In Dicta

Friday, July 22, 2005

L'Etat? C'est Moi ... Not

"Revolutions aside, France on Bastille Day looks a lot like a monarchy. The head of state reviews his troops under the Arc de Triomphe and waves beneficently to crowds along the Champs-Elysees. Fighter jets scream overhead and brass bands play. Then he adjourns to his palace for a garden party and a sit-down television interview: a sort of State of the Union address with questions.

This year 72-year-old Jacques Chirac, though visibly worn, remained regally aloof in the face of his interrogators. Yes, France rejected the European constitution in his ill-conceived referendum. And the International Olympic Committee rejected France for the 2012 Games. "I did not feel humiliated," said Chirac. He might as well have said, a la Richard Nixon, "I am not a crook."

When a president starts talking like that, the public starts thinking "lame duck" and "how much longer?" The answer, in Chirac's case, is almost 22 months, but a new poll already shows that 43 percent of the French hope he will "involve himself less and less" in the country's key issues. His approval ratings are down in the 30s or 20s, depending on the pollsters. "What purpose does the head of state serve?" asked the weekly L'Express recently. In a country used to thinking that the head of state in many ways is France—"L'etat c'est moi" —the notion of a lame duck seems unsettling, subversive, even dangerous. Yet after his four decades at the top of national politics, many analysts agree: Chirac and France are parting ways."

From Newsweek.

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