Some on the left have let themselves believe that Royal, however wistful her proposals, will reinvigorate France simply by virtue of her sex and her patient, conciliatory manner. A female president? How wonderful. How progressive. But France is split painfully down the middle, torn between socialist retrenchment and Sarkozy's vision of a free-market, hard-line France. To imagine that a woman is capable of uniting it because she is a woman is to believe that Delacroix's bare-breasted Liberté really did lead the bourgeoisie and the working class through the barricades. It makes a fine picture, but it is self-indulgent fantasy.
On a superficial level, I disagree. If one had to choose a candidate based on his/her ability to unify rather than divide, Royal would beat Sarkozy hands down. You can almost hear the protesters getting ready for President Sarkozy's first proposed reforms. But unity without purpose is just as bad if not worse than division, because at least a divided country will debate the problems it faces, instead of ignoring them like now. Royal's challenge over the next few weeks will be not only to show that Sarkozy's version of change is wrong, but regain the new-comer anti-traditionalist reputation she earned during the Socialist primaries. The French know they want change, but they will not vote for Royal-change unless it is a credible alternative to Sarkozy-change.
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