Saturday, January 31, 2009

Officials sacked after Sarkozy hears jeers.

Various friends of mine had different reactions to Bush being jeered during Obama's inauguration, with some of them expressing pity for the man, a pity which I must admit I did not share.

Bush governed, by his own admission, with a contempt for the opinions of the people he was supposed to represent and attempted to turn that contempt into a thing of honour by claiming that he did not govern "by opinion polls". That is why he always seemed to make speeches in front of members of the armed services, as service personnel are not allowed to express any contempt they might feel for their commander in chief.

So, when Bush finally faced the reckoning of a public he had for so long ignored, I felt that there was a certain poetic justice in him having to walk the walk of shame. After all, he was supposed to be the people's representative, and he had made it clear that he didn't care what the people thought as he was "the decider".

But, over in France, President Nicolas Sarkozy is hearing notes of discontent and has actually started to fire people for allowing such stuff to even reach his ears.

The police chief and the most senior national government official in the Manche département (county) of lower Normandy have been fired in successive days, to the fury of local politicians, including members of M. Sarkozy's own party.

The officials' offence was to fail to shield the President from the boos and whistles of protesters when he made a speech in the town of Saint-Lô earlier this month. Their dismissal has fuelled a debate about President Sarkozy's increasingly autocratic behaviour. Two high-profile ministers from ethnic minorities, appointed by M. Sarkozy to much fanfare in 2007, have been placed in the political deep-freeze by the President in recent weeks. Last year he ordered the firing of a successful Corsican police chief after nationalist protesters had invaded the garden of his friend, the actor Christian Clavier.

The latest victims of presidential pique are two recently-appointed officials who had overall responsibility for public order when M. Sarkozy visited lower Normandy to speak on education reform on 12 January. About 3,000 demonstrators protested. M. Sarkozy was furious the demonstrators had been allowed to come so near that he could hear them faintly.

He was heard to say at the time: "Quel con, ce préfet." (What an arsehole, this prefect is.) A prefect is a governor appointed by the state to oversee the administration of each département. On Thursday, it was announced that the prefect of the Manche département, Jean Charbonniaud, was being moved to another job.

I happen to think the arsehole is Sarkozy himself. The beauty of democracy is that the president or prime minister is supposed to represent the views of the people. Just witness the hero's welcome the Turkish PM was greeted with as he returned home after chiding Peres for Israel's attack on Gaza and contrast that with the way both Bush and Sarkozy have been greeted with hostility for governing contrary to what their respective public wanted and insisting that they knew better than the public did when it came to what was good for the country.

Bush attempted to turn the fact that he was unpopular into a price he was willing to pay to do "the right thing", but "the right thing" under the Bush years seemed to many to simply be the enrichment of the most wealthy parts of American society and a contempt for everyone else.

Perhaps, if politicians like Bush and Sarkozy were not protected from the wrath of the people they were elected to represent, then they would govern in a way which ensured that they continued to represent those people's interests rather than simply the narrow ideological beliefs of their own political party.

That is supposed to be the whole point of democracy. Obama is currently fantastically popular because he puts into words the aspirations of so many of us. Should he fail to deliver, his popularity will drop. I see nothing wrong with that. Indeed, it's the only way that I can see to ever make politicians deliver on their promises.

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