Four French Election Lessons

The excitement is mounting . . . in less than a day we should all know who the 44th President of the USA will be! That is, unless we come up against another vote-counting disaster such as occurred in the state of Florida back in 2000, Patrick Sabatier reminds us in his article for the French news-magazine Le Point: The four lessons of an historic campaign. Thanks for that, M. Sabatier, and unfortunately what you foresee could well come true, what with the unprecedented flood of voters expected to show up at the polls today, even after the similar throngs that flocked to the early-voting sites opened by some (but by no means all) states.

If we do get some sort of definitive result out of the day’s proceedings, Sabatier points out that it can only turn out one way, if you pay attention to the pollsters and other experts, namely a victory for Barack Obama. So why not go ahead and offer “four lessons” out of the American electoral campaign, as seen from a French perspective? Although, that said, Sabatier at the same time does take care to factor the possibility of a surprise McCain victory into his conclusions.

That willingness to keep a McCain victory in the picture that way is impressive, if perhaps what you could call the “price” of writing this kind of backward-looking piece while the election results are still undecided, but Sabatier does also make some good observations in his analysis. His first “lesson” (and section-heading) is “An Historical Election,” and that is pretty obvious: first serious woman/black candidates for president, the longest and most expensive campaigns, etc. It’s not until “lesson” #2 that he starts to get interesting: “A vote of rejection rather than adhesion.” If Obama wins, writes Sabatier, that will be most of all a grand rejection of the presidency of George W. Bush – and an explicit rejection of McCain, seen as closely linked to the current president. If McCain wins after all, that will similarly be due not to any of the Arizona Senator’s positive properties, but rather to a rejection of the too-inexperienced Obama in a time of great national crisis – oh, and also, according to Sabatier, a rejection by a predominantly white electorate of the concept of a black man as head of state. One important reason why this will be so, whoever wins, is that neither candidate, in Sabatier’s eyes, has taken the trouble during this campaign to give voters reasons to vote for them by truly confronting the serious issues of the time, which will after all be awaiting the winner, with well-considered and well-presented policy proposals. You can object that Obama has in fact done this, which to some degree is true, yet the Obama camp (along with McCain) really has not offered any measures to deal with the current financial crisis. Indeed, both candidates are inhabiting some sort of dream-world with talk of their various tax-cuts, in light of the clear fiscal needs of the country in the opposite direction, and this tends to reinforce Sabatier’s point.

His “lesson” number 3, like the first, is fairly obvious. Over the (long) course of the presidential campaign one fear has replace the other: the fear of terrorism and failure in Iraq has been replaced with fear of a new Great Depression. Naturally this has mainly hurt McCain, not only by drawing the national conversation away from the military and foreign policy spheres where he is said to have superior expertise, but also because of McCain’s various instances of unwise statements (“The fundamentals of the US economy are strong”) and unwise behavior in response to these economic worries.

“Red vs. Blue” Not Dead?

No, let’s rather take a look at the fourth, and final, “lesson”: “The civil war between blues and reds is not finished.” He is talking here about the great “culture war” said to have raged within the US for a number of decades now, between two different sets of principles and attitudes best summed up by “red vs. blue.” (Of course, Sabatier offers his own summary within the article of what “red” and “blue” are all about – actually, really only “red”; I assume nothing like that is necessary here to readers of this blog.) It has been the emergence onto the political scene – and (temporary) mass-popularity – of Alaska Governor Sarah Palin which has supposedly showed that this “culture war” is alive and well, followed by the “Joe the Plumber populist myth” that prolonged and reinforced it. (And yes, in Sabatier’s article it’s Joe le Plombier.) If McCain ends up winning after all, Sabatier goes on to write, that will show the continuing power of the “silent majority” upon which the Republican Party has based its power since 1968. Well yes, that would be true; however, other observers see this “culture war” influence fading in American politics, Palin or no Palin. (That’s from Salon, so if you don’t subscribe, you might have to endure a brief flash presentation.)

One footnote: We find out here how to say in French “the surge” – as in what happened in Iraq from early 2007, whose more-accurate expression in English is of course “escalation” instead – or at least Patrick Sabatier’s crack at the translation. It’s coup de boutoir, which my Larousse dictionary does translate as an entire phrase, namely as “sly hit, cutting remark.” Hmmm – so that’s supposed to be “surge” . . .

Oh, and while you’re on the webpage with Sabatier’s article – if you’re there – check out the “Video of the Day” embedded in the top-right corner. Yes, it’s none other than the video of Dick Chency giving his endorsement to McCain, with the mini-quotation there below in yellow type “I am delighted to support John McCain.” You can be sure that that endorsement resonates just as much to John McCain’s benefit with readers of Le Point – in terms of NOT! – as it did with the American public. And while you’re at it, why not click the button below that (past the box Plutôt McCain ou Obama?) where it says Quiz Présidentiel? Can you believe it: the question there actually reads “What is the American national anthem called? Star-Spangled Banner, Star-Strangled Banner or Star-Pringles Banner?” No joke: check it out yourself.

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