I am not a crook, French President Jacques Chirac could havebeen saying when he addressed the French nation last Friday.
The Nixonian quality of what could be Chirac's last gasp as anelected official was not missed by the audience he intended toreach.
French leftists, who have hitched their wagons to an audaciousstudent movement with the wind in its sails, have taken to guffawingin public at the president and his prime minister, Dominique deVillepin.
French trade union leaders, who can't even make the trains stop anymore, pouted that Chirac had failed to meet their demand to withdrawthe controversial new law that would make it easier for students tofind jobs (go figure why they object to that - but this isFrance).
When he was re-elected with 82% of the vote in May 2002 to afive-year term, Jacques Chirac could do no wrong. Faced with a choicein the run-off election between the center-right Chirac, and theneo-fascist Jean-Marie LePen, French voters came out for Chirac.
'But they didnt just vote for him. They loved him. They tookto the streets, "united against fascism," and whatever other olddemons of the French soul they found incarnate in the clownishLePen.
And Chirac paid them back by standing up to America, refusing the"rush to war" in Iraq. He was a hero.
Chirac loves to be loved. Personally. Intimately. According to hisbiographer, Franz-Olivier Giesbert, Chirac's well-known love affairsmay be his saving grace, endearing him to a large number of femalevoters. But again, this is France!
Jacques Chirac believes the French people love him, no matter what hedoes. And nothing anybody says will dissuade him from thatbelief.
Believing his own hype is a misstep any politician can make. ButChirac has done it again and again.
I knew that this latest presidential speech was Chirac's Nixon momentthe minute I heard him go through his unbelievable litany of howdeeply he "knew" the concerns of the young people who had seized thestreets of France.
He knew their pain, he knew their worries, he knew their fears. Infact, he was so full of knowledge that it was clear he knew he didn'tneed to listen to them.
Over a million people filled the streets of France on Tuesday - threemillion according to the strike organizers - in an attempt toget the besieged president to listen to them.
'The Nixon parallel became overt on the evening of this weeks generalstrike, when a French cable TV network began playing "All thePresident's Men" during prime time. (For those of you too young toremember, that's the now-classic Hollywood version of the book thatbrought fame and fortune to Bob Woodward and to the Washington Post,starring Dustin Hoffman and Robert Redford as the intrepidreporters).
There is no burglary in Chirac's Nixon; all the plumbers in today'sFrance are Polish. But Chirac's behavior was "worse than a crime: itwas a mistake," as Talleyrand liked to say of his own betters.
Chirac's first mistake was to believe that young French men and womenwould believe he had their best interests in mind when he orderedVillepin's government to craft the new labor law. Why should they?Just because they acknowledged that they had voted for him againstLePen?
His next mistake was to assign his fatuous Prime Minister the task oframming the law down the throat of the opposition by passing it on aparliamentary no-confidence vote.
Even pro-government members of the French National Assembly votes forthe government in such instances, knowing that the slightestdefection could bring down the government and force new elections -in which case, they could be out of a seat.
"Imagine what would have happened in the United States had George W.Bush decided to use his "political capital after his 2004 re-electionto mandate Social Security reform without ever attempting to convincethe American public.
And Democrats complain that Bush is obstinate! He spent six monthstaking his proposals on a failed road show around the country, beforecalling it quits.
Neither Chirac nor Villepin spent a single day trying to convinceanyone of the correctness of the new labor law. In their eyes, it wassufficient that they were right. For the peons, that should have beenenough.
Chirac is as out of touch with the French public as ever RichardNixon was. But Dominique de Villepin doesn't have Agnew's sputteringsense of comedy. At least with Spiro, not everyone was laughing athim.
'Many Americans agreed with Spiro Agnews portrayal of the media andcampus elites. They might not have understood "nattering nabobs ofnegativism" the first time they heard the phrase. But once they did,many felt (and still feel) that it described the leftist elites to atee.
Not so with the elitist Dominique Galouzeau de Villepin, scion ofaristocracy, admirer of Napolean, and would-be king.
I've always wondered what part of Napolean's glory de Villepin likedthe best. Was it the retreat from Moscow, when he led 400,000 youngFrenchmen to their pointless deaths?
Mark my words: the French premier is going to start going on aboutnabobs of negativism and pusillanimous pussyfooters in another fewdays - but no one will find it very funny.
As for Chirac, his days as an effective politician are over.
He's already the lamest of lame ducks. While he threatens to run fora third presidential term next year, no one believes he will actuallydo it, given that the latest poll found that just one percent ofFrench voters would actually vote for him.
I expect he will find other demons to conjur, other dragons toslay.
Why not Scientology? The other headline in France this week featuresScientology adept John Travolta "coming to the rescue" of KatieHolmes.
Ban the "cult?" Seize their assets? Chase American influence fromHoly France?
It might work for a week.
But when the kids come back from Easter holidays, things are going toget hot for Jacques Chirac and Dominique de Villepin.
Even if they withdraw the new law - which members of their own partyhave admitted they will do in the coming weeks- they are alreadyguilty of the Nixonian cover-up.
Chirac never learned the first rule of Watergate. If you make amistake, admit it right away, and try to get the public to move on.Instead, he keeps inventing new excuses why he was right, why theplumbers never broke the law, why their actions were in the nationalinterest.
Jacquot, he is called by friends and detractors alike.