PARIS — This week, the big buzz for “le tout Paris” (all Paris) — at least until Sunday’s “le grand bombshell” — was that President Nicholas Sarkozy and wife Carla Bruni were boycotting the Cannes Film Festival which just opened with the film, Le Conquest (The Conquest).
No wonder. This acid film is all about how a short, pushy, outsider in elevator heels ruthlessly clawing his way to the top of France’s political establishment. It’s fiction, but you have to be from Uranus not to know this celluloid hatchet job is all about Sarko and his exquisite wife Carla — who, at 43, is rumored to be pregnant, just in time for next year’s presidential elections.
Carla Bruni’s no-show is even more dramatic since she has a role in Woody Allen’s new film, Midnight in Paris, which opens with great fanfare at Cannes. In France, politics and film are inseparable.
The British press, which passionately loathes France, is having a field day running nasty stories about the film and circulating ugly rumors about Carla, who has never been renowned for fidelity or constancy.
However, while this springtime folderol went on, a political bombshell of staggering power exploded in New York City.
An April poll showed Socialist bigwig Dominique Strauss-Kahn running ahead of Sarkozy at 30%, followed by far-right National Front leader Marine LePen at 21%, and, sacré bleu! Sarko trailing at 19% in a first round of the two-part vote. Strauss-Kahn would then wallop Sarkozy in the second round vote.
Strauss-Kahn was expected to step down shortly as head of the International Monetary Fund and announce his run for president. He is expected to easily beat out the other truly boring Socialist contenders for the nomination: Francois Hollande, Martine Aubry, and Segolene Royal.
However, if Strauss had decided to stay in his cushy IMF job, Sarkozy would likely have whipped these weak Socialist candidates who are furiously squabbling among themselves and are bereft of public respect.
France’s hardcore left was not happy with Strauss-Kahn, known to all as DSK. A millionaire with a four million euro Paris penthouse and 140,000 euro Porche, DSK is lambasted by leftists as a champagne Socialist and establishment fat cat — which he certainly is.
France’s sullen anti-business, anti-globalization left had to decide whether it wanted ideological purity or a candidate who could beat Sarkozy — who, of course was praying every night that DSK won’t run.
Sarko’s prayers, or Carla’s Italian witchcraft, were amazingly answered this past Sunday in New York City.
Dominique Strauss-Kahn was on an Air France flight at Kennedy Airport, preparing to fly to Europe to meet Germany’s Prime Minister Angela Merkel. Minutes before takeoff, he was pulled off the flight by New York City police, hauled off to jail and later charged with the attempted rape and confinement of a 30-something maid at the Sofitel Hotel near Times Square.
DSK’s lawyers deny the charges, which at this moment sound rather flimsy But even if DSK is acquitted, the accusation will anger some female voters and possibly make him politically radioactive, particularly after past accusation, mostly hushed up, of numerous sexual escapades that got out of hand.
Sarkozy must be dancing with joy in the Elysee Palace. DSK’s bizarre Times Square misadventure very likely secures Sarko the presidency in 2012 because his other potential Socialist rivals are even less popular than he is.
Since he’s on a roll, Sarko must also now be praying that his bitter conservative rival, tall, patrician former prime minister, Dominique de Villepin, won’t shake off his current legal troubles and challenge Sarko for the center-right leadership. Sarko got de Villepin charged with slander and an attempted frame-up in an obscure financial scandal.
Interestingly, polls show that France’s most respected and trusted politician remains former president Jacques Chirac, who is also embroiled in his old political funding scandals.
Right now, Marine LePen’s hard right National Front has growing momentum due to mounting resentment against immigration, unemployment and globalization. The surge of France’s xenophobic far right is stealing away droves of voters from Sarkozy’s conservative party.
Marine and father Jean-Marie are often accused of being fascists. They are not. I spent much time with LePen senior, exploring his views. They are of France’s traditional ultra conservative Catholic right that found voice in the World War II Vichy government.
They are certainly anti-Jewish, anti-Muslim and anti-immigration, but not fascists of the Mussolini school. To understand this important difference, read Prof. Robert Paxton’s fine book, The Anatomy of Fascism.
Sarkozy’s reaction to the growing challenge from the LePen challenge has been to move even more rightward by bombing Libya and Ivory Coast, issuing threats against Syria, and getting closer to the United States and Israel. But recent polls show seven of ten French dislike or detest the hyperkinetic, flashy Sarkozy — know as “president bling” — and don’t regard him as properly French.
Sarko also faces some highly dangerous financial scandals. The most dangerous is the scandal over secret kickbacks he may have authorized over the sale of French submarines to Pakistan in the 1990’s that may have led to the deaths in Karachi of a number of French naval technicians.
But Sarko just got some more very good news that could sweep away these dark clouds: France’s economy grew a sizzling 1% in the first three months of 2011. Germany’s grew 1.5%. Northern Europe’s economy is on a roll, even though southern Europe is stuck in a ditch.
So now, the big question is, if Strauss-Kahn ends up in a New York State prison, will French voters who are fed up with Sarkozy throw their votes to Marine Le Pen’s National Front? Or will it be Roi Sarko in the Elysee Palace?
Eric Margolis [send him mail] is the author of War at the Top of the World and the new book, American Raj: Liberation or Domination?: Resolving the Conflict Between the West and the Muslim World. See his website.