Kerry-Amour in France

Me, too! Me, too! So Europe is Kerry country, not least because the Democratic presidential candidate is fluent in French and can produce phrases in other European languages, reports the Economist. (Subscription required; or you can get the same message from this Washington Post survey of a ragged potpourri of English-language newspapers from around the world – from Manila, Hong Kong, Edinburgh, southern India, and the like.) Sounds like a good bandwagon for EuroSavant to hop onto, say with a look at the French press to see whether the Fifth Republic really loves the Democratic Party’s candidate as much as is claimed.


Open War for the White House declares Libération in the title of its article on the Kerry phenomenon, and the fears of many that the Democratic primary campaign would be long and bloody, producing a fatally-wounded candidate, have not been borne out. While Kerry will emphasize economics in his quest for the White House, author Pascal Riche writes, Bush will choose cultural ground (“terrain“) to fight on. (This is hard to understand; it probably refers to Bush’s recent initiative for a Constitutional amendment defining marriage as the union between people of opposite sexes.) And while Kerry denounces the “creed of greed” and pronounces himself the friend of entrepreneurs, Bush bases his appeal on his supposed advantage in “character.” He manages to speak like the ordinary American, even in what Riche calls a john-waynesque way.

A pretty even-handed treatment, one could say. We find outright editorial support for Kerry elsewhere, in the Nouvel Observateur, and specifically in the opinion piece by editor-in-chief Jean-Marcel Bouguereau entitled The Man Who Speaks Truthfully. Here, John Kerry is an orator, who “above all, speaks truthfully, as if he had nothing to lose, true to certain dreams of youth,” particularly his admiration for John F. Kennedy. He is ready to offer America “real leadership,” “a real pact and not a sucker’s contract like George Bush” (whose name Bouguereau spells “Georges” at the beginning of his piece – a grave insult if deliberate – whether Bouguereau realized this or not – although possibly a mere editorial oversight). What’s more, as the Nouvel Observateur editor notes approvingly, the polls are already putting him ahead. This is something Kerry should be able to build on – provided Bush doesn’t manage to capture Osama bin-Laden in the meantime!, he adds.

Before going on to what is truly our main course, namely Le Point’s treatment of the Kerry phenomenon, let’s briefly linger at the Nouvel Observateur to consider that magazine’s own French press review – doubling the reach of our own, in a way. (It’s a press review-within-a-press review!) Be forewarned: the papers cited here are usually among France’s second journalistic tier, but there are still interesting remarks often to be found. Actually, Les Echos is the main French business daily, and here its writer Françoise Crouigneau discusses how the eight months that remain to the November election are rather too little – because such elections for the leader of the world’s superpower really require more time for reflection and sufficient explanation of policy issues – and too much – because it could all go on so long that the American people just tune out. (So you have to wonder: are the American people really interested in “reflection and explanation”?) And Jean-Claude Kiefer, writing in the newspaper Les Dernières Nouvelles d’Alsace (definitely a second-tier French newspaper) makes the astute observation that Europe must be prudent in its attitude towards these American presidential elections on three counts: First, don’t lend to much credit to the candidates’ electoral programs. (A bit of spot-on cynicism there!) Second, don’t openly show a preference for one candidate – “even though,” he writes, “all the capitals of the old continent are hoping for John Kerry.” Third, remember this: “an American president is elected exclusively to defend American interests.”


Now to Le Point, where we have to start with the magazine’s cover-article: The America That Detests Bush. The cover, pictured, is dominated by a photo of John Kerry sucking on his glasses-frame, and so looking thoughtful, with an array of Bush opponents deployed at the bottom. I can’t identify them all, as the picture is too small, but I do see Michael Moore and George Soros. (Join the parlor-game: Help me identify those other faces which detest Bush! E-mail me your answers!) The article’s lead: “Artists, journalists, writers, militants of all stripes have sworn to the defeat of the current occupant of the White House. They have access to a non-negligible network of influence and to a credible political leader: John Kerry.”

Writer Pierre Beylau goes on to start the article with a refreshing insight: “Anti-Americanism is a conceptual stupidity,” because there is really no one America to hate, but rather an America of many faces, many of them contradictory. And the presidential campaign that is shaping up is one shining example of this fact. In what for me is an eerie echo of what happened with another President Bush in 1991-1992 (although that’s my contribution, not Le Point’s), Beylau notes how last spring George W. Bush seemed unassailable, but that nowadays he is hardly untouchable politically, what with Iraq seeming more and more to be a morass, and what Beylau calls “the lies put forth about the imaginary WMD” now eating away at presidential credibility. This has led to the emergence of the “Bush haters,” determined that Bush shall lose this election. These “Bush haters” hardly constitute any sort of cross-section of the American population – rather, they are from its élite – but they do exert a certain influence.

And now they have their leader in John Kerry: “he can speak knowingly of patriotism and war, because he fought courageously in Vietnam, while Bush was planqué [dictionary translates as “hiding out”] in the National Guard. He can speak of peace, because he actively denounced the absurdity of the conflict. A moderate, he does not frighten a centrist electorate.”

But now it’s time to be careful. The Bush administration, belatedly, is starting to try to behave better, reining in the ideological “hawks” and entering again into dialogue with its allies, no matter how awkward they may be. (Perhaps Beylau is referring here to the recent Franco-American cooperation over intervening in Haiti.) And John Kerry is careful now not to appear too Europhile – an electoral liability, I guess, in the land of the free and the home of the brave.

(Verily, knowing anything about those European languages is certainly an unmistakable sign of moral vacuity and lack of backbone – not to mention often a certain predilection for using $5-words which, all the composition tipsters will tell you, you should never put in Internet writing.)


In the same issue, Le Point includes a portrait of the Democratic candidate entitled, of all things, Kerry, the Husband of Teresa, by Dominique Audibert, with reporting contributions from Stéphanie Chayet, Le Point’s correspondent (correspondette?) in New York. Now, you’ll agree with me that Stéphanie is clearly a woman’s name; “Dominique,” on the other hand, can go either way, although in view of this article’s title and focus, it’s rather clear to me that Dominique Audibert is also a woman. “John Kerry is the big surprise of the Democratic primaries,” this article announces in its lead. “This disciple of Kennedy has a secret weapon: his wife, Teresa.” And then, breathlessly, in the article proper’s opening lines: “His patrician allure and his rather austere traits have given him a visage made for Mount Rushmore, a profile worthy of being sculpted into the Dakota mountain next to America’s founding fathers.” Whew. A bit overboard for you? And he has the smile of that other JFK from the ’60s, but “rarer and less devastating.” Yes, he does speak French fluently, he vacations in Brittany, he rides a Harley . . . OK, I’ll stop with this. You want more, you learn French (you lose your backbone). But the authors do add that, on top of all of this, John Kerry had the good fortune to marry Teresa – that’s Teresa Heinz, of the millionaire Heinz family – and then devote a separate article-within-the-article to her (“Teresa, Rich, Unpredictable, Volcanic. . . “).

Yep, this is basically hagiography – and on the other hand, for Audibert and Chayet Bush is the “toxic Texan.” You can tell unmistakeably that they would go for Kerry in any event, as he has a “heart on the left” (as one column-title reads), which is where the “heart” of most European political parties – even those called “rightist” – is to be found. Accordingly, the authors devote the last bit of their article (before the separate section about Teresa) to feverish speculation about what their man’s chances look like to win it all in November. Good, they think; Kerry’s victory in New Hampshire demonstrated his strength among independent voters. And President Bush is certainly looking weak these days, what with the mounting American casualties in Iraq, the WMD issue, and being forced to accept the establishment of a Congressional commission to investigate intelligence failures in Iraq (although, as the authors point out, Bush did succeed in making sure that commission’s conclusions will not be published until after the election). “Just like the first Tomahawks [i.e. cruise missiles] over Baghdad,” they conclude, “John Kerry’s attacks putting into doubt the justification for the War in Iraq are seeming to hit the bull’s-eye.”

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