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Correspondence

A Hydra With Two Heads

On Tuesday, May 31, just two days after a decisive 55-percent majority of French voters had rejected the treaty proposal for a constitution for Europe, simultaneously destroying the president’s waning prestige and the fragile unity of France’s Socialist Party, Jacques Chirac staggered his supporters and detractors by pulling an extraordinary two-eared hybrid from his conjuror’s top hat.

The new prime minister, chosen to replace the patient, plodding, patently uninspired and uninspiring Jean-Pierre Raffarin, would be the president’s faithful supporter and former chef de cabinet—the brilliantly articulate, impetuous, and fiery Dominique de Villepin; and his senior colleague in the government, publicly elevated to the rank of minister of state and appointed minister of the interior, would be their principal bête noire and unruly problem child, Nicolas Sarkozy.

Not surprisingly, this astonishing feat of political legerdemain left most French men and women skeptical rather than impressed—and not simply among Socialists and other “leftists” naturally opposed to a supposedly “right-wing” government.  François Bayrou, a former minister of Education who heads a “centrist” party that has always been emphatically pro-European and, for that very reason, often anti-Gaullist, flatly refused to endorse this “baroque”...

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