Monday, November 27, 2006

Segolene can learn from George Bush

In 2000, Texas Governor George W. Bush was running for president against then Vice President Al Gore. Although Al Gore was undoubtably the smarter of the two, both had elite upbringings. Gore had gone a top-tier private school in Washington DV and then Harvard where he roomed with actor Tommy Lee Jones; Bush went to an elite New England prep-school, Yale, and Harvard Business School. In their campaigns Gore struggled to appear relaxed, and caused a slight uproar when it was revealed that his advisors had told him to dress in "earth tones". Bush on the other hand was easily portrayed as the common man, speaking with a strong Southern accent in an unsophisticated manner.

One of the greatest moments in the campaign came in the middle of one of their televised debates. During the course of answering a question, Gore not only went after Bush verbally, but actually walked up to him like he was picking a fight. Bush looked at him momentarily in a "what the heck are you doing" fashion, turned around, smiled, and just continued speaking.

So what can Segolene Royal take from this instant? Just like Gore and Bush, she and Nicolas Sarkozy are both emerging from the elite establishment. One of them, Sarkozy, is seen as a statesman, while the other, Royal, is seen as a modern woman who is in touch with the French people. Because Royal has the political momentum, Sarkozy is going to be on the attack, criticizing her lack of ideas and inexperience in every speech, interview, and debate. The worst thing for Royal to do would be to act someone she is not (like Gore tried), get flustered and make stupid remarks (like the Iran shouldn't have a civilian nuclear program), or join the fray and attack Sarkozy (and look like any old politician). If she just smiled, turned around, and continued to speak her message, all Sarkozy's words would look like inappropriate attacks on a woman, and he would look like a know-it-all politician from the past.

If there is any epilogue to this story, it is that Bush ended up losing the popular vote and only winning on a Supreme Court decision, but it was still clear that he had won most of the debates because he allowed Gore to embarrass himself while he stayed on message and in act. Likewise, Royal can win against Sarkozy in person anytime and anyplace, but she must remember that it's only the final vote that counts.

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