Sunday, March 23, 2008

The American Elections

A regular reader has written with an interesting suggestion. The U.S. presidential election campaign is being followed closely in France. My appearance on Le Monde as a "live chatter" about the race drew hundreds of questions. The writer thought it would be interesting to hear from those of you who live in France about your views on the campaign as it evolves. But he also thought it would be good to try to focus the comments a little by raising specific questions. Please feel free to post comments either in your own name or anonymously.

I'd like to start off the discussion by asking how you reacted to Obama's speech this week on race. Oddly, this speech has not attracted as much attention in France as in the United States, although the French often bring up racial issues when discussing American politics. As far as I know, the only published translation can be found here. If you speak English, you can of course find it on YouTube, and the speech really should be listened to in its entirety to appreciate the range of Obama's oratorical skills. To my mind, it was the best American political speech of my lifetime--better than Kennedy's speech on religion and Fulbright's speech against the Vietnam War, and better even, because more substantive, than Martin Luther King's "I have a dream" speech. Yet the immediate effect has been negative: Obama's popularity has dropped, and polls now say that he would lose to McCain. This is probably because many people who had not heard of Obama's pastor Rev. Wright and his fulminations against America have now had their attention focused on Obama's relationship to "black liberation theology" and militant black power rhetoric. In any case, the complexion--I choose the word advisedly--of the presidential race has been altered. I would like to invite comment on this particularly from people living in France, though of course if Americans and others want to jump in, please feel free. Are you aware of the speech? How was it covered in the French media? How do you and the people around you react to it? Has anyone attempted to relate Obama's discussion of the complexity of American race relations to the complexity of racial and ethnic relations in France? What other questions occur to you?

Subprefect Dismissed for Attack on Israel

Bruno Guigue, a subprefect in Charente-Maritime, has been dismissed for publishing an opinion piece on in which he attacked Israel as "the only state in the world that employs snipers to shoot little girls as they leave school." He was dismissed for violating his devoir de réserve. His vitriolic attack was prompted, he said, by a petition published in Le Monde and signed by people who in his eyes represent the "organic intellectuals of what has become familiar to us as the pro-Israel lobby."

A long list of previous publications on follows M. Guigue's article. The devoir de réserve evidently weighed rather lightly in the past. He is a normalien and énarque.

ADDENDUM: Historian Esther Benbassa examines the case here.

Sciolino's Farewell

Elaine Sciolino is leaving her post as Times Paris bureau chief. Her swan song reminds us why she will not be missed. For our national newspaper's chief correspondent, France means above all sexy underwear, friendly butchers, nasty haberdashers, handkissing, and other quaintnesses. La grande Nation is a dotty old aunt best captured in droll anecdotes. To be sure, the French can sometimes write about America with similar superficiality: we are obese, arrogant, uncouth, fanatically religious, and of course puritanical, and our idea of a restaurant is McDonald's. Let us hope that the next Paris correspondent will be cut of a different cloth.