Monday, March 12, 2007

Political beast

In French, the expression "political beast", applied to an individual with inborn talents for pursuing a political career, often in spite of huge obstacles, is not at all derogatory. On the contrary, it underlines the existence of rare skills, stubborn determination and natural gifts in the art of being a politician.

Ever since 1967, when Georges Pompidou invited 34-year-old Jacques Chirac—whom the prime minister nicknamed "my bulldozer"—to become a member of his government, this dynamic individual has been recognized by everybody, whether they like him or hate him, as a pure specimen of a political beast. Just as a dairy farmer can generally identify each of his cows, it has been said that, in his native Corrèze region, Chirac knew the names and backgrounds of countless rural folk. For example, if a farmer happened to tell Chirac that his aging mother was not in good form, then the next time they met up, maybe months later, Chirac would inquire: "Tell me, Gaston, how's your mother getting along these days?"

When my daughter was a little girl in Paris, she was offered a trivial but striking demonstration of Chirac's power of identifying people. Campaigning for the prestigious job of mayor of Paris, Chirac spent half-an-hour in the Rue Rambuteau, in the heart of Paris, which had been our home address since the end of the '60s. The candidate was shaking hands with every person he encountered, and nine-year-old Emmanuelle stepped into the line to await her turn. The giggling little girl was then proud to inform her schoolfriends in the street that she had just shaken hands with Chirac. A few minutes later, noticing that the candidate had crossed over onto the opposite side of the street, where his hand-shaking contacts concerned shopkeepers, Emmanuelle decided that it would be fun to see if she could succeed in obtaining a second hand-shake from Chirac. This time, to my daughter's amazement, Chirac made a smiling remark, proving that he had remembered her : "Ah, my little girl, I see you're a keen supporter!"

Last night, watching Jacques Chirac informing the nation on TV that he would not be running for a third presidential term, most viewers surely had the impression that they were witnessing a historic moment: the end of the reign of a prince of politics.

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