Lost In Limoges

From the sheep-dotted pastures of France's underpopulated Southwest, Limoges rises in all its grey glory. The city's claim to fame: fine porcelain. The half-timbered houses of the Medieval center are surrounded by strip malls and McDo. Land-hungry Brits descend with flailing pocketbooks (thanks, RyanAir). The weather is remarkably cool year-round. Sure, I live on rue de Nice, but this is NOT the Cote d'Azur. Welcome to Limoges, "the middle of nowhere"-- or as Pierre says "everywhere"-- France.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

The French Presidential Election

Since last September, I've been a keen observer of the 2007 presidential election campaigns, in part because Pierre's political blog, Présidentielles 2007: demandez le programme!, has necessitated my immersion in la politique, but also because of the obvious comparisons with the current presidential campaigns on the other side of the pond. There are a lot of lessons to be learned: caps on spending, limited campaign duration, equal media attention for each candidate, etc. It's more of a level playing field, it seems. (Of course it's also been fun to watch the beautiful Ségolène Royal, the first female contender, and all the media frenzy that's surrounded her campaign.)

Stephen Clarke's recent op-ed piece in the New York Times, "No Sex, Please, We're French," is an interesting take on the race and the sudden rise to prominence of the third candidate, François Bayrou:

Most of all, he is something that even urban voters see as quintessentially French — a farmer. His official Web site shows him pitchforking hay on the family farm, and he was recently quoted in the weekly Le Point as saying: "My friends and I aren't the jet set. We're the tractor set."

One should not underestimate the strength of this rustic image in the national psyche. If you gave an average Frenchman the choice between a reforming president who would plug the country's huge deficit and a good cheese, he would probably opt for the cheese.

This is why in France, candidates not only kiss babies, they kiss cows. Politicians flocked into the recent Agriculture Fair in Paris to be photographed embracing livestock. And no one looked more convincing in the clinch with a four-legged, hairy friend than Mr. Bayrou.

His rise in the polls seems to prove that, despite what they say, the French are upset by upheaval, revolted by revolt. They want things to stay the way they have always been. Even Louis XVI was able to provoke his subjects into guillotining him only because he tried to flee the country, thus making himself look a traitor. If he had stayed in Paris and hugged a few prize bulls, France would probably still be a monarchy.

For another point-of-view, check out SuperFrenchie's critique.


  • At 1:22 PM, Blogger Mathieu said…

    Hi, what is interesting with this campaign, i believe, is the fight between the party structures (the so called Elephants for the socialists and the barons for the UMP) and the candidates themselves.
    For most people balancing between Bayrou and the 2 others (i am one of them, balancing between Ségolène and Bayrou), it's a matter of voting for a person, the true sense of the presidential election, or a system.
    Bayrou has the advantage of not having an "appareil" (structure) backing him, but then this is also the biggest flaw in his candidacy. He will need to form a governement, and a legislative majority. This means he wll have to pick people, and unless you are a die hard centrist (extreme-centre ! ), you will feel cheated when he picks people you didn't intend to vote for in the begining.
    As Laurent Joffrin wrote in Liberation yesterday (march 26th), vote for your real political family, even if you don't like them.
    I guess this will bring me to vote for Ségolène Royal then, and i will still believe that we missed something by not trying a left-right crossmix.
    Not an easy feeling.
    By the way, Limoges is a peaceful not to much out-of-the-way easy going non-extremist city. I hope you enjoy your stay. A californian friend of mine has been living here for the past 20 years, 10 years ago he tried resettling in California, but came back after
    3 months... Life was a bit to hard over there !

  • At 9:19 AM, Blogger MWN said…

    Mathieu, I am still navigating my way through French politics and your comment was very helpful in understanding the current situation. Ségolène actually came to Limoges last week to speak at the Zenith, but it was already closed by the time we got there-- packed with people-- so we stood outside in the mud to watch the live TV broadcast. Thanks so much for checking out my blog. I would be interested to meet your friend from California! I used to live in San Francisco.


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