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Small Handsome Man In Pin-Striped Suit At Congress

Stateside With Rosalea Barker

Small Handsome Man In Pin-Striped Suit Comes To Congress And Signs Autographs

Look, sorry. Even a mock slap-about-the-chops for the French journalist who set up his laptop next to mine in the House Press Gallery did not fully make up for his team beating ours in the Rugby World Cup, so President Sarkozy doesn’t get his name in my headline. But he certainly is making the headlines today, having received the high honor of addressing a joint session of the House and Senate this morning.

No matter that Vice President Cheney wasn’t there sitting beside Nancy Pelosi, as one would expect. Or that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was not among the cabinet members who were also seated in the Chamber for the address. Sarkozy would be meeting Secretary Rice at a lunch with George W. Bush at Mt Vernon an hour later, and she had already breakfasted with his foreign minister.

It was a grand spectacle of non-Disney America’s love of unpomply pomp and unglorified glory. No ermine capes and maces and regalia for this nation that so resolutely tossed all that overboard along with the tea chests in Boston Harbor. The welcome was warm. Standing ovations were numerous. The public galleries were full. The press gallery was full—as full as it could be with its sudden new clutter of tripods bearing what we were told was infrared radiation equipment to beam the simultaneous translation to the headsets everyone on the floor of the House was given.

I suspect I wasn’t the only journalist playing “spot the person without a headset” and then trying to figure out if they actually knew French or were just pretending to. Mary Landrieu, senator from Louisiana, was wearing a headset. Hmmm, Louisiana… something awfully French about that name. The junior senator from California, Barbara Boxer, wasn’t wearing one and on occasion leapt to her feet to give a standing ovation before the translation had finished, so maybe she’s tout au fait.

My schoolgirl French stood me in fairly good stead but my poor hearing had me wondering whether Sarkozy’s reference to America’s “courage and talons” was about to start an international incident. Talent! He said Talent. America welcomes courage and talent. In fact, President Sarkozy said that “America did not tell the millions of men and women who came from every country in the world… ‘Come and everything will be given to you.’ She said, ‘Come, and the only limits to what you’ll be able to achieve will be your own courage and your own talent.’ America embodies this extraordinary ability to grant each and every person a second chance.”

Congress certainly was granting France a second chance today, considering how the French had been vilified in 2003 when they didn’t send troops to Iraq (a word that was not heard in this speech). However, seated in one of the galleries this morning were the seven U.S. WWII veterans Sarkozy had decorated the previous evening, and it was to that generation of soldiers that Sarkozy expressed his nation’s thanks for liberating France. He added that “whenever an American soldier falls somewhere in the world, I think of what the American army did for France. I think of them and I am sad, as one is sad to lose a member of one’s family.”

He pointed out that “from day one, France decided to participate shoulder to shoulder with you in the war in Afghanistan” and pledged France would be engaged in that country “for as long as it takes”. He referred to fighting proliferation in Libya, North Korea, and Iran; offered help to the Lebanese people wanting to “affirm their independence, their sovereignty, their freedom, their democracy.” And on the subject of Israel and Palestine he called on their respective leaders to “Risk peace!”, which left Lieberman, Feinstein, and Boxer—who were all sitting together as part of the French President’s escort—looking unconvinced but applauding politely.

After chiding the US for sending the world’s money markets into turmoil by encouraging speculators instead of entrepreneurs and not having the laws in place to rein them in, Sarkozy warned that without fair exchange rates “monetary disarray could morph into economic war. We could all be its victims.” He mentioned Europe’s expectation that America stand alongside it in the fight against global warming, and pushed the case for Europe to remain a strong global partner.

“I want to be your friend, your ally and your partner. But a friend who stands on his own two feet. An independent ally. A free partner,” said the President. When his address ended, he walked around shaking hands with people seated at the front of the Chamber, but Barbara Lee, the Congresswoman from Oakland California who was the lone dissenting voice on invading Iraq, managed to squeeze her way through from several rows back to shake Sarkozy’s hand.

On his way out, up the central aisle between rows of seats that are staggered in height—so that by the time he reached the door, the President was about a meter shorter than anyone leaning out towards him, as he’s short anyway—a young woman handed him a paperback to autograph. With an alarmingly large flourish Sarkozy did so—his signature must take up the full width of an A4 page—and carried on up the aisle. The young woman passed the book back to the Congressman seated several rows back in the middle, testimony indeed to President Sarkozy’s popularity.


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