't have time to deny such drivel. When he and Carla visited New York and Washington last week, they worked to scotch the rumors. Observers couldn't help noticing how radiantly in love were the Sarkozys, kissing in front of their hotel and making a show of holding hands.
But Sarkozy never forgets, never lets go. He became convinced that Dati was behind the rumors about his marriage. The last straw came with the drubbing he and his party took in France's recent regional elections.
As he sat glumly in the presidential palace watching the dreadful returns and listening to solemn, talking-head analysis of his party's rout, there suddenly on the country's most popular TV channel was Dati. Ignoring his order to party lackeys to insist that it wasn't really a defeat, she opined brazenly that the people of France had sent Sarkozy a message: get back to the basics for which he had been elected in the first place. Then and there Sarkozy threw one of his notorious tantrums. According to credible leaks, he jumped up and screamed, "What's she doing there? We didn't see her during the campaign and now there she is in front of the cameras!"
With the program still on the air, he phoned the chief of the National Police, who handles such things, and ordered him to divest Dati of the official limousine, chauffeur, and four bodyguards that she had retained, unofficially, after being sacked from her job at justice. The police chief hopped to it. When she left the studio and went to her car, her chauffeur said, "Sorry Madame, we have to go home. Orders from on high." (They forgot to take away the special ministerial cell phone she had kept, but they took care of that the next day.)
Moral: don't get on the wrong side of this vengeful little guy. Could that be one reason Obama was so chummy with him last week?