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For once, French presidential candidates not publicly linked to hooker orgies

"You do not scare me with your puny little flags," Sarkozy told the crowd Wednesday.

France is currently suffering through another presidential election, giving French voters the opportunity to choose their new leader from among their masters–the small group of connected elites who run the country. Most democracies, of course, have groups of self-serving elites gathered around positions of power, though with varying levels of permeability for nouveaux pretenders. The United States, for example, has a hereditary system involving Kennedys (John, Robert, Ted, and their progeny), Bushes (George Sr., George Jr., Jeb), Sheens (Martin, Charlie) and Cheneys (Dick and his clones) who all do an admirable job of looking after their own.

In both France and the U.S., the political and economic elites generally come from the same universities, les grandes écoles in France and the Ivy League in the U.S., but their politicians must act differently. While America’s field of millionaire presidential challengers (Romney/ Kerry/ Edwards/ Bush/ Giuliani/ Forbes/ Perot/  Johnson/ Kennedy/ Roosevelt/ Hoover/ Cleveland) generally pretend, however awkwardly, to be modest folks who can relate to the average Joe on the street, the French public seems more accepting of a president who seems “presidential” with a bit of an elite touch. The difference might relate to how the voting public sees itself (and is stereotyped by outsiders). One could connect the terms ‘French’ and ‘elitist’ in probably as many coherent combinations as one could combine ‘American’ and ‘sweatpants’ and neither public would be too perturbed by the connection. With French political elitism thus nicely situated within French cultural elitism, we have a great opportunity to poke fun at simplistic French stereotypes.

I could start with the idea that French men are chauvinistic womanizers, but it’s tough to find a good real life example. Oh, wait. Dominique Strauss-Kahn. DSK is a special case, though, in that by being accused of sexual assault of a chamber maid, aggravated pimping for his role in orgies with prostitutes, and attempted rape of a journalist (whose mother he was shagging on the side) he has a trifecta of nastiness attached to his name that goes far beyond the standard French stereotypes about cheating husbands (see below). One might suggest that his case says more about powerful men everywhere, except that no powerful American politician has ever abused his position for sexual purposes. Right?

The French are different, however, in that they like their wealthy elites to do their wealth-ing and elite-ing in a low-key manner. That is why the current president, Nicolas Sarkozy, is not helped by being known as ‘le President Bling-bling’. Sarkozy, the son of a Hungarian aristocrat (which was a thing at one time), may be a bit of an outsider in French elite circles: his father was an immigrant! Though he didn’t exactly grow up poor, he may have been feeling the need to make up for his outsider-ish status when he celebrated his last presidential victory with the richest, most famous people he could find, and then jetted off to relax on a billionaire’s yacht for a few days. Unfortunately, this didn’t go over so well with the public. The problem wasn’t the yacht or the rich buddies, but the ostentatiousness of his interaction with them. Thinking this might be a problem down the road, Sarkozy ditched his wife and married supermodel pop singer multi-millionaire heiress head case, Carla Bruni. He’s clearly focused on connecting with the average Jacques dans la rue.

While early in the marriage, the talk was about which of the two was a greater romantic predator and who was the bigger spotlight hog (her, by 5 inches), these days Bruni claims that they are simple modest folk and that Sarko’s blingiest days are behind him. Let’s hope not because French ex-presidents are often as entertaining out of office as they were when wielding power.

Past presidents of France’s 5th republic:

Jacques Chirac
Chirac apparently used the French secret service to spy on his eventual successor, Sarkozy, to catch him cheating on his wives and lovers. This may or may not have been connected with the fact that Sarkozy dated and dumped Chirac’s daughter. This was all a bit too public for Chirac who cheated on his wife constantly, but discreetly.

Update: Chirac was recently found guilty of corruption but is playing the Reagan angle and pretending to not remember, explaining that he lost most of his memories when he became a zombie.

Francois Mitterrand
Mitterrand was the 5th republic’s only Socialist president. I really have no idea of the significance of that fact and neither do the French since they’re all socialist anyway. Mitterrand cheated on his wife consistently, but discreetly, until he died and his second family also showed up at the funeral. Awwwwwkwaaardd.

 

Valéry Giscard d’Estaing
At age 83, he wrote a book that was basically about him getting it on with Lady Di, which is probably fiction and definitely creepy. Little know fact: former President Valéry Giscard d’Estaing’s first name was Valéry. His presidency is most remembered for being during the 1970s, and like most things of that time we’re not really interested in learning more. Let’s move on.

 

Georges Pompidou
Pompidou, the country’s most unusually ventilated president, died of Waldenström’s macroglobulinemia, also known as lymphoplasmacytic lymphoma. This makes me think ‘cancer’ must have been well-tested in focus groups throughout the naming process to avoid situations like this.

 

Charles de Gaulle
De Gaulle was the only French president hated by more Canadians than Americans after he called for the break-up of Canada while visiting the country’s centennial celebrations in 1967. He gained prominence in leading the free French forces during WWII, as he considered the German invaders to be unbearably gauche. Little known fact: Founded the 5th republic just so he could be the first at something.

 

The author is The Daily Autocrat’s Paris-based correspondent.

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