Saturday, November 25, 2006

Segolene can melt an audience, can Sarkozy?

An article from an independent news site in New Zealand has the standard profile of Socialist candidate Segolene Royal, but included is a little story that says a lot about her campaign style and that of Sarkozy:
Particularly revealing is the first time Royal came into the media spotlight. Back in 1992, the then Minister of the Environment attended the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro. When her turn came to take the podium, the Minister abandoned her prepared speech. Eight months pregnant, Royal instead placed her hand on her stomach and gave a moving address on childhood, vigorously applauded by Fidel Castro, amongst others. Shortly after, back in France, Royal gave birth to her daughter, Flora. An hour later Royal was filmed with her baby for the French news. Hollande, who evidently hadn’t been consulted, was disgusted.

I assume this story is true, but even if it isn't, it highlights the incredible difference in personality between Royal and her principal challanger Nicolas Sarkozy. Royal is at home in the public spotlight, and even if she wanted to avoid it, the spotlight is attracted to her. More importantly, her tactic of promoting her female qualities is not just a campaign ploy; it is a genuine aspect of her personality.

This continues to be bad news for Sarkozy. If polls are correct, he represents the authoritative statesman that many French are tired of. Instead of avoiding this reality, however, it looks like his campaign will work to accentuate this difference. They will try to portray Royal as a pretty face with no ideas and no ability, while he is to be seen as the smart and tough leader.

Both these strategies will work to some degree or another, but I believe that Royal will continue to have the advantage, even in some of Sarkozy's traditional strengths. Most French believe that Sarkozy would be better at international affairs, given Royal's lack of experience and recent slips-of-the-tongue. But we have to remember that Royal gave this 1992 speech in front of a huge foreign delegation, and was able to win them over with the same sense and caring that she has won over at least half of the French people. Who says she couldn't do the same when president?

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