Tuesday, December 5, 2006

Hillary v. Segolene

The New York Times is running an article that compares French Socialist Segolene Royal with US Deomcrat Hillary Clinton. Unfortunately the Times article is part of their paid subscription, so I've decided to do my own comparison right here. The similarties are at first striking: these are two women who may eventually lead two of the most powerful countries in the world, and they would be the first woman in each country to do so. But beyond that, the differences abound.

1. New Face v. Old Face. Hillary Clinton has been in the national spotlight since her husband was elected president 14 years ago. Along with her more than six year tenure in the US senate, Clinton will be hard pressed to portray herself as a new and different candidate, especially because her views on most issues are known. Segolene Royal has spent nearly her entire adult life in government, but because she was not widely known, rose to fame so quickly in the past few years, and does not fit the traditional mold of a graying French statesman, she has been able to appear as a new and attractive face signifying real change. She has also not taken many concrete positions, which allows her to make adjustments as necessary, and does not keep her opinions stuck in the past.

2. Polarization. Although the polls are tight in France, as an outsider, I have the feeling that Royal is not a polarizing figure by any means. That is, even if she won, she wouldn't be instantly hated by everyone who votes for Sarkozy, she would be given a chance to prove herself. In the US, the story would be quite different. Hillary Clinton, wife of Bill Clinton, is one of the most polarizing politicians in recent American history. Opinion polls show that most likely voters have already decided whether they would vote for or against her in a general election, and the right-wing has a visceral and instinctual negative reaction to almost anything she says or does. If she won, the country would be as divided as it was after the election debacle in 2000, something most Americans would not like to repeat.

3. Experience In the Senate Hillary Clinton has become deeply involved in the work of the Armed Services committee, and she is judged to have strong foreign policy and national security experience. On domestic issues she is weaker. Most Americans still remember her for a health care plan she proposed as First Lady that ended in disaster. Royal is quite the opposite. Her domestic credentials are strong, as she has been both Family and Environment Minister. Diplomatically she is vulnerable, and nothing spelled that out clearer than her recent controversy in Lebanon.

Conclusion. Although Royal and Clinton are approaching their presidential elections from different circumstances, polls show that each is obviously capable of winning. The one positive indicator from their candidacies, even if they both lose, is that the presidency is no longer an all male affair.

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