According to Elaine Sciolino, the New York Times Paris correspondent, writing in the International Herald Tribune, "President Jacques Chirac has never been one to shun the spotlight. But in the face of the most serious social crisis of his 10-year presidency, the 72-year-old French leader seems like the invisible man."
I can't remember when Sciolino first went to France to report for the Times, but if she thinks this is the "most serious social crisis" Chirac has faced, she's as wrong as she is when she says he's never been one to shun the spotlight. The award for "most serious social crisis" must go to the 2003 heatwave in which a collapse of government services resulted in the deaths of 15,000-old people in the space of about three weeks — that's five 9/11s, one every four days — while Chirac lounged through his holiday, far from every spotlight. Maybe she forgot. Or, more likely, she just didn't see it for what it was.
She's certainly not alone. I've written about this event often because 15,000 deaths by governmental negligence is what you call serious, social-crisis-wise. It's overlooked or ignored now, as it was then, because it's an cautionary tale embarrassing to the Left: It clearly illustrates what happens to you and your loved ones if you become accustomed to relying on the government — and especially the French one — to meet your personal responsibilities. The French learned then what Tocqueville knew long ago, that by the time you learn to depend on your government to save you, you're already a goner. The crisis of 2003 was not only a social crisis, for the Left, it was an ideological and spiritual one.
During that awful summer, as bodies choked morgues and doctors begged for help, Chirac said and did nothing for weeks — nothing at all, except to have his functionaries announce there was no crisis and punish those who said there was. After the crisis peaked, Chirac went on TV from his vacation home but only to tell the country not to worry. A year after the event, the health minister resigned and the government announced that in future heatwaves, everybody should go to the movies because they're air-conditioned. Otherwise, that most serious of social crises caused absolutely no visible change in French political life. A country that can shrug off manslaughter on a massive scale can easily overlook a few weeks of juvenile mischief.
Friday, November 11, 2005
Dennis Boyles revisits Jacques Chirac's so-called leadership in the 2003 death of 15,000 people during the heatwave.
Posted by Betsy Newmark at 2:25 PM