"I am France," the Sun King, Louis XIV, famously said. Several candidates in an unprecedented Sun King-Reaganesque style struggled to claim consubstantiation with the nation last Sunday in a showing of what winner Nikolas Sarkozy and others called a victory for democracy.
The poll projections for the first round of the French presidential election have been crunched and, unlike the last election (in 2002), when Jean-Marie Le Pen freaked out the world by showing that a neo-fascist could win 17% of the vote, this time there were few surprises. Uh-huh, this time the savvy right-of-center Nikolas Sarkozy (of the Union Mouvement Populaire party) headed the pack with over 30 % of the vote, showing how a right-of-center candidate can poach the slogans of the extreme wing of his ideological sphere (as the Republicans in the U.S. have done so well at least since Nixon began the Southern strategy), speak in code about race, and try to scare or seduce undecided centrists into voting for him on hot button issues–especially Islamophia coded as immigration, law and order, and the candidacy of Turkey to enter the EU.
The Socialist Party candidate Ségolène Royal received just over 25% of the vote, placing her in the second and final run-off for the French presidency in early May. Francois Bayrou, the self-appointed bridge of right and left, ended up with a strong but still inadequate showing of almost 19%, while the right-wing surprise of 2002, Jean-Marie Le Pen, garnered just over 10% this time (largely because Sarkozy stole his fire).
The ministry of the interior at noon Sunday reported a record turnout thus far with over 30% already recorded. By eight Sunday evening news organizations reported it was, in fact, a record turnout in French electoral history with 85.5% of eligible voters heading to the polls.
Here's what it looked like when you slice the French block of voting cheese into 12 qualifying pieces.
SARKOZY Nicolas : 31.09%
ROYAL Ségolène : 25.78%
BAYROU François : 18.53%
LE PEN Jean-Marie : 10.55%
BESANCENOT Olivier : 4.12%
DE VILLIERS Philippe : 2.25%
BUFFET Marie-George : 1.94%
VOYNET Dominique : 1.57%
LAGUILLER Arlette : 1.34%
BOVÉ José : 1.32%
NIHOUS Frédéric : 1.17%
Source: France2 TV
The major issues were said to be government corruption, the economy, and crime/security/immigration. Aside from government corruption, these issues are heavily racially coded. And yet none of these candidates made any honest attempt to deal with the open wound of race in a France plagued with a post-colonial identity crisis. Au contraire, they appealed to nationalism in a way hitherto only reserved for the extreme right, residual supporters of Tyrannosaurus De Gaulle, and 30s fascists whose necks were spared after World War II (such as Le Pen).
It’s not clear how many people base their vote on posters, TV blurbs, books, internet sites, and influence from local opinion leaders and/or friends. But scholars tell us we’re living in a time of short attention spans and political campaign games that are more about catchy slogans and image than about policy debate.
It’s interesting to note, then, that the form of consciousness-raising the majority of people in France most encounter is the political poster. These things are all over Paris: on official city-designated campaign displays, in the metro, on mailboxes and utility stands, and especially on construction barriers near road or sidewalk work. Remember that the Paris region, the city, and its suburbs, are home to over nine million people. Let’s take a look at the slogans and images they have been bombarded with.
While leading candidate Sarkozy has chanted “law and order” and “respect for the Republic” incessantly since he became Minister of the Interior in 2002, his 2007 campaign poster and slogan doesn’t seem to draw attention to the fear and division on which he has built his identity. With a nearly obscene irony for his opponents, his poster reads, “Together everything becomes possible.” (Ensemble tout devient possible). Of course, his critics say, that is precisely the problem. To them, the seduction of a majority of citizens is a softer fascism, harder to detect without the violent gesticulations, and oral paroxysms of the 1930s political style.
In some areas of Paris Sarkozy’s posters have been de-faced, literally, with the notorious Hitler mustache (as in the one above). On the other hand, the far left candidate Olivier Besancenot’s brand is “Our lives are worth more than their profits,” while the Green candidate calls for an “Ecological Revolution,” whatever that would mean.
But none of them mentions any clear policy initiatives, except for the old-school “Worker’s Fight” Party and its candidate Arlette Laguiller (in yellow above). Her poster’s outline of detailed positions seems to be completely ignorant of or outright rejects the common wisdom of the Power Point Generation. The anti-Sarkozy skull and crossbones poster has a fair amount of text with it, though it’s not much about policy as about the doomsday civil war that will follow should Sarko be elected.
In other words, it’s all branding where the function of the product has nothing to do with the ad and its appeals to patriotism mainly, and human value/class inequality and exploitation on the far left. That is the genre of the poster. The problem is that it’s also the genre of the campaign ad on TV, and in some newspapers, which many people will not read any way.
Segolene Royal has tried to combat Sarko’s strategies to claim justice and patriotism by herself claiming them. Her slogan is “La France Presidente” ("France (for) President" and “Plus juste la France sera plus forte" ("A Juster France will be a Stronger France."). Her posters are usually blue and white with some red lettering. She encouraged audiences to join her in singing the French national anthem and to buy themselves a French flag to proudly wave. Francois Bayrou, the candidate who claimed he would unite right and left, branded himself “La France de toutes nos forces” (“With All Our Strength for France”).
All of these suggest that France is some how divided and weak. And it has mostly been poached from the far Right, about which Jean Marie Le Pen, its 79-year old outspoken and enduring figure has at times vigorously complained. His slogans have long been "Défendre les Français avec les Français" and "La France et les Français d'abord" ("Defend France for the French" and "France and the French First of All). Phillipe De Villiers, candidate of the far right “Mouvement Pour la France” (Movement for France) has similarly claimed the slogan “La Fierte’ d’etre Francais” (“The Pride of Being French”). Le Pen and Phillipe De Villier’s anti-immigrant and pro-nationalist rhetoric has now become mainstream.
So, the people have spoken in round one, as Sarkozy gleefully pointed out last Sunday evening. But exactly what they said and why is work for an interpreter. Rest assured that Sarkozy and Royal will both cheerfully rush in to that role and assist us.Powered by Sidelines