Sunday, January 14, 2007

The Caius Julius Temptation

Today is Nicolas Sarkozy’s big day. Today is DA day, when little Nicolas is crowned holy candidate of the UMP for the coming presidential election in France.

Nothing is too good to celebrate this auspicious day. No effort has been spared. 3,500,000 € have been lavished on Mr Sarkozy's enthronement show. Eight bullet trains have been chartered, and 520 coaches to bring in worshippers from all over France.

Mr Sarkozy is the one and only candidate for his party’s nomination. He is the sole, absolute ruler of an organization he’s been at the head of for years, an organization he very skillfully transformed into a tool for his own personal glory and to help his own devouring ambitions. The machine is now ready. Ready to hail its hero. With a luxury of means that more than borders on debauchery, the machine aims to send a message to France and the world.

What message, you ask?

That a man has managed to turn a collective group into a weapon that serves the interests of one individual. That Nicolas Sarkozy turned the UMP into something akin to what the communist party was in Romania in the times of Ceauscescu. He has turned a political party into an organization dedicated to his person.

A proof? A hint of this being true? Well, that’s easy: check the way things went in the Socialist party, and the bitter struggle between three would-be candidates for the nomination. With the UMP, nothing of the sort happened. Oh, there is dissent, among the “old guard” of the previous incarnation of the UMP, there are different voices, but strangely enough, none has stepped forward and declared they would battle Mr Sarkozy for the UMP nomination. Why do you think? Why, when you know that these personalities all have egos at least as big as Mr Sarkozy’s, and a huge experience of political battles and skirmishes?

Because all these people are no fools, and know they didn’t stand a chance. Because these people didn’t want to play the humiliating game of being Mr Sarkozy’s puppet opponent used to justify his own candidacy, his own triumph. Because the game was hacked from the start, and that everyone knew who the winner would be. The recipe is very simple, once you’re the head of a relatively new political party (the UMP was created on the ashes of the RPR) and you’re given free rein to organize it, structure it, and communicate as you wish with members and would-be members. As long as you have good professionals behind you who will be extremely careful that all messages you send to your members contain what is needed to cultivate the glory of the party’s leader, as long as you decide to put all efforts into the image of the “president”, this nice years-long brainwashing campaign will do the job: the members will vote for Mr Sarkozy, no matter who else is candidate for the UMP nomination.

Still, Mr Sarkozy would have loved to have at least one opponent, so he could show that his nomination was the “true” result of a democratic process where he had had to struggle and convince the party that he was the best candidate. Too bad for him, but none of his enemies within the UMP were stupid enough to oblige.

So instead, Mr Sarkozy compensates with a true Roman festival dedicated to his self-promotion. Mr Sarkozy organizes one hell of a big party where thousands of people are brought in to cheer him on and hail glory to him.

Americanization, mi amor…

Of course, the ideas, the projects, the policies, all that is secondary. All that shifts to the shadows, while Mr Sarkozy steps into the light, receives the expressions of fealty and admiration of the crowds.

For me, I don’t know how you can enjoy having crowds hail you on cue as happens in the worst TV shows. But then,, even though I certainly have a big ego, I must be lightyears away from Mr Sarkozy’s level.

Blinding people with the extravagance of his crowning show, Mr Sarkozy hopes to gain a legitimacy he was hoping to gain through a fake triumph over another candidate. He aims to focus people’s attention on images, on an empty show instead of on documents such as the very serious and frightening study of the Socialist party (in French here).

Mr Sarkozy is all empty self-display, and he uses the communication skills of his advisers so as not to have people dwell on who he is, what he wants, and what his true ideas and projects for France are.

Mr Sarkozy is a frightening figure, an authoritarian man with sharp intelligence and a formidable will and a headstrong attitude to match. Someone who cannot accept he could be wrong or could have to change his mind. A friend of the US neo-cons, an admirer of a culture that has nothing to do with Europe’s and France’s, he would use all his energy and power to transform France into what it is not. A firm believer in the superiority of religions over agnosticism or atheism, he would endanger the secularity of France.

Still, these are political ideas, and they have the right to be there, to exist and be debated, but they are not being debated. They’re being hidden behind a curtain of smoke, behind grand celebrations lavishing praise and applause on Mr Sarkozy himself.

What remains the most disturbing about him is the impossibly huge ego that transpires from everything he says or does. It’s how he has created and encouraged the transformation of a political party into a weapon solely dedicated to furthering his own glory and flattering his own ego.

He’s not the first to have this kind of personality. Many others before him went the way of self-admiration. Many others before him reshaped structures into tools that served only their own interests. In his manic quest to gather power around his person, Nicolas Sarkozy is going down the same path as the Bush Administration, where the White House frantically aims at pushing the executive’s power so far as to overwhelm the judicial and the legislative power. The process is the same.

And where it leads is not a place where we want to go.

Rome, 44 BC, when the Republic fell, and true tyranny started. Check your history books, it’s all explained there. Or, better, check out Rome, the HBO and BBC TV series, and you’ll see how Mr Nicolas Sarkozy and the US neo-cons are just recycled products of much brighter and stronger figures.

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