Until last week, the impending municipal elections in France were distinguished only by the eagerness of candidates across France to dissociate themselves from any of the political parties, affiliation with which was seen as a dead weight. There was a bit of a kerfuffle around a memo from interior minister Castaner instructing prefects not to tag candidates as belonging to the left, right, or center–nuançage in the somehow colorful yet colorless language of French officialdom–for which he was duly rebuked by the Conseil d’État.
But then came Griveaux-gate: the former government spokesperson and LRM candidate for mayor of the city of Paris suddenly became the French Anthony Weiner, exposed, as it were, by the machinations of a lawyer associated with the far left, a Russian “performance artist” previously known for an “installation” in which he set fire to the entrance of the Banque de France, and the latter’s girlfriend, a law student who was the recipient of Griveaux’s “dick pics,” as US and British tabloids would say, or “photographies de caractère intime,” in la langue plutôt châtiée of the respectable French press. Actually, not to put too fine a point on it, the ex-candidate was forced out of the race by what was allegedly a video of himself masturbating, which he imprudently sent to the young woman in question and which was then surfaced on a Canadian Web site expressly set up for the purpose.
The response to this fiasco has been interesting. On the one hand, all the political parties, from La France Insoumise to Le Rassemblement National have denounced this “atteinte à la démocratie et à la vie privée.” This has been coupled with the usual aspersions on le puritanisme américain, from which the French like to consider themselves exempt. On the other hand, the president, gambling that the scandal might have handed him an opportunity to win the Paris mayoralty, which had seemed irretrievably lost with Griveaux as the candidate and the party split by the dissidence of mathematician-deputy Cédric Villani, dispatched his health minister Agnès Buzyn in a desperate last-month maneuver.
This was a strange decision, with the corona virus crisis coming to a head following the death of a Chinese tourist on French soil and the hospitals in turmoil as a result of Buzyn’s budget-cutting. Buzyn, a hematologist with no political experience prior to her appointment as health minister, might seem an unlikely prospect to reverse the sinking fortunes of LRM in the capital. But Macron appears to hope that she can pull off a Macron-like victory as the outsider whose strength lies precisely in her atypicality.
Meanwhile, la classe politique has shown itself to be exemplary in its studious avoidance of the slightest appearance of titillation by the troubles of Griveaux, who was not much liked prior to his calvaire but now seems to enjoy the universal approbation of many who must be thinking, There but for fortune … To draw the obvious conclusion that, in an era notorious for the depredations wrought by salacious selfies, it is an act of colossal stupidity for a political figure to record himself in flagrante delicto and send it over the wires, is to risk condemnation as an abettor of those who would destroy democracy. Is it too much to ask the friends of democracy to defend themselves by the exercise of a bit of common sense? Griveaux le grivois might have foreseen where his folly would end.
Photo Credit: Jacques Paquier, Benjamin Griveaux, via Wikimedia Commons, CC BY 2.0.