BORDEAUX, France, April 23, 2012 — Flying into Boston from Bordeaux, as I do a couple of times a year, I am normally braced for violent culture shock. This time it was more like déjà vu. I had left one vicious presidential campaign for another.
The French have been subjected to six months of a hotly contested presidential campaign, now officially in its second round, with only President Nicolas Sarkozy and prime challenger, the Socialist François Hollande, still in the race. The first round brought no surprises. Hollande scored a slight edge with about 28 percent to Sarkozy’s 26. Now the jostling begins for the real election May 6.
Meanwhile, in the U.S., the seemingly perpetual drive to discredit and destroy President Obama frankly shocks the outsider. I thought open racist attacks were a thing of the past. Can Obama be this evil? Where did you say he was born? Is healthcare really a bad thing? Can his critics be serious?
Extremes in a Field of Nine
The issues in the two countries differ, but the tone and the tactics are the same. Keep your mind closed and dig down deep for anything personal that can be twisted and inflated into a negative. What might be good for the country comes second.
In France, nine candidates lined up to fight for President Sarkozy’s job. Most were so far Left they almost fell off the spectrum while Marine Le Pen, speaking for the far Right, was busy falling off the other end. In the center, if there is one in France, was François Bayrou, a respected ex-professor but with no polling power because he focused on the national debt, not on promises of rainbows and riches. The French are like everyone else. They vote for faces, not realities.
Poor President Sarkozy, reeling from five years of invective for his modernization of rigid French institutions, offers five more years of upheavals, a danger for a population that seems tired of him and his famous nervous tics.
The French, combative by nature, have skewered him for being short (about 5 feet 5), for being insincere, for having a messy love life, for being corrupt, and for being far too close with the United States and its values. To really get his goat, they call him “l’Américain.”
Name Calling As Only the French Can Do
He is often portrayed as wearing three-inch heels and sporting small horns on his forehead – the French symbol of the cuckold. Investigations have turned up evidence that his campaign has been partly financed by mysterious bags of cash, including one he allegedly took from Libya’s Muammar Khadaffi back when the two were briefly pals at the Elysée. One candidate, Eva Joly, says she believes he wants to be reelected so he won’t have to go to jail.
On the far Right, Mme. Le Pen has tried to woo the center by pretending to be nicer than her father, who founded her National Front party and was even more extreme politically. Her mask slipped slightly a few weeks ago when she was photographed in Vienna with members of nostalgic Nazis. She is fearsome enough in public, though, calling for purity of the French population and a halt to immigration – code for keeping out blacks and browns. Her first round score of 20 percent is high enough to worry the rest of the country.
Probably the more colorful barbs have been reserved for Hollande, an enigmatic professional Socialist who has never held public office but is the genuine serious threat to Sarkozy.
The activists in Sarkozy’s party have portrayed him as a wishy-washy aspirant, publicly calling him “Mr. Marshmallow” and casting aspersions on his virility with the nickname “soft balls.” They overlook the fact that he sired four children with the ravishing Ségolène Royal, then skipped out without marrying her. This being France, one would have thought.…
The popularity of the Left in France is incomprehensible to the typical American. Not only is it acceptable to be a militant Communist, but a new darling of the political scene is Olivier Besancenot, a mailman who is a spokesman for something called the NPA, the New Anti-Capitalist Party. Neither of those parties qualified for the voting, however.
The Round Two outcome two weeks hence is too close to call. The next two weeks will be spent with the Sarkozy and Hollande teams trying to round up voters who lost their candidates in Round One. And watch for the influence Mme. Le Pen and the Right flank on the election.
Michael Johnson is an American journalist and writer based in Bordeaux, France. He also writes for the International Herald Tribune and American Spectator.
This article is the copyrighted property of the writer and Communities @ WashingtonTimes.com. Written permission must be obtained before reprint in online or print media. REPRINTING TWTC CONTENT WITHOUT PERMISSION AND/OR PAYMENT IS THEFT AND PUNISHABLE BY LAW.