23 May 2011

Valeurs Familiales

And just what are these values worth?
Carla Bruni and Nicolas Sarkozy, parents-to-be

In the ongoing horror story that is Dominique Strauss-Kahn’s arrest on rape charges in New York, what fascinates me most is how incredibly easy it is to believe the man was set up by his political opponents. I don’t seriously believe — and every feminist bone in my body shrieks in pain every time I doubt for even an instant the motives of DSK’s accuser — and yet for me as for vast numbers of French people the possibility of a political conspiracy against DSK remains irresistible to contemplate.

As I’ve said from the start, the timing of DKS’s arrest, just weeks before he was expected to announce his candidacy for the French presidency, is almost preposterously convenient to his opponents, notably including the incumbent, Nicolas Sarkozy. But hardly had DSK completed his perp walk when the announcement came that Sarkozy’s wife, the singer Carla Bruni, was pregnant. Now, reliable old DSK is an accused sex offender and Sarkozy, of all people, can position himself as a family-values candidate: suddenly, the political landscape of France is remade.

Courtroom drama: DSK in NYC

American readers may not recall that Bruni (an artist whose work I rather like) is Sarkozy’s third wife. He met the second wife, Cécilia, when, as mayor of Neuilly, he officiated at her marriage to another man — whom she promptly divorced in order to marry Sarkozy. Though it was believed that Cécilia had little interest in becoming first lady of France, she stuck by Sarkozy throughout the election campaign in 2007, then bolted after he’d won. Sarkozy began dating Bruni a few months later, then married her.

Bruni herself had maintained a busy love life and was described in the press as a “man-eater,” with a long list of famous lovers, including at one point a father and son, more or less simultaneously. This sort of track record is more usual in the music industry than it is in French politics, and while the “family–values candidacy” is more an American concept than a French one, the Sarkozys were not the first people you’d expect to find running on such a platform.

Until now.

For much of his career, Sarkozy, a right-winger, has seemed obsessed with co-opting voters from the farther-right Front National. That party has seen its prospects rise lately with the retirement of its longtime standard-bearer, Jean-Marie LePen, in favor of his media-savvy daughter, Marine. Usually Sarkozy has tried to appeal to FN voters by adapting or adopting anti-immigrant policies and rhetoric that is often understood as xenophobic. Sarkozy seems to suggest he can offer FN voters more or less what they wanted, but in more palatable form; but if Marine LePen herself represents the FN in a more palatable form, his campaign will be more challenging in 2012 than in the past.

One answer could be in those traditional values — the local equivalent of Kinder Küche Kirche — upheld by a certain segment of the French right. For generations, the French paid little attention to their politicians’ personal lives, but that’s changing, in part due to the allegations against DSK and in part due to Sarkozy’s love life, too. A newborn baby could be a campaign asset for any candidate trying to appeal to the French right.

Of course, one would have to be paranoid in the extreme to believe that Carla Bruni somehow timed her pregnancy just to help her husband get reelected; one has to perform daring feats of mental gymnastics to understand the DSK case as any kind of conspiracy, in the face of physical evidence and testimony. And yet conspiracy theorists are always quick to ask, “Who stands to gain?” For now, the answer to that question does little to dispel my unwilling temptation to wonder whether there’s something fishy going on.


Anne said...

Thank you, Bill, for once again capturing my sentiments in a form more articulate than any I could frame.

William V. Madison said...

You flatter me! But thank you.