Chirac's Nixon Moment

By Kenneth R. Timmerman
| April 7, 2006

I am not a crook, French President Jacques Chirac could have been saying when he addressed the French nation last Friday.

The Nixonian quality of what could be Chirac's last gasp as an elected official was not missed by the audience he intended to reach.

French leftists, who have hitched their wagons to an audacious student movement with the wind in its sails, have taken to guffawing in public at the president and his prime minister, Dominique de Villepin.

French trade union leaders, who can't even make the trains stop any more, pouted that Chirac had failed to meet their demand to withdraw the controversial new law that would make it easier for students to find jobs (go figure why they object to that  - but this is France).

When he was re-elected with 82% of the vote in May 2002 to a five-year term, Jacques Chirac could do no wrong. Faced with a choice in the run-off election between the center-right Chirac, and the neo-fascist Jean-Marie LePen, French voters came out for Chirac.

'But they didnt just vote for him. They loved him. They took to the streets, "united against fascism," and whatever other old demons of the French soul they found incarnate in the clownish LePen.

And Chirac paid them back by standing up to America, refusing the "rush to war" in Iraq. He was a hero.

Chirac loves to be loved. Personally. Intimately. According to his biographer, Franz-Olivier Giesbert, Chirac's well-known love affairs may be his saving grace, endearing him to a large number of female voters. But again, this is France!

Jacques Chirac believes the French people love him, no matter what he does. And nothing anybody says will dissuade him from that belief.

Believing his own hype is a misstep any politician can make. But Chirac has done it again and again.

I knew that this latest presidential speech was Chirac's Nixon moment the minute I heard him go through his unbelievable litany of how deeply he "knew" the concerns of the young people who had seized the streets of France.

He knew their pain, he knew their worries, he knew their fears. In fact, he was so full of knowledge that it was clear he knew he didn't need to listen to them.

Over a million people filled the streets of France on Tuesday - three million according to the strike organizers -  in an attempt to get the besieged president to listen to them.

'The Nixon parallel became overt on the evening of this weeks general strike, when a French cable TV network began playing "All the President's Men" during prime time. (For those of you too young to remember, that's the now-classic Hollywood version of the book that brought fame and fortune to Bob Woodward and to the Washington Post, starring Dustin Hoffman and Robert Redford as the intrepid reporters).

There is no burglary in Chirac's Nixon; all the plumbers in today's France are Polish. But Chirac's behavior was "worse than a crime: it was a mistake," as Talleyrand liked to say of his own betters.

Chirac's first mistake was to believe that young French men and women would believe he had their best interests in mind when he ordered Villepin's government to craft the new labor law. Why should they? Just because they acknowledged that they had voted for him against LePen?

His next mistake was to assign his fatuous Prime Minister the task of ramming the law down the throat of the opposition by passing it on a parliamentary no-confidence vote.

Even pro-government members of the French National Assembly votes for the government in such instances, knowing that the slightest defection could bring down the government and force new elections - in which case, they could be out of a seat.

"Imagine what would have happened in the United States had George W. Bush decided to use his "political capital after his 2004 re-election to mandate Social Security reform without ever attempting to convince the American public.

And Democrats complain that Bush is obstinate! He spent six months taking his proposals on a failed road show around the country, before calling it quits.

Neither Chirac nor Villepin spent a single day trying to convince anyone of the correctness of the new labor law. In their eyes, it was sufficient that they were right. For the peons, that should have been enough.

Chirac is as out of touch with the French public as ever Richard Nixon was. But Dominique de Villepin doesn't have Agnew's sputtering sense of comedy. At least with Spiro, not everyone was laughing at him.

'Many Americans agreed with Spiro Agnews portrayal of the media and campus elites. They might not have understood "nattering nabobs of negativism" the first time they heard the phrase. But once they did, many felt (and still feel) that it described the leftist elites to a tee.

Not so with the elitist Dominique Galouzeau de Villepin, scion of aristocracy, admirer of Napolean, and would-be king.

I've always wondered what part of Napolean's glory de Villepin liked the best. Was it the retreat from Moscow, when he led 400,000 young Frenchmen to their pointless deaths?

Mark my words: the French premier is going to start going on about nabobs of negativism and pusillanimous pussyfooters in another few days - but no one will find it very funny.

As for Chirac, his days as an effective politician are over.

He's already the lamest of lame ducks. While he threatens to run for a third presidential term next year, no one believes he will actually do it, given that the latest poll found that just one percent of French voters would actually vote for him.

I expect he will find other demons to conjur, other dragons to slay.

Why not Scientology? The other headline in France this week features Scientology adept John Travolta "coming to the rescue" of Katie Holmes.

Ban the "cult?" Seize their assets? Chase American influence from Holy France?

It might work for a week.

But when the kids come back from Easter holidays, things are going to get hot for Jacques Chirac and Dominique de Villepin.

Even if they withdraw the new law - which members of their own party have admitted they will do in the coming weeks- they are already guilty of the Nixonian cover-up.

Chirac never learned the first rule of Watergate. If you make a mistake, admit it right away, and try to get the public to move on. Instead, he keeps inventing new excuses why he was right, why the plumbers never broke the law, why their actions were in the national interest.

Jacquot, he is called by friends and detractors alike.

President Whatever.

Original article