Lessons from French Elections for USA

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Ok, the old news is that UMP candidate Nicolas Sarkozy has won the 2007 French Presidential elections. Argue what you will about the benefit of one or other candidate, the campaign and its results seem to carry several good messages that the American electorate would do well to heed.

1. Turn up to vote. 86% of the French electorate voted in the final round (nominally higher than the first round). Whereas in Belgium voting is compulsory or in Australia where one is obliged to show up at the polling station (you are not obliged to vote), it is the force of a democracy where the vast majority votes voluntarily. In any case, show up.

2. Stay focused on policy. While the French at times complained about the “personal” nature of some of the attacks and/or discussions, the debates and arguments were still very largely oriented policies, not about personal ethics or bedroom habits. That said, the French politicians (let’s say the “younger” generation as represented by Royal and Sarko) showed pains to “be in touch” with the electorate, each citing personal encounters with individuals in France. It’s a step in the right direction, but they would do well to avoid making an entire pitch out of a single encounter — equally delusional to think they are as a result “in touch” with the peoples.

3. Vote for, not against. While this is regrettably Utopian and obviously not the case for everyone (witness the riots over night) in France, I did feel that there were more people stepping up to vote FOR their candidate, as opposed to AGAINST the alternative. Naturally, as compared to the farce of the 2002 final between Chirac and Le Pen, in 2007, there was a clear segmentation of the “socialist” vs “liberal” (in the French interpretation, i.e. capitalist) camps. And, personally, in the French context, it was refreshing to see such wide ranging and clear differences between the two candidates. Of course, the consequence of that may be more divisive than desirable. Nonetheless, the debate was not positioned (in words used) as merely the debate of the socialist versus the capitalist. It was a debate of policies and styles (political philosophies, implementation strategies) . It certainly helped clarify for whom I would vote were I to have the right in France.

Let see what the US can or wants to learn from its “ally” as well.

One Comment, RSS

  1. Mike A

    I agree in particular that it is heartening to see 86% turnout when we are conditioned to be cynical about so many things. The 2008 elections in the US promise to be interesting, as well, with no incumbent and no former vice president running (unless you count Hillary). The unfortunate thing is that, as with so many issues in the US, the focus of discussion seems to be on money (as in who can raise the most) rather than the real questions at hand. We’ll see….

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