Friday, September 16, 2011

The Socialist Debate

Mediapart thinks Aubry won the debate. I'm not in a good position to deny this, since my video feed failed during much of Aubry's presentation. I thought her opening statement was weak, her closing stronger. I wasn't terribly persuaded by her attacks on Hollande or Hollande's on her: this was just trivial point-scoring by candidates whose declared differences on the important issues are probably irrelevant to what they will actually do if elected, constrained as these future decisions will be by unknowable contingencies. On atmospherics, Hollande seemed to be trying to strike an angry, forceful pose, somewhat reminiscent of Sarkozy, while Aubry seemed to be aiming for firm but ratcheted down a peg or two.

Royal was the surprise of the evening: confused, nervous, hesitant. She read her opening statement, which none of the others did. Empathy is her trump card, but she seems tired of playing it, and telling people that "I feel as you do" may in any case not be the right formula for a time when people are confused and frightened and want someone to tell them what to think rather than claim to share their confusion and anxiety.

Montebourg might appear to be the party's jeune espoir if I agreed with anything he said, but I don't. Still, he says it well.  Valls, the other jeune espoir from the opposite end of the spectrum, flew the banner of désendettement, which is but austerity by another name and hardly likely to get anyone's pulse racing. "Deleveraging" may indeed be essential to recovery, but it's a politician's job to wrap the idea in a more attractive package. Valls would like to be accepted as the new DSK (or even Pierre Mendès-France, whose name he invoked once) but failed to clothe his "virtuous scold" persona in the splendid robes of supposed economic competence.

And Baylet: what can I say? Two cheers for the legalization of marijuana, which I was astonished to find becoming a major issue in the race for the Socialist nomination. His accent is entertaining, though. As for other atmospherics, Hollande's upper-lip flop sweat made him look like Richard Nixon in 1960; Montebourg would make an excellent choice to portray a politician in a film about politics; Royal is five years older than she was in 2006; Baylet needs a new sartorial advisor; and whoever designs sets for France2 ought to be fired--the giant TV screen in the middle of the table, the lecterns out of a TV quiz show with time scores displayed in front of each candidate, the Lenin-sized portraits projected on the back wall, the seating of a woman with distracting cleavage directly behind Mme Fressoz ... what were they thinking? The journalists' questions were decent, better than American journalists in this role. I particularly liked Namias, who followed up aggressively on evasive answers.

Thank you all for your comments on the previous debate thread post. I stand by my previous assertion that televised presidential debates are an invention of the devil, guaranteed to force candidates to fall back on pre-tested answers rather than grapple in a thoughtful way with issues on which the pros and cons are rarely as clear-cut as one has to make them when sharing the stage with five other braying contenders.

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