It would appear that MoDo is back from Paris, but she’s still all a-twitter about the French. In “Can Valérie Seduce The French?” she fizzes that the first unmarried French first lady and other Gauls are hard at work trying to temper their gall. OOOH — a play on words! Gall/Gaul… I’ll bet she’s as proud as punch over that one. The Moustache of Wisdom, in “If Churchill Could See Us Now,” says the G.O.P. aversion to an immigration bill is costing us dearly. Here’s MoDo:
It is disorienting to watch the French try to be nice.
They don’t scorn you as much when you try out your pidgin French. France’s first unmarried first lady, Valérie Trierweiler, is conducting a global charm offensive in an effort to escape her nickname, “The Rottweiler.” And the slinky former first lady, Carla Bruni-Sarkozy, is promoting the virtues of being genial as she hawks her latest CD of breathy French songs and her husband breathlessly hints at a comeback.
“I feel better when I’m nice,” Carla told The Daily Beast.
As Elizabeth Becker writes in “Overbooked,” the snobby French are ambivalent about being the No. 1 destination of the 21st century. The erstwhile Napoleonic Empire is a little embarrassed about its reliance on something as fluffy as tourism. But employment and foreign investment are spiraling, so the French are forced to fall back on their “enchanting delightfulness,” as Mark Twain called it. They must, sadly, put on le happy face.
The city of Paris published a six-page booklet called “Do you speak touriste?” to help taxi drivers, restaurant workers, hoteliers, museum staffers and merchants woo various nationalities.
Americans, the manual advises, must have their Wi-Fi, fancy hotels and dinner at 6; the Spanish crave “freebies,” amusement parks and dinner between 9 and 11; the Japanese bow and desire reassurance but will complain when they get home if things were not right; the Germans demand cleanliness; the Chinese like a “simple smile” as they leave for a day of luxury shopping; and the Brazilians are “easily tactile” and want a “totally poetic experience.”
Trierweiler’s seduction attempt follows a rocky start. The pretty but prickly 48-year-old helped transform François Hollande from a bike-riding schlub who lacked confidence, because he was competing in Socialist politics with his luminous partner, Ségolène Royal, for president. But on election night last year, the French noticed Valérie’s flash of jealousy when Hollande walked across stage to thank Ségolène, and Valérie’s subsequent demand that he kiss her on the lips.
Then she sent out a nasty tweet when Paris Match, her employer, covered her like any other first lady, and a reputation for arrogance grew.
She was mocked as “the first girlfriend” in a country that still wants kings and queens to look up to. Compared with her feline predecessor as première dame, Carla, Valérie was pegged as more catty. She had to apologize for a tweet supporting the opponent of Royal, the official Socialist candidate, in the legislative elections, and Hollande was mocked for failing to control his femmes or France.
“It is not a harmonious triangle,” sighed one French journalist.
Hollande, who faced the ire of traditional marriage champions for legalizing gay marriage, sidestepped tradition himself. He didn’t marry Royal, the mother of his four children. And, while he brings Trierweiler on official travel and splits his time with her in the Élysée Palace and an apartment in the 15th arrondissement, he hasn’t saved her from the awkward position of being a single first lady.
One political cartoon showed Valérie asking Hollande to marry her and him replying, Do you think I’m gay or what?
In the last five months, Trierweiler has done her best to impress the French, plunging into causes like autism and domestic violence against children. Last week, she traveled to Congo, where she went to a hospital to meet women who had been raped by militia members.
Le Point, a weekly right-wing magazine, called Valérie’s “Operation Win Over” a mission impossible, noting that she is even more universally disliked than the hapless Hollande, the most unpopular president in the history of the Fifth Republic.
Her conservative critics complained that she was costing strapped taxpayers too much, given that she’s not even married to the president, but it turned out Carla cost more. A supermarket chain heir, Xavier Kemlin, pressed charges against Trierweiler for embezzlement, arguing that “our taxes” shouldn’t pay for “the house, the food, the staff and the trips” of a woman he views as no more than an official mistress.
At the Bastille Day parade, where Valérie glowed in a hot pink dress and wide smile, some anti-gay-marriage protesters waved a banner reading: “Valérie: wife, concubine or chick? Fiscally, the president must choose.”
In a recent TV interview with Alessandra Sublet, Trierweiler offered humanizing tidbits such as “I still do my sons’ laundry” and “I still vacuum sometimes to relax.” She admitted that it had been hard to go from the observer to the observed; she had to give up her job as a top political reporter at Paris Match and move to the culture section.
She ignored Carla’s remark about her conjugal status to Vanity Fair’s Maureen Orth that “it’s not easy not to be married” in the role.
Asked if she and Hollande would marry, Valérie replied, “What for? Companion is a really nice word because it means we accompany them. We are together because we love each other and not because we have to be because we’re married.”
What a waste of pixels. Now here’s The Moustache of Wisdom:
Whenever we go into political drift as a country, optimists often quote Winston Churchill’s line that Americans will always do the right thing, after they’ve “exhausted all other possibilities.” I don’t think that’s true anymore. Churchill never met the Tea Party, and he certainly never met today’s House Republicans, a group so narrow-minded and disinterested in governing — and the necessary compromises that go with it — that they’re ready to kill an immigration bill that is manifestly in the country’s economic, social and strategic interests.
Proving Churchill at least half-right, we have foolishly ignored immigration reform for years. But today, finally, we’ve found a coalition of Senate Democrats and 14 Senate Republicans who have courageously compromised on a bill that, though not perfect — it still spends too much on border defense — opens more opportunity for the high- and low-skilled immigrants we need to thrive and gives those already here illegally a legitimate pathway to citizenship. Yet it appears that brain-dead House Republicans and their pusillanimous leadership are not inclined to do the right thing and pass a similar bill. We’ve exhausted all other possibilities, and we’re still stuck. That is how a great country becomes un-great.
Many House Republicans are resistant to a bill because they come from gerrymandered districts dominated by older white people who have a knee-jerk resistance to immigration reform — borne of fears of job-loss to illegal immigrants and a broader anxiety about the changing color and demographics in America. And rather than trying to defuse those fears by putting the immigration bill into the larger context in which it belongs, a critical mass of House Republicans seems committed to fanning them.
What world are we living in today? Countries that don’t start every day by asking that question do not thrive in the long run. We are living in a world with at least five competing market platforms: North America, the European Union, South America, Greater China and East Asia. We have already derived great economic benefit through the North American Free Trade Agreement, or Nafta. And, if we were thinking strategically, one of our top foreign policy priorities would be to further integrate North America.
I wonder how many Americans know that we sell twice as many exports to Mexico as to China, and we export more than twice as much to Mexico and Canada as to the European Union and three times as much as we do to East Asia. I wonder how many Americans know that out of every $1 of Mexican exports to the U.S., 40 cents comes from materials and parts made in the U.S. By comparison, out of every $1 of Chinese exports to the world, just 4 cents comes from products made in the U.S., according the National Bureau of Economic Research. And, with the discovery of natural gas in America leading to more manufacturing returning to this country, and the prospect of pending energy reform in Mexico, there is an opportunity to create the lowest-cost, clean-energy manufacturing platform in the world, with mutually beneficial supply chains crisscrossing the continent.
To enhance such a win-win growth strategy that would incentivize more Mexicans to stay home, we should be investing in a major expansion of transportation corridors to facilitate truck, intermodal (including shipping and high-speed rail) and human traffic in a much more efficient and legal fashion. In short, we’d start with where we want and need North America to go, so we can thrive even more, and then forge a border and immigration policy with both Mexico and Canada to achieve that. We’re doing just the opposite — starting with a fear-fence and not thinking strategically at all.
“Instead of lowering the barriers to create a modern border and a more competitive and secure continent, the Republicans propose to deal with illegal migration by doubling our border patrol to over 40,000, which is 10 times more than it was before Nafta, at an additional cost of more than $40 billion,” notes Robert Pastor, founder of the Center for North American Studies at American University, and author of “The North American Idea: A Vision of a Continental Future.”
“The Republicans claim they are interested in free markets, but instead of trying to flatten the continent, they are fracturing it,” added Pastor. “Instead of eliminating the huge rules of origin tax and creating a common external tariff and a seamless continental market, they want to wall off our neighbors.”
By focusing exclusively on fences, we will not stop undocumented immigration — because 40 percent of illegal residents are people who overstayed their visas — but we will fail to invest in the infrastructure that represents a critical foundation for our future. More important, says Pastor, we will also be telling “the Mexicans and the Canadians that we view them as threats, not as partners.”
The whole approach is shortsighted, does not play to our strengths, increases the deficit and ignores where the world is going and how America can best compete and lead within it. Churchill would be aghast.