PARIS - “As happy as God in France,” as the Germans say.
Move over Osama. Time to greet the spring in France, as I do every year.
Paris in May is the world’s most gorgeous city. Soon, I head to Lorraine to visit the forts of the great Maginot Line, slumbering giants lost in the verdant forests and hillsides of that beautiful but little-known part of France.
“Le tout Paris” (all Paris) is abuzz over reports President Nicholas Sarkozy and wife Carla Bruni are boycotting the Cannes Film Festival which just opened with the film, “Le 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 everyone knows the film is all about Sarko and the exquisite 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 at Cannes. In France, politics and film are inseparable.
The British press, which loathes France, is gleefully running nasty stories about the film and ugly rumors about Carla, who has never been renowned for fidelity.
However, while this springtime folderol went on, a political bombshell of staggering power exploded in New York City.
An April poll showed Socialist Dominique Strauss-Kahn running ahead 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 is 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: François Hollande, Martine Aubry, and Segolene Royal.
But if Strauss decides to stay in his cushy IMF job, Sarkozy would likely beat these weak Socialists candidates who are furiously squabbling among themselves.
France’s hardcore left is 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.
France’s sullen anti-business, anti-globalization left must decide whether it wants ideological purity or a candidate who can beat Sarkozy – who, of course is praying every night that DSK won’t run. Or that his bitter rival, tall, patrician former Prime Minister, Dominique de Villepin, won’t shake off his legal troubles and challenge Sarko for the center-right leadership.
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.
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. Interestingly, if the race boiled down to Sarkozy and DSK, it would pit two Frenchmen with Jewish blood against one another – to the dismay of the far right’s anti-Semites.
Sarkozy’s reaction has been to move even more rightward by bombing Libya, issuing threats against Syria, and catering 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’s plan for 2012 was to portray himself as an expert in economics, a steady hand in troubled times. But economist and IMF grand poobah DSK trumps Sarko when it comes to financial and economic matters. Sarko also faces some highly dangerous financial scandals.
But he has some good news: France’s economy grew a sizzling 1% in the first three months of 2011. Germany’s grew 1.5%. Northern Europe is on a roll.
Once French return in September from their sacred, near endless summer vacations, the presidential race will ignite.