This is the English version, slightly shortened, of my Feb 23 article on (mostly) French politics in the wake of the friendship scandals between members of the French government and since-gone dictators. Since then Foreign Minister Alliot-Marie has been replaced by Alain Juppé.
My friends, what a ball we’re having since the tsunami of desperate populations in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and a few other Middle-East countries toppled at least two long term dictators under the astonished – and somewhat worried – eyes of our masters of pork barrel politics who don’t know how to hide their close ties with “friendly” dictatorships anymore. Of course realpolitik remains a fact of diplomatic life and governments need to compose with regimes of all sorts, but the fast pace of change we’ve witnessed in the past few weeks has wrong-footed the well oiled babytalk of our spin doctors and shines a ferocious light on the gap – the canyon – between the “after” saluting the revolutionaries and the “before” made of promiscuous relationships with corrupt and authoritarian regimes.
I won’t elaborate here on the Parisian vaudeville with main characters Foreign Minister Michèle Alliot-Marie and Prime Minister François Fillon in the grand settings of the thousand-and-one-nights palaces of Egypt and Tunisia. Suffice it to say that if ridicule were deadly, we would have a choice for the extension of the Père-Lachaise cemetery between the Elysée, Matignon (PM offices) and Quai d’Orsay (Foreign Ministry). As in any vaudeville, there is a message behind the buffoonery and that message is clear: hypocrisy and corruption are “values” shared by a delinquent political class, itself identified by two major operational characteristics: authoritarianism and privatisation of the commons.
The first characteristic is easy to spot, it mainly signals itself through the reduction of individual freedom in the name of “security” and attempts to restrict general human behaviour to the material production-consumption circle rather than enabling its social development and autonomy. Authoritarianism creates and utilizes anxiety to justify everything, including the danger of its own demise (such as: think what would happen in that region if so-and-so were to fall!).
Privatisation of the commons, more precisely the appropriation or use of public resources for private gain by entities within or closely associated with political power, has been eloquently described by economist James K. Galbraith in “The Predator State”. It is a form of corruption in which the beneficiaries leverage their executive and legislative powers to impose a political agenda that works in their favour (case in point: Wisconsin), to the detriment of the general public and the common good. One word covers it pretty well: plutocracy. The paid-for trips of Alliot-Marie to Tunisia is an example but closer to everyday life we have the illegitimate use of state police as private police serving the elites and the corruption of health authorities to sell unnecessary vaccines for the benefit friendly pharmaceutical companies (scandal of the porcine flu “pandemic”), not to mention the conflicts of interest within the Sarkozy family(1) and the Woerth-Bettencourt affair (2).
The only thing we can be reasonably sure about, concerning politics, is that the delinquent political class is present throughout the power structures of many so-called democratic countries. Big Finance, Big Gun, Big Oil, Big Pharma, Big GMO are pulling the strings of a worldwide puppet theatre within which our elected representatives and technocrats, career-conscious more than mission-conscious, play the game without taking risks as they wait for the opportunity to indulge themselves in the sweetness of self-serving politics.
One day we’ll have to grab that bull by the horns, either by cutting the grass under the feet of this delinquent public authority so it crashes by itself, or by toppling it Arab-style. Unless of course we prefer to keep watching from our duffs telling ourselves it could be a lot worse, until the worse arrives to the sound of boots marching along the early morning pavement to our door.
(1) President Nicolas Sarkoy has a brother, Guillaume, head of the Malakoff-Médéric insurance group which direcly benefitted from recent regulation on employer insurance policy. And another brother, François, major player in the pharma lobby and direct beneficiary of Sarkozy-led financing regulations.
(2) Mme Bettecnourt, major shareholder of company l’Oreal, whose fortune (including undeclared elements) was managed by a company employing the wife of Budget Minister Eric Woerth. Bettencourt is also a generous donor to the UMP, the political party behing Sarkozy. Woerth was pushed out of the government after months of beating by the press. Just like Alliot-Marie he lacks the basic honesty and respect for the ministerial function to resign from the job on his own.