It's unpleasant to talk politics following France's tragic shootings, but that's exactly what President Nicolas Sarkozy is doing. After the 32-hour siege culminating in the death of allege shooter Mohamed Merah, Sarkozy is heading to Strasbourg tonight for a campaign rally. Sarkozy has always fashioned himself a crisis manager, whether he's teaming up with Angela Merkel on the Euro crisis or forging a ceasefire between Russia and Georgia. After the suspension of his campaign to deal with the shootings, the soap box is now his and it's just what his re-election bid needed.
Out of the gates on Thursday, Sarkozy announced that he would make it a crime to repeatedly visiting extremist websites, in a move that would likely make privacy activists in the U.S. shriek. "From now on, any person who habitually consults Web sites that advocate terrorism or that call for hatred and violence will be criminally punished," said Sarkozy in a televised adress. "France will not tolerate forced recruitment or ideological indoctrination on its soil." He also launched an inquiry into whether extremists were propagating hateful ideas in France's prisons.
There's no telling how French citizens might react to the new drastic measures, but the shooting incident itself appears to have been a boon to Sarkozy. A new Paris based CSA poll released today shows his numbers improving ahead of his main opponent, Socialist Francois Hollande. As Bloomberg reports, "The CSA poll showed Sarkozy would get 30 percent of the votes in the April 22 first round, up two points, while Hollande would garner 28 percent, down two points." Jerome Sainte-Marie, of CSA's public-opinion department, said "Sarkozy is in command. In this role, he is the most credible. He can show authority and maybe regain some of his past image."
A new article in Bloomberg BusinessWeek says security-related issues do well for Sarkozy. “If security comes back as an issue, Sarkozy will probably be seen as more credible than Hollande,” a pollster tells the magazine. “Historically, whenever security is a problem, the right benefits, even if the difficulties happen on their watch."
By all accounts, he appears to have dealt with the shootings well. Today, The Economist says Sarkozy's management of the crisis has left his opponents in the dust. "Mr Sarkozy has done a skilled job reacting to the Toulouse events, appearing poised and solemn but also sounding the right note of empathy. Next to all this statesmanship, Mr Hollande has been forced to play a mere bit part, saying the right things but always from the shadows."
Of course it doesn't hurt that this was a type of crisis Sarkozy had some experience with. Per BusinessWeek's Gregory Viscusi and Mark Deen, "Sarkozy first came to national attention as mayor of Neuilly, a town near Paris, when in a 1993 kindergarten hostage drama he talked a dynamite-belted, ransom-demanding gunman into releasing a child, with television footage showing the mayor leaving the classroom with the youngster in his arms. After 46 hours of talks, the gunman was killed by police sharpshooters and the seven remaining hostages were freed unharmed."