Sarkozy: Smarter than the Socialists, Tougher than the Unions

 
Live, from Paris, it’s David Berlinski!

My father sent me an update from France today. I thought it was so interesting that I asked him if I could post it here. He said sure, why not? So I’m pleased and proud to report that today I’m delivering David Berlinski’s first Ricochet Guest Post.

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PARIS The manifs have not yet ended, but Sarkozy has crushed the unions; he has won a notable victory and deep down, no matter the polls, everyone is pleased that he has. It was all in all a remarkable demonstration of political adroitness on his part. For years, the unions have held a stranglehold on the government, forcing Mitterand, Chirac and Villepin to back down on even the most modest of reforms. Villepin got as far as passing a law with respect to the Contrat de Première Embauche, but he caved in when the students got into the streets and thereafter no more was heard about the law. The unions thought that they could roll over Sarkozy in the same way. They were wrong. He rolled over them.

How did he do it? For one thing, he understood, as Villepin never did, that French strikes are by their nature self-limiting. Strikers do not get paid. They cannot stay out for long. For another thing, he understood, again as Villepin did not, that demonstrations become counter-productive very quickly, and that unless they become forms of civil insurrection, they do little more than tie up the streets. For a third thing, Sarkozy understood that lycée and university students are widely loathed in France as so many spoiled, self-satisfied social parasites, and that the moment they took to the streets in large numbers, they would empty any movement they were supporting of serious support. Who on earth would take seriously a sixteen year old assessing the prospect of pension reforms? And, finally, Sarkozy calculated correctly that the Socialists and the unions would miscalculate. This is just what they did.

Ségolène Royal went on television to demand that students join the demonstrations, and when she was roundly attacked for irresponsibility, she went on television again to deny what she had said. France 1 and 2 showed endless clips in which she was heard both to affirm what she had said and deny that she had said it. The students did join the demonstrations and as Sarkozy anticipated, they found themselves the object of universal derision, the more so since they were forced to leave their labor agitation in favor of a two-week vacation. Both the UMP and the Socialists might have consulted the calendar in order to determine that a vacation was in prospect, but only Sarkozy and the UMP did.

Strikers were encouraged by their unions to take over and shut down the petrol refineries — another miscalculation on the part of the unions. Gas stations ran dry and the French almost at once decided that being able to fill their gas tanks with petrol was a more important social consideration than pension reform, and to hell with it. Sarkozy let the frustration build for a week, and then he sent in the riot police to open the refineries by force. The police arrived at three in the morning and dispatched the strikers with absurd ease. Union leaders denounced the timing as scandaleux. Sarkozy also demanded in Lyon and other cities afflicted with casseurs that the police infiltrate the manifs in order to arrest the culprits. This they did. There were satisfying scenes every night of surprised rioters who on heaving a brick through a shop window found themselves suddenly seized by their fellow rioters and hurled to the pavement, their arms behind their backs. It was fine to see. Everyone enjoyed seeing it. And union leaders were again forced to say that they were outraged.

No one much likes Sarkozy here in France, but everyone now quite understands that he is smarter than the Socialists and tougher than the unions. It is a powerful combination.

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Some of you may be wondering: Claire, do you and your father always exchange e-mails like that? No, actually, most of our e-mails concern our cats and the cute things they do. I get my affection for animals from him, too. In fact, I gave it to him: His cat, the Wankster, is the last living member of a litter of three; my brother and I rescued them in Bangkok, in 1995. We found them orphaned in a flowerpot outside the Asia Times, where I used to work. I don’t have a photo of her, but she’s very grumpy and her ears stick out, making her look like yoda.

There are 27 comments.

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  1. Profile Photo Inactive
    @Tora

    I read some of his articles on his web page. Very good, indeed. Thank you for sharing this.

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    @Pseudodionysius

    This thread has me hopelessly conflicted.

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    @Claire
    Kennedy Smith

    It sure as Hell isn’t her kickboxing prowess. · Oct 31 at 12:20am

    I’m not sure what you’re intimating about my kickboxing prowess, KS, but since I’m safely in Istanbul, I challenge you to say it to my face.

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    @KennedySmith
    Claire Berlinski, Ed.

    Kennedy Smith

    It sure as Hell isn’t her kickboxing prowess. · Oct 31 at 12:20am

    I’m not sure what you’re intimating about my kickboxing prowess, KS, but since I’m safely in Istanbul, I challenge you to say it to my face. · Oct 31 at 1:07am

    Hey, I lettered in fencing (hence the cloak and puffy shirt). We’ll see who’s really the least qualified martial arts expert on the internet. En garde!

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    @DeniseMoss

    Claire, would you go as far to say that Sarkozy showed some Thatcher-esque qualities in all of this? And thanks for the post. Especially about the cats. I have a special place in my heart for Cat Families.

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    @GreatGhostofGodel
    Claire Berlinski, Ed. Gas stations ran dry and the French almost at once decided that being able to fill their gas tanks with petrol was a more important social consideration than pension reform, and to hell with it.

    Proof once again that the only word of French anyone needs to know is poseur.

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    @

    As concise an explanation of events in France that I’ve read. Thank you, to all the Berlinkis concerned. I still insist that cats are reptiles.

    • #7
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    @GreatGhostofGodel
    Kenneth: Claire’s father not only writes with exquisite succinctness, he’s also obscenely handsome.

    I call foul.. · Oct 30 at 12:27pm

    It gets worse: not only is Pater Berlinski a gifted sociopolitical commentator, but an equally skilled mathematical writer. Elsewhere I asked Claire to thank him for “A Tour of the Calculus,” and I hope she did. Some don’t care for the admittedly fictionalized and romanticized account of the evolution of calculus, but I appreciate the reminder that the story of mathematics is, in the end, a human one.

    As for her father being obscenely handsome, well, Claire is dangerously beautiful, so what did you expect?

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    @HVTs

    I see I’m not the only one entranced by Queen Claire . . . but let’s get back to business, gentlemen, please!?!

    Indeed, Claire, back to Denise’s point . . . most interested to know if you think Sarkozy’s calculated stiff spine towards labor union power will have the same sort of transformative effect on French politics/political alignments as MT’s did in UK nearly 30 years ago.

    Is Europe turning away from their over-empowered, super-sized unions at precisely the time Obama is trying to make SEIU and AFSCME into the cornerstone of his secular socialist vision for America? The US is, perhaps, holding a referendum on that vision this Tuesday. If defeated now, might we avoid the inevitable conflict that France and others in the EU only postponed until economic reality eventually caught up?

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    @HVTs
    Paul Snively It gets worse: not only is Pater Berlinski a gifted sociopolitical commentator, but an equally skilled mathematical writer.

    Not to mention slayer of shibboleths. His rhetorical light saber has disemboweled the conceit of modern Evolution’s demigods.

    • #10
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    @flownover

    “This they did.”

    Think HVTs has redefined the healthcare byzantium.

    • #11
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    @BereketKelile
    Denise Moss: Claire, would you go as far to say that Sarkozy showed some Thatcher-esque qualities in all of this? And thanks for the post. Especially about the cats. I have a special place in my heart for Cat Families. · Oct 30 at 1:26pm

    Thatcher came to mind as I was reading this too. Great minds think I alike they say!

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    @outstripp

    Claire, As a direct result of this post, Turkey has lifted its ban on YouTube, the BBC is reporting. Your influence is spreading like peanut butter. The forces of light are winning….

    • #13
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    @CasBalicki

    Claire, this can’t go on. I spent the day debugging a computer program, mostly successfully. I have reading to catch up on, both pleasure and dull computer stuff that I must get through, and I hit Rocochet where you post nine, I counted, articles that by their mere appearance on your father’s home page seem like must reads. Stop it! Don’t you know that, if nothing else, I need the illusion that I’m at least keeping up. Hey, how about we limit you and your dad to 200 word posts?

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    @Pseudodionysius

    I had no idea that Claire was the daughter of the mathematician Berlinski. I’m triply impressed, even if she can’t sprawl well enough to avoid a double leg takedown or use the whizzer from collegiate wrestling.

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    @Claire
    Denise Moss: Claire, would you go as far to say that Sarkozy showed some Thatcher-esque qualities in all of this? And thanks for the post. Especially about the cats. I have a special place in my heart for Cat Families. · Oct 30 at 1:26pm

    I’d go just that far, Denise; it’s straight from Thatcher’s playbook. I’m very impressed.

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    @KennedySmith

    What’s French for “give them enough rope”? (Whatever it is, I’m sure it sounds elitist.) So basically all you have to do with unions in France is wait a couple of weeks and they run out of money? Why didn’t anyone ever think of this before? Apparently what Villepin never understood would take about as much shelf space as the unabridged works of Stephen King.

    All in all, this is a much more successful pairing than the awkward and unenlightening Mika/Zbigniew team. Many happy returns.

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    @drlorentz

    Your father’s description is remarkable. Who would have thought that “lycée and university students are widely loathed in France,” especially since the society seems to revolve around the glorification of “spoiled, self-satisfied social parasites.” Maybe there’s yet hope for France, and Europe generally. On the other hand, right-wing in France is something to the left of the Democratic Party in the US. Time will tell.

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    @Tora

    Thank you very much for this post. I wondered what happened here. This is encouraging and thanks to your father. Some spine… I wonder if or when some of this will start happening here at some point in the future. It concerns me… I hope we have some spine. Where are the adults in our adolescent society? Maybe elections now and in the future will begin to bring them out of the woodwork and awaken the “great bear of conservatism” (as I read somewhere in the last week.)

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    @MarkLewis

    Chip off the old block, huh? Please thank your father for an insightful and cogent post. I feel more informed from one page of his writing than all the reporting I have seen on the topic previously.

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    @KennedySmith
    Paul Snively

    Kenneth: Claire’s father not only writes with exquisite succinctness, he’s also obscenely handsome. Oct 30 at 12:27pm

    As for her father being obscenely handsome, well, Claire is dangerously beautiful, so what did you expect? · Oct 30 at 3:24pm

    With my keen skills of observancy, I’ve noticed that these things tend to run in families. The root cause is obvious: pixies.

    Though I suspect Claire’s main danger lies in her ability to rig Burn Notice cell phones to manipulate the yuan. In exotic locations. It sure as Hell isn’t her kickboxing prowess.

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    @

    Claire’s father not only writes with exquisite succinctness, he’s also obscenely handsome.

    I call foul..

    • #22
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    @DuaneOyen

    Next time I go to Paris, how much do I have to pay as a bribe to have a meal with David Berlinski?

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    @ScottR

    Cool. But still, at the end Mr. Berlinski says, “No one much likes Mr. Sarkozy here in France….” Why? They more or less agree with his tough-love policy, and he won.

    Doesn’t a winning leader attract followers, even love?

    Puzzling.

    • #24
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    @Sisyphus

     

    Scott Reusser: Cool. But still, at the end Mr. Berlinski says, “No one much likes Mr. Sarkozy here in France….” Why? They more or less agree with his tough-love policy, and he won.

    Doesn’t a winning leader attract followers, even love?

    Puzzling. · Oct 31 at 5:34pm

    While Reagan was busily saving our butts from two decades of actual voodoo economics, here in the seat of the Republic he was routinely vilified by the DC aparatchiks and the “enlightened” press.  A great many here still spit when they hear Reagan Airport instead of National Airport.  

    In any event, well done Monsieur Sarkozy! Encore! Encore!

    • #25
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    @GreatGhostofGodel
    Pseudodionysius: I had no idea that Claire was the daughter of the mathematician Berlinski.

    Don’t feel bad. I had read “A Tour of the Calculus” some years back, and read “A Menace in Europe” shortly after it came out. It took a few days before the thought “Berlinski… haven’t I read a Berlinski before?” occurred to me. Once it did, though, I found the similarity in writing style striking.

    • #26
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    @DuaneOyen
    Paul Snively

    Pseudodionysius: I had no idea that Claire was the daughter of the mathematician Berlinski.

    Don’t feel bad. I had read “A Tour of the Calculus” some years back, and read “A Menace in Europe” shortly after it came out. It took a few days before the thought “Berlinski… haven’t I read a Berlinski before?” occurred to me. Once it did, though, I found the similarity in writing style striking. · Oct 31 at 12:22pm

    Well, Peter Berlinski is a bit peeved with you over the first name….

    • #27
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