‘President Bling-Bling’


President Nicolas Sarkozy’s center-right party got a rebuke from French voters in recent local elections, with leftist parties narrowly beating Mr. Sarkozy’s party and its allies. The opposition Socialists tried to spin this as a rejection of economic reforms, the platform on which Mr. Sarkozy was elected 10 months ago, but they knew as well as everyone else in France that was not the issue.

For one thing, there haven’t been that many reforms that anybody’s noticed. For another, every poll made clear that Mr. Sarkozy was being punished for all the high-profile and unpresidential antics that have earned him the sobriquet “President Bling-Bling.”

For a politician who worked so long and hard to get into the Élysée Palace, Mr. Sarkozy has demonstrated a curious notion of how to behave once there. His stormy divorce and almost immediate remarriage to a glamorous singer-model were only the most sensational of moves that got Sarkozy onto 252 glossy French magazine covers in 2007.

Some are fairly classified as personal business, but some were bad judgment by any measure: when he stalked out of an interview with Lesley Stahl of CBS News while calling his press spokesman an “imbecile,” or his crude crack at a guy who refused to shake hands with him at the Paris farm show, which became an instant Internet hit. Such tidbits of sensation have been coupled with badly garbled messages from Mr. Sarkozy’s administration, with the president or his aides often talking and acting at cross-purposes to the ministers. Mr. Sarkozy proposed in February that fifth-graders research individual French children killed in the Holocaust, a peculiar foray into classroom issues that caught his government by surprise and was soon scrapped.

With luck, the election rebuff will be just what Mr. Sarkozy needs to refocus his boundless energy on what he promised: serious economic reforms. He has said he would “draw conclusions” from the local vote, and Élysée officials are taking steps to “represidentialize” the president. Mr. Sarkozy is far too ebullient to be turned into a clone of his staid and pompous predecessors, but when a politician’s behavior gets in the way of his mission, it’s time for a dose of discipline.

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