C'est une carte postale déposée dans la salle de presse du congrès par un anonyme qui susurrait: "C'est le sourire de l'ange de Reims". Au verso, une photo en noir et blanc de l'ex-candidate à l'Elysée. Un témoignage parmi d'autres du culte que suscite celle que les médias ont surnommée "la Madone", ou "la Dame en blanc".
But Ségo didn't appear in white at Reims. She wore a simple gray sweater over a white blouse and could have been a schoolteacher or a secretary. Her apotheosis was in the eye of the beholder. When she went "folksy" at Le Zénith, she was derided not as a madonna but rather as a would-be adolescent or over-the-hill rock star. Nor was there anything particularly religious about her Reims speech. Her rhetoric involved a call for "healing" of a party wounded by months of division and still bleeding, an extended though unremarkable metaphor under the circumstances:
"Il nous faut prendre soin de notre parti. Il va falloir nous guérir, il faut nous soigner de toutes ces petites et grandes blessures que nous nous sommes infligées, de tous ces chagrins, parfois de ces offenses. Il va falloir les oublier, les effacer, un jour nous les pardonner", a-t-elle déclaré.
Of course it's her ability to tap the register of emotions that upsets some Socialists. Her core competences are education and family policy, and this led some observers to dismiss her for her lack of experience with the "regalian powers." Her expertise lay in what some were pleased to describe as "women's issues." Economics, foreign policy, the military: no place for a woman, those battlefields, except perhaps as a nurse prepared to "heal" -- hence the quickness to seize on the passage quoted above with its expressions of solace and empathy (guérir, soigner, chagrins, offenses, oublier, pardonner).
Aubry, also a woman, brings a very different image to the contest. "Madame les 35 heures" hails from the heartland of social democracy: the wage bargain. Unlike her German counterparts, she represents not an exchange of wage restraint for a share of future profits and the benefits of growth but rather a new dispensation in the reckoning of the social wage, a trade between work and leisure. If Ségo represents a leap into the political unknown, into the post-modern politics of caring for the damage inflicted by the post-modern world, Aubry offers a politics more familiar to an older generation of party members. So we may well see a generational divide in the vote. I followed Reims only on television from 3,000 miles away, but still I saw remarkably few young faces in the crowd or among those interviewed by the media. I suspect that younger members of the party are the more enthusiastic Ségolènistes. They're responding not to Madonna (old or new) or Joan of Arc but rather to a woman who recognizes that left-wing politics in 2008 is about more than just the workplace.