By Kelly Jean Cogswell
Ségolène Royal's way ahead of the other Socialist candidates in France, at least according to the polls. I don't know why more of my French friends don't like her. The most approving thing I've heard so far was from this gay guy I know who thought it would be good for the country to have a woman President, but as far as enthusiasm went, I didn't detect any.
Maybe it's because her enemies have been pretty successful styling her as a bourgeois provincial and mother of four aiming to hijack her Party and drag it to the right. Or because the whole stiletto heel thing doesn't go over with dykes -- which is mostly who I know there.
As to a conservative underbelly, Ségo did grow up in a strange right-wing Catholic family with a father that kept his sons in military buzz cuts and under an excessive discipline. But I grew up Southern Baptist in Kentucky, and ended up a Lesbian Avenger in New York. So pooh pooh to families. Nurture isn't everything.
The most conservative thing Ségo's said so far was that it was time to quit talking about adolescent crime and do something about it, even if it meant sending teenagers to boot camp type programs rather than give them a slap on the hand and sending them home to watch TV. (No, jail wasn't an option.)
But regarding race and national identity, she's gone further left than most of her party in her recent declaration that French politicians should not distinguish between those who have "roots" in France, and those who don't, code language for those of immigrant descent. To Ségo, born to a colonial family in Senegal, if you're French, you're French.
To my surprise, she's also come out in support of gay marriage, which is more than most of her brethren can say. She's also supported campaigns against homophobia in schools. So as far as I'm concerned, vive Ségolène.
I think the real problem with Ségo is not that she strays too far from her ideologically unfocused party, but that she's going outside the party hierarchy, using American-style campaigning to deal with supporters directly, listening, thinking, responding through her interactive chat focused website Hopes for the Future and her "town hall" style meetings.
For the last couple of decades, the Socialists have been more the party of leftist academics and theoreticians than labor or "the people." As to the Socialist alliance with unions, the syndicates have tons of demos in France, but hardly anybody's unionized so who do they really represent? A very small minority, an elite, really. The average worker's out in the cold.
They don't even have a voice. It's the usual overeducated Socialist leader that studies the problems, gets up on a soapbox, pontificates a while, maybe even legislates something, then leaves the stage, equating action with words.
For instance, they've passed plenty of rules about gender parity, but do they put up women candidates for election? No! They'd rather fine themselves. And they're so far out of touch on questions of racism that even though the heads were gathered together in a national conference when banlieu riots erupted last fall, they didn't even issue a relevant press release. How could they as long as there was some punctuation that needed fixing, a semi-colon out of place?
The most "populist" thing they've done in recent times is oppose a ban on smoking, puffing themselves up as defenders of individual liberties. Screw all those people excluded from a public life because they need to breathe.
Ségo at least listens rather than talks. Her interactive website announces right up front, "I've become convinced that citizens -- because the problems are near to them, or because they're the ones hoping for progress -- are the only real legitimate "experts" on any of the questions facing us." Them's fighting words in France.
And as far as action goes, she was also one of the few Socialists that actually campaigned in 2005 for a "yes" vote to the European Constitution, which her party supposedly supported, but most bigwigs fled from.
In their primary on November 16, we'll know if the French Socialists have any credibility left at all. Will they pick the only candidate that can beat the leading conservative candidate, Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy, even if she strays from their orthodoxies? Or will they go for the loyal party man who'll get stomped at the polls, but has been anointed by the party bosses? It's hard to call.
When former PM Lionel Jospin, party hack extraordinaire, withdrew from the race a couple of weeks ago, he said he'd support anybody but "la candidate," the female candidate. What a lot of balls the old bastard has. But like the other candidates, he's short on almost everything else.