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Election Blues

by afew Thu Apr 19th, 2007 at 12:15:12 PM EST

There don't seem to be any spectacular changes today in the run-up to the first round of the French elections on Sunday. If the polls are approximately on target, Sarkozy and Royal will go through to the second round. If they're off target... But more of that anon.

For the last two or three weeks I've been mulling over why I'm not happy with this presidential campaign. No, not Ségolène Royal's. The whole thing. The themes and their media treatment, the underlying assumptions, the political discussion. More: the themes that have played by means of a submissive MSM, the trick shots that have rolled with the bias of underlying assumptions, the drowning of political discussion in a sea of information. Some of this is general, observable throughout the developed world. But I'm watching it unfold here, and it's what it means to this country, in the context of this culture, that obviously strikes me most powerfully.

We might have hoped, for example, that the presence of a woman candidate – in a position to win, for a change – might have had some effect on the chronic sexism of the French political world. In appearance, at least, it has. Only those terrible elephants from Royal's own party managed to get on record with male chauvinist remarks, back when she announced her intention to run. Everyone else, among pols, has been perfect. No insults, no insinuations. A woman is a candidate like a man is a candidate, no difference, why would you expect us to make one in the 21st century?

Except that the culture makes one, and the spin-doctors know it. Ask people – men or women – directly if a man is more competent than a woman, they'll probably um and ah and say no, of course not, not necessarily, it depends... But faced with the task of organizing within a comprehensible frame a stream of items of news, deeper, unquestioned, interiorised structures take over. And we see it is frighteningly easy to make out a woman is incompetent. Her campaign is badly-organized. She wasn't there on time today. She slipped up, made a mistake, said funny things, was vague, eluded a question. The media keep us informed of all this. The "false notes" are chronicled on a near-daily basis. They seep through to the media of other countries in the form "Ségolène Royal's faltering campaign". It's not that Royal doesn't do these things, it's that the media detail them daily and so people build them into their picture of the candidate. No need to say she's incompetent, just make it part of the news of the day that she blooped again. Meanwhile if the men in the running are slapdash, approximate, contradictory, vacuous, late, unpleasant or even downright irascible, no account is kept. And no one (or almost) notices, because this is playing on favourable terrain – the one where both men and women unthinkingly admit the greater competence of men over women.


Ségolène Royal, visiting the Great Wall of China, coined the word "bravitude" for "bravoure" (bravery). I don't think anyone in France has not heard of this lapsus linguae. I have read comments that suggest that a woman who can't speak French properly is not fit to be president.

Wednesday, 18 April, on France Inter (public radio), Nicolas Sarkozy had his bravitude moment. He meant to say "fatuité" (self-complacency), missed his way and said "fatitude". (Listen here, 1min 50 s from start).

How much noise will the media make around this (otherwise amusing) Sarkozy blunder? I'm not holding my breath.

So? It's tough for a woman, Royal knew what she was taking on, she should just have dealt with it? OK, why not, and perhaps she didn't deal with it 100% as well as she might. But I wouldn't hesitate to call what she was put through Swiftboating Lite™, with the difference that there were no open accusations to fight back against, it was all in the subtext, and so all the harder to fight. How many free points is it worth, being a man in a suit?

And those continuing assumptions – the fact that the campaign has not tested them or apparently shaken them up – about gender equality, or rather inequality, are one reason for my gloom. Another is the long-term trend that brings the ideas of the racist, xenophobic extreme right into the mainstream. Le Pen has worked hard at this for decades. Sarkozy has just given him a tremendous helping hand.

While Sarkozy fights Le Pen for far-right votes and centres the campaign on questions that are not Royal's best ground – security, crime, law and order, immigration (linked to crime) – keeping her away from questions that would be much more favourable to her – family, education, housing, society, the workplace – Le Pen has time to joke, or talk about the problems faced by pets. The effect is that Sarkozy is doing Le Pen's job for him. The leader of the main centre-right party is helping the extreme-right make their ideas more acceptable. What disturbs me most about this is not that I fear Sarkozy is mad or dictatorial (at least, I hope not ;)), but that the goalposts are moving. It's the Overton window sliding to the right.

Le Pen always says Sarkozy's working for him, and he's right. I don't think Sarkozy wants to team up with Le Pen – much rather pluck his feathers and be at the head of a single big party on the right. But watch out, Sarko – stealing other people's positions for tactical purposes very often turns out to be tantamount to joining them and backing them. That is, losing out to them.

And then there are the media, biased (as we've discussed before), but not only that. After weeks of relentlessly "objective" information, arbitrage on what is news and what isn't, snippets and soundbites, what ideas have come through? And the barrage of polls! The French really go in for polls in a big way, and this election has broken new records. The problem is that the (unreliable) polls tell a story that is more like a horse race than a political confrontation. People have their heads in knots thinking about tactics. If I back the horse I don't like, maybe he'll cut the final corner in front of the horse I really don't like. Should I vote "useful"? How useful is "useful"? Tactical voting. No ideas and a horse race. OK, so welcome to the post-modern era, how long is it taking you to notice that's the way things are?

Funny thing about "post-modern". It's like "globalizing". It's inevitable and it somehow favours the right.

I realize this may sound defeatist. As far as the election itself goes, I see no reason to be defeatist. Polls on the second round don't mean much (anyway they've been coming closer lately). It's a new election that begins after the first round. So French voters, come on, get Royal into the run-off!
by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Thu Apr 19th, 2007 at 12:20:23 PM EST
Your gloom is warranted.

According to the polls published in La Depeche this morning, adding Sarko + 50% of Bayrou + 50% of Le Pen easily gives Sarko the win in the second tour.

The maths do not favor the Left.

by Lupin on Thu Apr 19th, 2007 at 12:43:50 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Apart from the de Villiers voters, Sarkozy will get little else than the numbers you note, and they are not enough.

The left is historically in a minority, but it has been winning elections regularly over the past 30 years.

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes

by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Thu Apr 19th, 2007 at 01:10:31 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Well, that was the kind of gloom I was saying I didn't feel.

Watch out for maths like that, they don't mean much - based on uncertain polling data and arbitrary suppositions...

The second round is really a whole different election.

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Thu Apr 19th, 2007 at 03:19:55 PM EST
[ Parent ]
No election blues here at all. Watching candidate royal Royal (sic) has been a pleasure, and I can't wait for the 2nd round one to one when I eagerly anticipate her, how should I say, cornering her opponent.

The one disappointment I've had is how Royal's support among women has been so weak. I suppose women still have ways to go.

And I can't remember that previous elections had any more substance about them, so why worry.

by balbuz on Thu Apr 19th, 2007 at 02:57:49 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Female candidates almost always do less well with women voters than with men, regardless of the country.
by the stormy present (stormypresent aaaaaaat gmail etc) on Thu Apr 19th, 2007 at 03:02:11 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Would you venture an explanation ?
by balbuz on Thu Apr 19th, 2007 at 03:15:13 PM EST
[ Parent ]
It's really quite obvious and it's silly that the media pretends it should be otherwise.  A hot chick is more appealing to men.  Women see her as competition.  

Have you never met women?  :-)

by paving on Thu Apr 19th, 2007 at 03:39:44 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I didn't bring that up, but I was thinking of it. Bluesier yet...
by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Thu Apr 19th, 2007 at 03:23:05 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I must say that I've mostly relied on media coverage b/c I'm in the US and when I finally had an opportunity to watch her at length (on TV5 Monde) I was very impressed.  The labels are bollocks and anyone watching for themself can see what is going on.  The media is completely full of it and it's very insulting to the viewers/electorate.    Fortunately I suspect the French are smarter than this.

Watching the candidates I see the following very obviously:

  1. Sarko - will say whatever you want him to in order to be elected. completely phony and full of it.  agitated, twitchy.  can't picture him leading france and doubt the french can either, when it comes down to it.

  2. Bayrou - nice, friendly, airhead farmer.  Will be better than Sarkozy if 1st round doesn't go well.

  3. Le Pen -  Very "old french" in appearance.  Probably gets high % of votes from old people.  jerk.  not serious candidate.  For Americans, think: Pat Buchanan.  Almost identical.

  4. Royal - Calm demeanor, probably too much botox making her look stiff.  well spoken, very much "on topic" at all times, even if that "topic" is aggravating.  DOES look "presidential" unlike Sarkozy which is not to be underestimated on tv.

I think Royal and Bayrou are viewed as harmless and I think it's impossible for the electorate to not blame Sarkozy for the riots/flare ups/sense of danger there.  

Bayrou's voters are those who supported sarkozy before but are now afraid of him.

shall be interesting.

As for "maths" I think Sarkozy has a solid 30% voting bloc and nary a voter more.

by paving on Thu Apr 19th, 2007 at 03:39:06 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Actually, the polls I've seen show that both Sarkozy and Royal get more amongst women than amongst men (who vote for Le Pen a lot more).

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes
by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Thu Apr 19th, 2007 at 03:45:38 PM EST
[ Parent ]
In today's CSA poll which shows a 50% Sarko / 50% Royal for the second round, the repartition women/men is 51/49 for Sarko and 49/51 for Royal.
by balbuz on Thu Apr 19th, 2007 at 04:07:46 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Le Monde mentions tonight a last CSA poll dated 18 and 19 april which gives 26% for Royal against 27% for Sarkozy in the first round and 50% each in the second round. here is the link

"Dieu se rit des hommes qui se plaignent des conséquences alors qu'ils en chérissent les causes" Jacques-Bénigne Bossuet
by Melanchthon on Thu Apr 19th, 2007 at 04:53:07 PM EST
[ Parent ]
From earlier polling, I recall there being a very significant advantage, of the order of 3 to 1, for Sarkozy among women older than 55.

But its also possible that in fact her campaign has effectively won significant support from women. Helped no doubt by Sarkozy's frequent use of the word "hysteria" to describe attacks on him.

by desmoulins (gsb6@lycos.com) on Fri Apr 20th, 2007 at 12:11:46 AM EST
[ Parent ]
This has been a very tactical campaign, with little assertion by any of the big candidates of a big idea that it would stick to for more.

Plus the increasing fascination for the media (like elsewhere) for "process" and the "horse race". (When I was at the Europe 1 talk show, it was really annoying to have the journalists repeat one after the other that the campaign was not enough about issues and too much about process, and whenever anyone brought up any actual idea, they were the first to jump back into process ("don't you think that will make you unpopular with ...?"), or into whatever the latest soundbite was, instead of actually discussing the idea put on the table.

Both politicians and journalists share the blame there... Which is the right point to bring up JM Colombani's editorial for Le Monde today where he comments that in a pretty insightful way, and ends up concluding that Royal needs to be in the second round against Sarkozy (who's implicitly a shoo-in, of course...) as that's the only way to have a real alterantive in the second round.

A l'origine de celle-ci se trouve vraisemblablement l'impression donnée par Mme Royal et M. Sarkozy d'une oscillation permanente, liée à leur souci tactique de se disputer chaque thème (les petits drapeaux de l'une répondant aux proclamations de l'autre sur la crise d'identité, par exemple) et surtout à leur commune obsession de coller à l'opinion du moment. M. Bayrou prête peu le flanc à une telle critique du fait d'une campagne axée principalement sur l'idée d'une recomposition politique, que ne permettent pas les institutions actuelles, et qui revient de sa part à spéculer sur un enchaînement miraculeux autant qu'improbable.

Nous eûmes donc les allers-retours de Nicolas Sarkozy, se proclamant libéral avant de redevenir classiquement colbertiste. A moins que, comme le disent les Britanniques, il ne soit libéral quand les affaires marchent, protectionniste quand l'Etat est impuissant. Ségolène Royal, quant à elle, nous conduisait à ne plus trop prêter attention à ses premières annonces, pour attendre l'inévitable correction de tir qui ne manquerait pas de suivre. L'un et l'autre ont eu, en quelque sorte, une attitude de journaliste plus que de candidat. Ils ont fait campagne en cherchant à rebondir sur des actualités et des émotions successives, leurs priorités respectives étant finalement gommées à force de sauter d'un sujet à l'autre.

Non que les grands sujets aient été oubliés : le chômage, le pouvoir d'achat, l'école, la protection sociale, la sécurité ont tour à tour tenu la vedette. Mais chacun de ces thèmes a fait l'objet de propositions parcellaires. En cela, cette première partie de campagne a illustré la grande difficulté des démocraties modernes : celle de la construction d'une unité sociale et politique à partir de l'émancipation et de la séparation des individus. Il est donc indispensable qu'entre les deux tours chacun soit à même de ramasser et d'organiser ses propositions, au nom de l'indispensable recherche d'une nouvelle dynamique et de la relance d'une perspective de progrès économique et social qui fasse toute leur place aux différentes composantes de la société.

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes
by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Thu Apr 19th, 2007 at 01:18:50 PM EST
Translating the bit I bolded:

L'un et l'autre ont eu, en quelque sorte, une attitude de journaliste plus que de candidat. Ils ont fait campagne en cherchant à rebondir sur des actualités et des émotions successives, leurs priorités respectives étant finalement gommées à force de sauter d'un sujet à l'autre.

Both [Sarkozy and Royal] have had, it could be said, the attitude of a journalist rather than that of a candidate. They campaigned by reacting to news and public emotions, and their respective priorities were drowned by their permanent jumping from one topic to another.

So they are bloggers, whereas my obsessional deconstruction of the neolib common wisdom makes me a candidate... Hmmm... How do I get more exposure?!

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes

by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Thu Apr 19th, 2007 at 01:22:24 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Interesting view of a journalist's job there - reacting to news and successive emotions.

Seeking, sifting, and providing information? Shedding light thanks to a consistent and intelligent point of view? Apparently not on the journalist's job ticket.

This is the director of one of the world's great newspapers of record speaking.

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Thu Apr 19th, 2007 at 03:31:49 PM EST
[ Parent ]
that bad journalists are threatened by good bloggers, but that good journalists are still needed and not endangered...

He seems to say that (good?) journalists' work is to do what bad bloggers do.

That definitely struck me as odd. Or maybe it reflects that he sees himself not as a journalist but as a player?

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes

by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Thu Apr 19th, 2007 at 03:48:11 PM EST
[ Parent ]
not as a journalist but as a player?

Bien entendu.

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Thu Apr 19th, 2007 at 05:06:31 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Hey, Jerome, in 2004 you only needed 7% of the votes cast to win an EP seat by the Ile de France constituency. Given the 42% (ationawide) participation, that's 3% of the registered voters...

"It's the statue, man, The Statue."
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Thu Apr 19th, 2007 at 04:36:25 PM EST
[ Parent ]
My recent deconstruction articles:

Whose chance? [A for the record deconstruction of the Economist on France]
French economy - fighting the FT version
Can they all be wrong?

All other diaries on the campaign:
Ségolène Royal - a rising star in French politics? by whataboutbob
Sègo vs Sarko: presidential poll update by whataboutbob
Finally it is clear: 'Blairite' = critical of the moderate left by Jerome a Paris
Big Ségolène Royal interview in Le Monde by Jerome a Paris
Sarkozy feeling increasingly nervous, turns to Blair for advice (and other thoughts) by Ben P
Royal strides ahead? by afew
Jospin Pulls Out (again) by afew
Tale of Three Candidates (Poll and Update) by afew
French Socialists: live blogging by Alex in Toulouse
PS Primaries - Voting has begun by afew
Ségolène Royal chosen as Socialist candidate by Jerome a Paris
Ségolène Royal, the Middle East and French politics by Jerome a Paris
French candidates go wild on wrong problem by Migeru
Not Monsieur Hulot by afew
Press Review: An American Neo-con with a French Passport by redstar
Sarkozy loves Anglo-Saxon model, calls Blair "one of us" by Jerome a Paris
José Bové Wades Into the Fray by afew
Trendspotting: French Presidential Race.  by ManFromMiddletown
11 in a row for Sarko by afew
Royal and the Roots by afew
Roots vs MSM, synthesis? by afew
Ségolène's big day - 'With me, never again will politics take place without you' by Jerome a Paris
Bayrou's Europe speech by oldfrog
Oh no the commies might be back! by Jerome a Paris
Sarkozy's unrealistic pledges by whataboutbob
The Republic of Far Far Away by afew
French election + Swedish media by someone
French elections? (Here we go...) by afew
France Islam and Fantaisy by afew
A good Frenchman  by Jerome a Paris
Bayrou Rising by afew
Good riddance, SuperMenteur by Jerome a Paris
French Presidential election: new "Political Barometer" data by desmoulins
Neolib orgy: Europe middle-aged, Chirac gone by Jerome a Paris
France Cuts Taxes for Small Businesses to Shrink Unemployment by wchurchill
French candidates on tax by afew
Narrow views gaining broad appeal in French election by wchurchill
The mistreatment of the jobless by linca
Is Sarko Anti-German? by DoDo
the New Yorker : the battle for France by oldfrog
Sarkozy seems more dangerous than I thought by Migeru
So is France Really about to Bushicize? by wegerje

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes

by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Thu Apr 19th, 2007 at 01:26:16 PM EST
well written diary, thanks.

royal -not an auspicious name for a lefty politician!

she's no indira, maggie or angela....

which is why i root for her, she is no battleaxe.

she is soft and womanly, very easy on the eye indeed, especially in contrast with the usual-looking suspects around her.

she offers a 'nurturing mother' vibe, warm, human, even cuddly, whereas sarko has the anti-charm of giuliani...a very cruel mouth, nasty piece of work, as horrific in his way as bush, blair, howard, reid, brown, aznar, burlesqony et al.

trying to be a woman leader these days is a very hard row to hoe.

between other women's jealousy and the insane notion, buried deep in our collective subconscious, that men are more responsible than women..(the reverse of reality, imo), women usually go the butch road...albright and condi come to mind...

this is so sad and unnecessary.

if sego wins, it will be a great thing for france, europe and the world, i think, even purely on the symbolic level.

how she engages with other world leaders will be interesting, as will watching her trying to square the economic circle domestically.

if she follows through on the implicit compassion i am imagining i see in her -wishful thinking playing its partisan part- i'd like to believe that the voting public is tiring of this lurch to the right, with its dystopian, swat team-as-response-to-anything connotations for civil rights, personal liberties, and privacy issues.

france historically is a world leader in bottom-up social change, and perhaps she will be ready to risk putting herself avant the rest of the guarde once again.

i learned a lot of great context from the excellent blogging this election has received here at ET.

deeply appreciated, mahalo.

'The history of public debt is full of irony. It rarely follows our ideas of order and justice.' Thomas Piketty

by melo (melometa4(at)gmail.com) on Thu Apr 19th, 2007 at 06:26:18 PM EST

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