Friday, November 17, 2006

Ségolène and François

As much as the Clinton’s desire to emulate the way Europe is governed, there has to be some irony in the fact the French socialists want to install a Royal couple in the Presidency, with the lovely Ms. Royal taking the first shot at landing the prize. I bet Hillary is thinking; in retrospect, that is how I should have done it.

French Socialists Nominate Royal: Ms Royal's victory makes her the first woman presidential candidate for a major party in France. It also cements the 53-year-old mother of four as the senior partner of France's ultimate power couple: her partner is party leader François Hollande.

The power couple has four children and no marriage license. I bet Bill is thinking; that is how I would have preferred to climb to power. All in all, this is an interesting example of how the generational youth rebellion of the 1960’s matures into adults seeking political power.

Ségolène Royal: She is a mass of contradictions. She came from a right-wing, ultra-Catholic, military family and became a left-wing rebel. She presents herself as political outsider who's close to the people, but she has been to all the best finishing schools of the French political élite, including the mocked, detested, but still influential Ecole Nationale d'Administration.

Perhaps the greatest contradiction of all - and the one that may yet sink her - is that Ségolène is a pro-European, pragmatic, moderate. She seeks to represent a party, and a wider French left, which is entranced by anti-capitalist, anti-European, anti-globalist, abstract ideology.

France is an unusual place. In other countries, politicians lie to the people. In France, they do so too. But the people also lie to the politicians. They say that they want change but they are terrified by it. The mass of middling voters in France are scared of any change that might threaten the relative job security and state provisions of those who are " inside" the French system. The system's many outsiders - from third-generation immigrant kids of Arab or African origin to jobless white students - are paid lip service but no more.

Thus Ségolène's greatest political strength may be her apparent greatest weakness: the fact that she is a woman. She is different because she is not a man, but she threatens no real change. Something different that will, fundamentally, change nothing? That matches exactly the exasperated, and perverse, mood of the French electorate.

Hillary’s problem was she really, really wanted to change America when she reached Washington over a decade ago. Maybe Ségolène will be content simply rearranging the furniture rather than planning on demolishing and rebuilding the social structure.