By Dickey, Christopher; McNicoll, Tracy
Newsweek , Vol. 156, No. 05
Byline: Christopher Dickey and Tracy McNicoll
It's become a scandalous summer in France. Allegations are mounting that the octogenarian heiress to the billions of the L'Oreal cosmetics fortune, Liliane Bettencourt, may have had some unseemly dealings with the current minister of labor, Eric Woerth, long a key fundraiser for President Nicolas Sarkozy's party. The principals deny any mischief and, in fact, most of the connections are murky, at best. But infamous political scandals usually stem from public perceptions as much as legal convictions. What really keeps this controversy growing is not the devilishly complicated details. It's Sarkozy himself and his irrepressible admiration for money and the moneyed. Commentators across the country--on the right, on the left, and in the center--are now calling it his "original sin."
Unlike the Americans, who unabashedly celebrate wealth, or the British, who feast on its legacy, the French disdain opulence in the public arena. As Alain Duhamel of the leftish daily Liberation wrote recently, "The French, as we know, have this particularity: they don't like money, they especially detest their neighbor's money, and they loathe the rich." Yet while one Sarkozy minister spent thousands of euros of government funds on cigars and another put up her relatives in palatial government digs, the president's cabinet (with Woerth in the lead) has been preaching that the commoners have to work longer and retire later. …