The French on the New American “Sunny Boy”

Hey – I’ll trade you a John Edwards football card! Yes he played, during his college days at NC State. Actually, I’ll give you a free tip: if you move fast, you can print out the trading card showing the young Edwards suited up in his football uniform, but with the “John Edwards: President” logo underneath, used as promotional material during his Democratic primary campaign, which is featured on the French newspaper Libération’s best-of-the-pack article covering Edwards’ naming as the Democratic VP candidate.


“John Kerry Puts a Bit of Sun On His Ticket,” is the title of this piece by Libération’s correspondent in America, Fabrice Rousselot. And indeed, Rousselot reports that Edwards is nicknamed “Sunny Boy” (can someone over there tell me whether this is actually true?) “from the fact of his blonde hair, always impeccably arranged.” Elsewhere in the article he remarks on the “senator of 50 years [of age, that is – but he actually just turned 51] with the sleek physique and the sparkling smile.” (And also: isn’t his hair brown? Does that count as “blond”?)

Fine, but this isn’t a beauty contest: what about policy matters? Rousselot picks up on Edwards’ famous “Two Americas” theme, and notes that his presence on the ticket will surely help Kerry pick up more votes from Afro-Americans, who up to now have not warmed up to the Kerry candidacy. (Although the competition here is simply with staying home on election day – can you imagine any actual black votes for Bush-Cheney, or gay votes for that matter?) He also claims that the Edwards choice is Kerry’s gambit to reinvigorate his campaign. Democrats, it’s said, have been complaining that the presumptive Democratic presidential candidate has been painfully absent from the great happenings, revelations, and debates of the past months.

Libération also includes an article (Vice President, Honorific Role But Key Post) reminding its readers that the VP slot can often be more important than it would seem. Fourteen out of the forty-four VPs the US has had have gone on, in one way or another, to occupy the presidency. Al Gore was one of President Clinton’s key advisers, and the same is true now – at the least – of Dick Cheney. The latter is “often perceived as the éminence grise of the White House,” and with that Libération is either naïve or content simply to understate the case for the present.

As for Le Monde, skip that newspaper’s main news article (John Kerry Chooses John Edwards) and seek your value-added instead in the accompanying portrait of Sen. Edwards. Le Monde’s labels for the new VP candidate are “millionaire lawyer” and “dynamic, but inexperienced.” It pushes those points in both articles, but at least that portrait goes on to marvel at how Edwards has repeatedly shown himself capable of delivering excellent orations for up to half an hour at a time, with no notes and no stammering. (Good, but tame by 19th-century standards.)


Over at the website of newsmagazine Le Nouvel Observateur, the epithet-of-choice is cinquantaine juvénile et sémillante – the youthful and lively man in his fifties (juvénile doesn’t mean quite the same thing in French as it does in English; it’s really a compliment). Author “AP” claims that Edwards is known especially as a defender of the middle class (?), and also that recent polls show Kerry and George W. Bush running neck-and-neck at this point in the electoral race – “something rare after less than four months of scrutiny” (presumably scrutiny of Kerry; also, presumably reflecting well on Kerry). Like its competitors, the Nouvel Observateur takes note of other polls released last week that showed Edwards as the most popular of Kerry’s potential VP picks then, by far. Unlike them, it also finds the space to get in a giggle at the New York Post’s premature “exclusive” headline and story about Kerry picking Dick Gephart.

Overall, if you think there’s too much emphasis on looks over substance in French coverage of the VP choice so far, I’d tend to agree. You’d think they were Italians!

Update: Wait – Le Figaro posted late a piece on the Edwards choice (Edwards, Kerry’s Master-Stroke) that does avoid the pretty-boy aspects to make some substantive points. Washington correspondent Philippe Gélie asserts that Kerry’s choice was driven by one consideration above all: who could best help him win November’s election? He was advised to pick some state governor (e.g. Iowa’s Tom Vilsack) for his running-mate, to bring executive branch experience to the team; he chose instead a legislative colleague from the Senate. He was advised to pick someone in any case with government experience, who would have credibility as a replacement in the Oval Office should the worst ever happen; he chose instead someone who has not even completed his first term in office. The priority instead was finding someone who could best connect with the American electorate, even if he threatened to push Kerry into the shadows as he did so.

Still, Gélie takes an optimistic view of Edward’s supposed inexperience in foreign and security affairs – he thinks it mainly serves to accentuate Kerry’s credentials in these areas. If there’s any downside to this choice, it may lie in what he calls Edwards “devouring ambition.” Will he be satisfied to know his place and remain in it? To wait two whole presidential terms before getting his own shot at the top office?

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