Sarkozy calls man in Paris crowd a 'total jerk'

Le Parisien newspaper posted a video of the incident on its Internet site, and it tallied more than a half-million views by Sunday afternoon.

Sarkozy and bird 224.88 (photo credit: AP)
Sarkozy and bird 224.88
(photo credit: AP)
With his poll numbers sinking, is French President Nicolas Sarkozy losing his cool? An opposition leader pounced Sunday and Web surfers gawked by the hundreds of thousands over video footage showing Sarkozy telling a man in a Paris crowd, "Casse-toi alors, pauvre con, va" - a phrase whose mildest translation is: "Then get out of here, you total jerk." The incident Saturday is not likely to be welcomed by Sarkozy's fellow conservatives, who are already concerned that his sinking popularity rating could damage their chances in next month's municipal elections. At a Paris trade fair on Saturday while the president was working a crowd, to intermittent boos, a freelance cameraman caught on tape an unidentified man telling Sarkozy not to touch him. The man accused Sarkozy of "dirtying me." Sarkozy briskly snapped out his surprising rejoinder. He then moved on, continued to smile and shake hands with others along his path, saying "Merci." AP Television News received a copy of the video from the freelance cameraman. Le Parisien newspaper posted a video of the incident on its Internet site, and it tallied more than a half-million views by Sunday afternoon. Socialist leader and frequent Sarkozy critic Francois Hollande, speaking Sunday on Canal Plus TV, said Sarkozy was out of line and that it was "intolerable ... that the president isn't exemplary." The incident had echoes of an expletive that U.S. President George W. Bush, while first running for the White House, used on an open microphone to describe a reporter. Sarkozy's less-formal, and at times in-your-face, approach to governing has rankled many in France, where elite political classes long held sway. He has prided himself on frank, direct talk and for not hiding his policies or persona. In recent weeks, Sarkozy has sought to impose a "much more direct, even head-on style of leadership," and the remark was one example, said Pascal Perrineau, head of the Cevipof think tank. "I don't think the French people, in their hearts, expect this type of activity," he told France-Info radio. "They believe presidential duties ... should be imbued with a certain distance, majesty and reserve." The president's spokesman, David Martinon, did not respond to a call to his mobile phone, and a lower-level official in the presidential press office declined to comment on the incident. Sarkozy bared a short fuse last year by calling Martinon an "imbecile" before storming away from an interview with the CBS program "60 Minutes." Sarkozy has engaged in public shouting matches and used tough language from time to time over his political career. While interior minister in 2005, he angered many residents from poor housing projects by calling young delinquents "scum." The president has seen his popularity sink in recent months. Some voters have been put off by Sarkozy's flaunting of his romance over the last few months with former supermodel Carla Bruni, whom he wed Feb. 2, at a time when many French are more worried about pocketbook issues and the creaky state of France's economy. A poll in the weekly Journal du Dimanche published Sunday showed 38 percent of respondents were very or partly satisfied with Sarkozy this month, down nine percentage points from January. The remainder said they were partially or very dissatisfied. The phone poll of 1,879 adults was conducted Feb. 14-22 by Ifop agency. No margin of error was provided.