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Royal and the Roots

by afew Thu Feb 8th, 2007 at 11:47:34 AM EST

The other day I echoed the French media's noise about Nicolas Sarkozy's better polling in the run-up to the French presidential elections. Since then the Ségolène Royal campaign has shifted up a gear. At a Paris meeting on Tuesday evening, she went on the offensive. From Le Monde:

Elle dénonce "une droite dure, agressive", "qui dit tout et son contraire" et compare l'expression de Nicolas Sarkozy ("s'il y en a que ça gêne d'être en France, qu'ils ne se gênent pas pour quitter un pays qu'ils n'aiment pas") au mot d'ordre de la dictature brésilienne des années 70. <...> Copieusement hué, le candidat de l'UMP est tour à tour qualifié de "communautariste", de "bushiste", et accusé de défendre "les intérêts d'un tout petit monde qui ne pense qu'à lui, qu'à son pouvoir".

She denounced "a hard, aggressive right", "that says just about anything and the opposite too", and compared Nicolas Sarkozy's words ("if there are people who are bothered by being in France, they can give themselves the bother of leaving a country they don't like") with the slogan of the 1970s Brazilian dictatorship. <...> Copiously booed, the UMP candidate was called by turns "communitarist", "Bushist", and accused of defending "the interests of a tiny little world that only thinks of itself and of its power".

There was plenty of red-hot fighting talk, and the overspill crowd was delighted. Royal was warming up the base, of course, something it was probably more than time to do. Over this week it's become clear that Sarkozy's attempt to paint himself as close to the "workers" is a feeble and inconsistent ploy (on TV yesterday, Sarko outside a factory, my translation from memory: "I have great sympathy for workers, I think they're kind of resistants [afew note: yes, as in WWII!], like peasants and craftsmen". Of course, no one in the media pointed out he was betraying both ignorance and a patronising attitude that would not have been amiss at Vichy. No one even seemed to notice that, however plausible Sarkozy might be, there comes a point where the cynical rubbish he's talking begins to sound like nothing but cynical rubbish.). Denouncing Sarkozy as a "Bushist" (more widely understood and instinctively disliked than "neo-con" or "Atlanticist") and a right-winger is both necessary and useful.

Royal also spoke of the right's campaigning methods -- smears, low blows, use of power, money, and media -- and compared it to her style of "participative democracy", or grassroots and, to some extent, netroots way of working. From Libération:

Contre ce «conglomérat de la finance et des médias», elle s'est dépeinte en candidate qui veut «donner d'abord la parole au peuple», au point de citer les mots d'une caissière au chômage. Et qui entend «incarner le changement politique, la révolution démocratique en marche.»

Against this "conglomerate of finance and the media" she depicted herself as a candidate who wishes "to let the people speak first", enough for her to quote au unemployed check-out girl. And one who means to "embody political change, the democratic revolution on the move".

The Royal campaign claims 4,700 "participative democracy" meetings bringing together 600,000 people have been held around France, and the number should reach 6,000 meetings by the end of next week. Major debate subjects include the cost of living, sustainable development, and education. On the website Désirs d'avenir, ongoing debates have now totalled 135,000 contributions. This page lists the debate topics, pointing up four major debates, on (briefly) education, violence, cost of living, environment. The local debate meetings, and the online debates, are and will continue to be synthesized. A mojo system (0 to 5 stars) is used to identify the most appreciated contributors, who are then asked to work on the synthesis of their preferred subjects. The syntheses are to be fed into an overall synthesis, which is to form the subject matter of Sunday's programme meeting. Whether Royal will stick strictly by that method, or discuss the synthesis as a basis for a programme, or whether the synthesis will sort of be a programme but not sound like a programme, is not yet clear -- there are all kinds of traps in a process like this carried out during the campaign. But there is no doubt that it's a courageous initiative, one that has not been carried out in French politics before, and one that has genuinely stirred up debate and activity on the candidate's site. In the year since it opened, more than 2.2 million single visitors (520,000 in January), have spent an average of 8 minutes a visit on the site.

The site also contains a page of links to pdf files noting positions taken and propositions already made by Royal -- organized by subject, the list including cities, suburbs, housing, public services, work, unemployment, security, health, retirement, the Republic, international relations, taxation, purchasing power, Europe, social "glue", culture, women, environment, democracy, defence, education and research. Doesn't that give you a sense of a politics we would like to see, at one and the same time broader and closer to "the ground"? Is it just clever political marketing? I don't think so. I think these subjects of preoccupation come out of the participative process, and not least from the netroots.

Tonnant contre les «profits rapaces», «fainéants», «arrogants», «avides», dénonçant les «masses financières aberrantes et indociles», elle a dénié à cette «nouvelle oligarchie» toute légitimité à «prendre la tête de l'Etat républicain». <...> Hier, elle a brossé le tableau d'une France dont, à son sens, les citoyens ne veulent plus. Dimanche, à Montreuil, la candidate élargira le propos à celle que les Français, selon elle, désirent.

Thundering against "rapacious profits" that were "idle", "arrogant", and "greedy", denouncing "aberrant and unruly financial assets", she rejected any legitimate right of this "new oligarchy" to "take the reins of a republican State". <...> Yesterday, she painted a picture of a France that, as she sees it, the citizens no longer want. Sunday, in Montreuil, the candidate will broaden the view to what the French, according to her, wish for.

As I said the other day, the media will pounce on this announcement and no doubt pronounce it idealistic, unrealistic... something a woman would come up with. It is really going to be worthwhile shoving it back down the media's throat and winning this election.

By the way, the slogan up there in the photo is

Progress for all, respect for each.

I think it's a good one. And you?

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Thu Feb 8th, 2007 at 11:52:38 AM EST
I like the slogan - but I do hope it is not just that a slogan, but something that will be a guideline if/when she gets elected.

and thanks for a very interesting story.

by Fran on Thu Feb 8th, 2007 at 12:06:39 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I am personally quite impressed with the attempt to generate ideas for policy in much more participative manner. We all know the left everywhere has lost some cohesion due to historical/cultural shifts.

A process like this not only is valuable for being democratic but could really galvanise the movement.

I like the slogan.

I think the question is, unfortunately, how can she disrupt this broad media support for Sarko?

Or, to put it another way, as someone out of touch with France at this level, how much influence do the media have?

Also, what is your judgement, presuming we get to a Sarko-Sego second round? Is it a naturally close race? That's been my feeling, that this will really go to the wire.

In that case, we're almost pitting "participative politics" against "media-spin politics." Of course, there is a dynamic in certain classes of France that feels they are falling behind their colleagues in other countries when it comes to accumulating loot. They are a powerful constituency for Sarko. Articulate and prominent. Which leads me to ponder... any chance of an article on the state of the French political blogosphere?

I promise I will write one about the UK blogosphere within the next 6 months or so in return... ;-)

by Metatone (metatone [a|t] gmail (dot) com) on Thu Feb 8th, 2007 at 12:17:07 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I think you sum up a good part of my feelings and questions. This is certainly an impressive harnessing of the grass/net-roots. But the MSM still count for a huge heap.

However, they can be challenged. This isn't the States 3-4 years ago. Royal has attacked the big media for belonging to big money and being against her (correct). François Bayrou makes a lot of noise fighting TF1, which he's quite right to do. It's being more widely said that the owners of the publishing, press, and TV world in France are all close buddies of Sarkozy -- who also owns a piece of the State's hold on public broadcasting.

I believe it's possible to force the media on to the back foot. The main thing is to introduce some doubt into as many minds as possible as to what the pundits are telling them is the truth. I also believe Royal is working with themes that are genuinely closer to people's concerns. "Progress" and "respect" are immensely well-chosen words. OK, slogans matter for less than twenty-five years ago, but big words still make their way...

On the French political blogos, I don't know enough about it yet. I spend all my time on this funny Scoop blog called ET... ;)

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Thu Feb 8th, 2007 at 12:29:59 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I'm glad that she's fighting back. I was very worried after the rpevious diary that Sarkozy was walking this and Royal was failing to make any headway.

I am personally quite impressed with the attempt to generate ideas for policy in much more participative manner. We all know the left everywhere has lost some cohesion due to historical/cultural shifts.

I like this a lot, intersting how this mirrors the "Energise america" netroot led initiative that seems to be gaining traction in significant circles.

However, knowing the left and its masochistic ability to demand purity before influence, I worry that this may generate hopes of influence unlikely to gain fruition, leading to disenchantment on the part of those who need to be energised.

Still, that's a worry for the future. Go Segeolene

keep to the Fen Causeway

by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Thu Feb 8th, 2007 at 02:58:22 PM EST
[ Parent ]

I have been invited as a blogger to Sunday's big meeting. There was a previous invitation last week-end to present the people that did the moderation and the summaries of the debate (many of which were meeting on that occasion for the first time), but i could not make it.

You feel a real sense of pride coming from the people that have participated in that process. I really hope that something powerful will come out of this. It is essentially the same "netroots based" logic as EA. We'll see how this goes, but I'm well placed to know that you should not underestimate it.

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

by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Thu Feb 8th, 2007 at 04:09:29 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Yay, this is something significant that's happening right under the noses of of the msm. Is her initiative being noticed much at all bythem ? Do they understand it ?

God, it's amazing isn't it ? kos went to scoop in 2003 and transformed voter interaction in US politics. Just over 3 years later democratic policy formulation is really becoming "we the people, for the people, by the people". The corporations won't know what hit 'em.

keep to the Fen Causeway

by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Thu Feb 8th, 2007 at 04:58:47 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Oh, and great diary, thankyou for creating it!
by Metatone (metatone [a|t] gmail (dot) com) on Thu Feb 8th, 2007 at 12:18:30 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Good slogan. Very good in fact.

Can't wait to see what comes next. Some of this is predictable (the Bushiste stuff, and eventually we-ll start seeing more of the photo of Sarko and Bush), some maybe not. We'll see. I personally like the talk about the media and the financial elites and hope it's not only rhetorical.

The Hun is always either at your throat or at your feet. Winston Churchill

by r------ on Thu Feb 8th, 2007 at 01:12:55 PM EST
[ Parent ]
It's predictable and fair enough, de bonne guerre : Sarko's positioning is in fact contradictory, even incoherent, and it's fine to smack into it by breezing him off the "workers" and reminding him he chose the photo ops with Bush and Blair.

I like the language too. The speechwriter (though I somehow think she had a lot to do with it herself) went to town. Some rhetoric there. Some real feeling too, I think.

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Thu Feb 8th, 2007 at 01:26:48 PM EST
[ Parent ]
A couple of things I just picked up on TV while cooking:

  • a clip of SR at that meeting saying that there might be money to be made by "finance and the media" if NS won, but there would certainly be money to be lost if the left won. She said that very levelly with a steady glint in her eye. Looked like a genuine declaration of war to me.

  • Sarko has ping-ponged back to the right: support for Mohammed cartoonists, speech where he promises to make life uncomfortable for (Muslims unspecified) those who force their family to abide by religious rules, speech to "rapatriés" (former French inhabitants of North Africa) saying if France had to apologise to anyone over Algeria, it was to them (there he is straight picking a fight with Algeria).

  • Le Pen's response? (Roughly): he's ploughing the field where I shall sow and reap. Dead right.
by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Thu Feb 8th, 2007 at 02:16:10 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Sarko has ping-ponged back to the right: support for Mohammed cartoonists
François Bayrou (center) and François Hollande (left, secretary general of socialist party and SR's companion), most anyone that counts went in support of Le Canard Enchaîné in this cartoons trial.
by balbuz on Thu Feb 8th, 2007 at 03:41:47 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Supporting the Mohamed cartoonist is definitely not a rightwing thing, it is a republicain thing, and a good chunk (thre majority)  of these are on the left.

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes
by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Thu Feb 8th, 2007 at 04:02:07 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Sarko is Interior Minister and ministre des cultes. This casts a quite different light on his open support for Charlie Hebdo (for which he'd hardly otherwise be suspected of sympathy... ;)). He must have known he'd create a fuss, being accused of stepping out of the neutral line his "stewardship" of religious bodies implies. (I flagged this on the Salon the other day, knowing there would be protests, and they quickly followed).

But it also has to be seen in conjunction with his aggressive talk (I heard it on the radio, nothing like the soft talk he's been coming up with since mid-January) about making life in France uncomfortable for religious heads of family (and being rapturously applauded for it), and above all his defence of colonialism. Le Pen wasn't making any mistake about it. This is Sarko back fishing in his lake. Not that Le Pen cares...

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Thu Feb 8th, 2007 at 05:08:14 PM EST
[ Parent ]
We all know Sarkozy and his motives, the problem being of course he is at the same time candidate and Minister of the Interior, etc.

But I'm still not sure if you argue that supporting the cartoonists means belonging to the right ?

by balbuz on Fri Feb 9th, 2007 at 03:40:33 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Sarko has ping-ponged back to the right: support for Mohammed cartoonists

Interesting piece in Le Monde yesterday about this.

Nicholas Sarkozy's support for the weekly sows confusion in Muslim organizations Le soutien de Nicolas Sarkozy à l'hebdomadaire sème la confusion dans les institutions musulmanes
He [a member of the French Council of the Muslim Faith] looks at the bright side by citing certain results of a poll published February 8 by the weekly Le Pèlerin. According to this survey, three quarters of French people consider it "unacceptable" to publicly mock a religion, or the representatives, believers, or founder of a religion. On the other hand, 48% (as opposed to 45%) find it unacceptable that representatives of a religion should be able to sue those who criticize them in court.Il [un membre du bureau du CFCM] se console en évoquant certains des résultats d'un sondage publié, jeudi 8 février, par l'hebdomadaire Le Pèlerin. Selon cette enquête, trois quarts des Français estiment "inacceptable" de se moquer publiquement d'une religion, des représentants, des croyants ou du fondateur d'une religion. Ils sont en revanche 48 % (contre 45 %) à trouver inacceptable que les représentants des religions aient recours aux tribunaux pour poursuivre ceux qui les critiquent.

Interestingly, 55% of regularly practicing Catholics do think it's okay to sue people for criticizing a religion and/or its represenatives, founders, etc., while only 36% do not think it's okay.

Wonder what the number would be for Sikhs, Hindus, Buddhists, and Moonies.

Truth unfolds in time through a communal process.

by marco on Thu Feb 8th, 2007 at 10:57:46 PM EST
[ Parent ]
This time around France has real competition for Presidency so unlike Chirac-Le Pen duel of eldormen with Socialist elderly referee (I just forgot his name).
Mr Sarkozy is media savvy suave (I hope) truly right wing politician similar to Mr Berlusconi (IMHO) while glamour Segolene Royal has my sympathy for her participative democracy meetings. It's interesting to see who will be eventual winner.
by FarEasterner on Thu Feb 8th, 2007 at 01:37:33 PM EST
The Wall Street Journal published today a long, meandering portrait of Ségolène Royal by Bernard Henri-Levy. I intended to write it up, but as afew has already this story up, this is the right place to put this.

But what was troublesome was that she was already backpedaling on the question of human rights while Nicolas Sarkozy -- the conservative rival to her Socialist bid for the Elysée Palace -- is now taking strong positions on Darfur, Chechnya and the world's dictatorships.

"Oh, Sarkozy and the dictatorships!" She roars with laughter again, like a young girl. "The right -- and the dictatorships, that I've got to see. . . . But, concerning my trip to China, you must understand that I really did speak very strongly, I repeated my concerns about their not respecting human rights."

Aha, I say. And why do you call them "human rights" and not "les droits de l'homme" -- the Rights of Man -- the way the rest of France does? I get the impression it would scorch her tongue to say "the Rights of Man."

And we launch into a strange, somewhat surrealistic dialogue of the deaf in which I explain that for the anti-totalitarian left which is now steering itself away from her, the Rights of Man is not just a phrase but a concept, one that is filled with memories of suffering, of Resistance, manifestly not to be played with -- and she, argumentative, inflexible, a sharpness suddenly visible in her face, her forehead, asserting that it's exactly the opposite, that when one says "Rights of Man" she cannot overlook the literal sense of the words, the rights of the Male as opposed to the Female, the rights of her father versus the rights of her mother -- and that is why she prefers to say "human rights."

"One day," she continues, "I was talking with a woman from a village in Mali. For her it was exactly that simple: If you say 'the Rights of Man' she understands they are the rights of the male population laying down the law there for centuries. So I choose her point of view, which is also, by the way, the same as that of any child you find in the street. And that is why I choose those words."

Sensing that we are now approaching a new level of misunderstanding, that in five minutes she is going to bring up the American feminist hardliners' demand for "herstory" instead of "history" -- that she doesn't understand why in her Catholic catechism classes they didn't say, "God our Father-Mother" instead of the more macho "God our Father" -- I change the subject.

BHL writes about this somewhat contemptuously, but this is an impression I've had in the past, and which this confirms: Ségolène Royal is a strongly militant feminist, and talks about it regularly and with conviction. This is rarely mentioned in the press, but it appears to be a very deep streak in her.

Quite the contrary, you see comments about how she likes to be surrounded by men, to appear as the only woman and play on her charm, in a supposedly cynical form of pseudo feminism. I think that she is enough of a politician to play on this, but that does not make her convictions on this any less real, and I think BHL confirms that impression.

The sommelier pours more wine. I observe she eats and drinks with real gusto, like Mitterrand did before he became ill; and that she has a little of Chirac's hearty appetite -- is this a sign?

This may appear as a silly comment, but in France it's quite meaningful - she enjoys the "real things" - an important, if invisible criteria, again ,acknowledged here by BHL.

So how do things stand with her rivals? What is going on in the Socialist Party? It is unclear whether it is she who doesn't want its support, or if it is the party, facing recent catastrophic polls, that has gone to ground.


As she sits back down, she says, "I understand Jospin. That a woman like me, a bécassine [girl from the provinces], was chosen as the party's candidate, succeeding in things that he never even got close to, I can understand how that might make him angry."

What sorts of things? "Chevènement," she says, referring to another heavyweight on the left. "Jospin still doesn't see how I got him, when he thinks that it is the fact that he didn't -- that Chevènement was against him, is why he lost." I am about to retort that it is not necessarily such a great thing to have the anti-European, populist Jean-Pierre Chevènement in her camp, but she continues, thoughtfully, "Why do you think he lost? Do you have an explanation for Jospin losing against Chirac and even Le Pen?"

Then, as I answer that it might have had to do with a form of political elitism which was punished by the electorate, she says, "That's it, yes. And what bothers them is my will to break away from that elitism, that arrogance. What we call participative democracy, I have never claimed it is the panacea, or that one must govern with an eye to public opinion, but to listen to them, to hear what they have in their heads, since for so many years they have been force-fed their truths -- it was necessary to do it and I am proud of doing it."

That's her programme in a nutshell. A ruthless determination to win (which Jospin did not have), the pragmatism to strike the right alliance to avoid vote losses, and that core belief in a new form of "populism" - simply not taking the populace for idiots.

And, together with her being a woman (and being very obviously mocked and scorned just for being one), this is a big change. That it is a big change is not flattering for France, maybe (and as a frequent proponent of the French technocratic model, I should listen...), but that this is happening is.

We talk about her vision of Europe, of Iran -- subjects where she certainly seems less incompetent than others have described her to be.

She has been playing the "dumb blonde" for the past 25 years, but she is neither dumb nor nice. and she has the track record of electoral victories to prove that those that underestimated her did so at their own peril.

She is sure of winning, she says, although she is a little nervous about Feb. 11, her big policy day. So much is expected from her, that it is possible she will disappoint. But like Hillary Clinton, whom she admires, she is sure she will win over the conservative camp, frozen in its certainties, incapable of facing the challenges, "the suburbs, the banlieues -- in the face of these burning tenements how can the only policy be repression, where demonstrators are no better than savages, barbarians at the gates of the city? Like the ancient Greeks do we not call those with less access barbarians? This attitude is madness, it is suicide."


I  take my leave, still somewhat puzzled, but with the feeling that people may have been unfair to this woman -- myself included, and that she does not really resemble the slightly gauche statue into which she has sculpted herself.

Altogether an interesting and rather favorable article (and in the WSJ Op-Ed pages, no less).

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

by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Thu Feb 8th, 2007 at 04:29:07 PM EST
Ségolène Royal is a strongly militant feminist, and talks about it regularly and with conviction. This is rarely mentioned in the press, but it appears to be a very deep streak in her.


The more I learn about her, the more I like her.

by the stormy present (stormypresent aaaaaaat gmail etc) on Thu Feb 8th, 2007 at 04:43:50 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Thanks Jerome for rather insightful article (I do not read WSJ as my days as economist and social science researcher are over) and for the name for that "elderly Socialist referee" - it was Jospin with quite forgettable face and surname.

It seems Ms Segolene tries to move to political center - lefties with their rigid economical views should accept it. I doubt in France there are many downtrodden discriminated poor people except minorities and dwellers of wealthy suburbs will decide results of these elections. If she can find the key to their problems and worries, strike emotional chord with them through her participative democracy meetings, at the same time accomodating some views of the left and minorities she has a fairly good chance to claim Elysee palace. In this case the only chance of Mr Sarkozy camp will be protraying her meetings as electoral gimmick.  

by FarEasterner on Thu Feb 8th, 2007 at 05:21:14 PM EST
[ Parent ]

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