Letter From Languedoc

chirac_sarko.jpgThis morning Chirac finally (and tepidly) endorsed Sarkozy as his choice for prez. Much was made of the wait and basically it was about as climactic as Clinton endorsing Gore in 2000 (or Bush Jr. endorsing whatever fascist gets the nomination next year). There was a big thing on the noon interview show that the lab lunch crowd watches (of which I join about 3 days a week) about the impending (5 weeks!) first-round of the election. The main reason is that last time (’02) Le Pen came out of nowhere to make the top two (who advance to the second and final round).

This time the left learned their lesson and anointed Ségolène Royal and are more or less standing behind her (last time, the left was much more split than usual, which contributed to Le Pen sneaking into the 2nd round with 17%). The right is more or less united behind Sarko.

[also for reference: No Sex, Please, We’re French, an NYT op-ed by Stephen Clark printed 23 March]

bayrou.jpgFrançois Bayrou is the “third man” but I’d be surprised if he made the second round. His main claim to fame is that he was Education Sec’y at some point (indeed, started out as a French teacher), embraced the new centrist Union for French Democracy (UDF) party (“ni droite, ni gauche“), and therefore comes off as a warm ‘n’ fuzzy outsider. It’s been enough to get him to about 20% in the polls (vs. 29% Sarko, 25% Ségo, 15% Le Pen) but I don’t think he has legs. Yesterday Valérie received a mock chain-email saying “Don’t vote for Bayrou: Jean-Paul C. of Paris voted for Bayrou once and days later lost his job and his wife left him… Cathérine T. voted for Bayrou and mysteriously came down with a rare illness… Pierre L. voted UDF and suddenly lost his life savings….” The bottom line is he doesn’t really say anything but he’s constantly talking (and, curiously, eating) and it’s starting to wear thin.

Despite all the hype, I really don’t see much chance for anything other than a Ségo-Sarko showdown and the current polls (there are several new ones daily) show it right at 50-50. And oh, by the way, there’s still 40% undecided.

Some notables about the election: There are 12 candidates (each one has to get 500 mayoral endorsements, from any village, town, or city large enough to have an elected mayor), including José Bové, who snuck in under the wire at the deadline; four of them are women, of whom the socialist Royal is the furthest to the right (the others represent the communist, green, and workers’ struggle parties — the latter has run in every prez election since 1974); Le Pen’s mystique has pretty much faded, since he made the cut last time and picked up virtually no votes between the first and second rounds — he’s also splitting votes this time with at least one other fascist; one candidate represents the “Hunting, Fishing, and Tradition” party; one candidate is a particularly in-your-face 32-year-old who is either extreme right or extreme left (I haven’t figured that out yet but he’ll prolly run every in every election until 2074); a recent theory has been floated about the ubiquitous polls, which are conducted by telephone — land-line telephone, to be exact — some pundits are wondering how many people who are cell-only are being left out and thus skewing the numbers; there’s a rule that now that the official candidates have been certified (as of yesterday with their 500 endorsements), all of them must get equal airtime until 2 weeks before the election when they’re all completely cut off.

The bottom line is that it would be really interesting if the US prez elections were run the same way, i.e. all primary candidates from both parties (how pathetic is it that we can say “both”?) thrown together in one big mosh and only the top two emerge for the final showdown. You definitely get the feeling that every view on the spectrum is represented in some form or another.



11 thoughts on “Letter From Languedoc

  1. RE: Clark’s NYT op-ed: At this point, with 40% undecided, there’s no telling how things will end up but I’m not sure that Bayrou has captured the excitement of the French public by being boring. Also, I have an inherent mistrust of pundits who have authored books with the words “understanding the French” in their titles. (He’s prolly gotten plenty of mileage pontificating on the bogus “French exceptionalism.”) And I haven’t heard the first mot about this Ségo-sex “controversy.” She’s way hotter than Hillary but she’s still a 50-something mother of four and I don’t think most Frenchmen spend their spare time daydreaming about what she’s like under her trademark white skirt-suit. (On the other hand, I saw footage of an interview with her from about 15 years ago and she was hotter than the 14th of July back in the day.) Besides, even if what this guy says is true, how abnormal would her reaction be? If there were a US candidate who was the first ever really viable female prez candidate and there were websites speculating crudely about her sex life, what do you think her reaction would be?


  2. You say that Bayrou speaks but “doesn’t say anything, but in this
    NYT article
    about Sarko and Sego wrapping themselves in the flag, he seems to have the only sensible quote:

    Francois Bayrou…denounced the *nationalistic obsession* that had
    infiltrated the campaign. “Every time in our past that we have wanted to go back to external signs, it has led to periods that are unhappy,” he said.


  3. Sure, that’s great. Now let’s hear an actual concrete idea or two about what he would do if he were president. Not “show respect to all citizens,” or “govern from the center,” or whatever else. How about some real programs with real price-tags and a real opportunity for analysis. The guy just leaks rhetoric and that seems to be about it. Not particularly unique among political types but not something that would get my vote. Sarko and (esp.) Ségo have made concrete political promises. Sure, no one actually believes that they mean much or could all be put into effect, whether due to political or economic realities, but some of them are bound to eventually become actual proposals by whoever wins and they beat the hell out of rhetoric any day.

    btw, I finally saw the wild-eyed, 32-year-old Olivier Besancenot sit down for a civilized interview (wearing a v-neck blue sweatshirt over a blue t-shirt) where he wasn’t ranting hysterically and learned that he is extreme left, not extreme right. He also provides concrete political promises and has a knack for remembering figures. His solution to the latest mini-scandal to hit Paris (a huge confrontation between young minorities and police in riot gear in the Gare du Nord late Monday nite): make all public transportation free. Would cost the same as two nuclear subs and would reduce the police’s job in the metro to public safety rather than all this ticket-checking stuff (the riot Monday started when a 20-something African immigrant with a rap sheet as long as yer arm was caught jumping a turnstyle — when he was busted, he incited his buddies to riot and it spread from that into general vandalism and looting). Now which would you rather have? Free metro or two nuclear subs? Unfortunately that would be the per annum cost and I doubt the French are building two nuke subs a year, so his from-the-hip solution doesn’t appear to add up. Also, you’ve got to figure that a lot of the revenue from the metro comes from tourists and why should they get a free pass? But at least he came up with a creative idea and wasn’t afraid to throw it out there. This particular one would have been shot down in two seconds in a cabinet meeting but it also might have gotten some other ideas flowing. Valerie’s thinking of voting for him out of natural frustration that’s unavoidable with all of the big-party politicians but worries about hurting Ségo’s chances of making it to the 2nd round.

    So no, I’m not impressed that Bayrou stuck his neck out and came out against nationalism…


  4. Thanks for the feedback; it seemed a bit shocking to hear the Socialist candidate saying that everyone should own a flag and bring it out to wave once a year…maybe I’m just sick of the empty but frightening patriotism that has been used to allow Bush/Rove to ruin our economy, military, and reputation in less than six years, not to mention its use in the last campaign to slander and insult a real American hero, Kerry. It sounds like Valerie is also adjusting her voting plans based on the
    last election, as described in that article…

    Besancenot’s english language wikipedia page (which curiously doesn’t alert you that he’s in the middle of a campaign as does the Sego and Sarko pages…) could have told you he’s way left…I enjoyed the quote on the page from a political science professor describing him: “Responding to Olivier Besancenot when one is on the left is to find oneself in short order against youth and on the right.”


  5. Very interesting — a nice examination of the very complicated nature of this conflict in France. It sounds like this notion of “what is French” and “who is French” has become the most important issue in the campaign? Beyond the sole concern of the Le Pen rightists…NPR had a story this morning about this issue in the French Election that followed much along the lines of the last NYT article I pointed you to.


  6. I don’t think the question of “who is French” has really become the most important issue in the campaign and Sarko’s “ministry of immigration and national identity” has been widely panned simply because he presumed to combine these two ideas into one ministry (that a lot of people don’t even think is necessary and that Sarko hasn’t really said would do). I think more people are concerned about the difference between addressing immigration by helping African countries develop and hold onto their citizens (Ségo) and addressing immigration by building a big wall along the Med coast (Sarko, altho this is just speculation for the time being) than they are about the concept of “national identity.” One important aspect of immigration that a lot of people overlook is the wave of young Bulgarians, Romanians, Poles, and others eastern Europeans who can now travel much more easily within the EU now that they are members. They don’t quite have the same rights for working (as new members people from these countries have work-permit restrictions compared to western Europeans precisely to prevent an even bigger exodus than there already is) but that doesn’t deter many. Romania has a full 10% of its population in the west (mostly in Spain and Italy) and one of the big jokes in Poland is that the second largest Polish city is London (with about a millionski).

    As for tu vs. vous, it can definitely be tricky. I’m sure it was much less tricky back in the day when everyone followed the rules. Valerie’s grandmother refuses to tutoyer me (and therefore I can’t tutoyer her) because she’s just too old-fashioned and can’t bring herself to even though Valerie admonishes here each time. Among younger people, it depends on the context. If you are introduced to a friend of a friend, you prolly tutoyer them. If you met the same person in a work setting, you’d vouvoyer them (altho some young people refuse to vouvoyer just about anybody, although most would be sensitive to the ethnic issue that Sarko brought up and not tutoyer an adult minority). After a while, if you figure that you’re going to be talking a lot to them and less formally, you (very subtly, as an introduction to your next sentence) ask the person if you can tutoyer each other. Some people are quicker to ask than others but almost no one will respond “Non,” which would just be awkward.


  7. The NYer has chimed in on the French Elections; like other US accounts, it’s very sympathetic to Bayrou, although the author, Jane Kramer, points out that most of Sarko’s economic plans would sound moderate if not sensible to Americans. Sego comes off as an aloof loner in the Socialist arena (she was the only candidate to decline an interview with Kramer, who said she distrusted American journalists) who prefers to live in the world of ideas. No mention of the crazy young radical.


  8. I came across that commentary while paging through to find “Waiting for Manny.” I stopped to read and must say that I became a bit more enlightened. I must say I that in reading Brian and Eric’ post and commentaries, I became more than a little confused with all the various names and nicknames and my eyes became profoundly glazed.
    So after reading the New Yorker, I went back and re-read the above and found my way through. Pretty good stuff, interesting wise.
    Now on to Manny.


  9. I haven’t read the NYer article but I will say that many (if not most) French don’t cotton too much to what is known here as “Anglo-Saxon capitalism” and other economic plans that “would sound moderate if not sensible to Americans.” They are dumbfounded when told that one by-product of that system is having over 40 million people without basic health insurance. It’s a real shame (and I mean that in the most literal and damning sense) that the American political machine (read: corporate America) has succeeded in suppressing universal healthcare into the 21st century.

    As for Ségo, I’ve not heard a single Frenchman (or woman) describe her as “aloof” or a “loner.” Perhaps that’s why she distrusts American journalists who characterize her as a dreamy ideologue. Au contraire, she comes off much more as a compassionate mother of four whose solutions to minority disenfranchisement and unemployment start with making sure that these people understand that they are loved. If anything, it’s Sarko who is seen as aloof and cocky. However, the fact that Ségo was able to fight past the old guard of the Socialist party (known here as the Elephants) and to consolidate pan-party support for her campaign (they don’t have official party nominees here as in the US, which is what begat the Le Pen mess in 2002) is proof that she is more than just a pretty face when it comes to political muscle. She had to step on a lot of pachyderm toes while being told rather publicly that it was not her turn yet and you can probably imagine how the party establishment felt about that. But now even the most bitter of these early conquests (e.g. Laurent Fabius and Dominique Struass-Kahn) are looking into the camera and making her case. This type of party loyalty may be par for the course in the US but it is not at all here.

    So far the first half of the fortnight between the first and second rounds has been filled with speculation about who will win more of the third place Bayrou’s votes from the center. Bayrou himself is looking more and more ridiculous as his first post-loss declaration was to establish a new political party (strange, considering he is already the head of one) and to challenge Ségo to a televised debate (perhaps no one told him that only the top two candidates advance). Even more strange, she accepted but due to the laws here about equal exposure of the candidates it didn’t happen. Meanwhile, after a strong first-place showing in the first round Sarko is busy feeling his oats and saying stupid things that are liable to come back to haunt him (e.g. insisting that pedophilia and other devient, criminal behaviors are genetic — of course there are many who wonder how he would apply this belief in law enforcement).

    The best news of the first round was the erosion of support for the fascist, anti-immigrant Le Pen. In 2002 he shocked everybody by making it to the second round against Chirac with about 17% of the vote. This year he fell back to 10.5% and 4th place and it would seem that he’s no longer terribly relevant. He’s also 78 years old and the heir to his Front National is his daughter, who manages to come off as even more obnoxious than him. There will always be a certain slice of any electorate that goes for that kind of idiot (hell, after everything that Bush Jr. has both done and failed to do he still enjoys around 30% support) and it’s nice to see that his star is waning.

    Looking forward to the first Ségo/Sarko debate…


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