Last night , we got to watch something that Americans will probably never see. A real down and dirty, face to face presidential debate. It was on all the major networks, prime time and lasted 3 hours. The UMP President Candidate, Nicolas Sarkozy went into the debate telling the press that he was going to "explode" his opponent, Socialiste Francois Hollande. Sarkozy debated Hollande's ex partner, Segolene Royal 5 years ago and narrowly won the presidency. During that debate, he was successfully able to exploit his attempt to make Segolene lose her temper and in the days following, the inherent sexism of the public and press. Interestingly enough, going into that debate, the polls had Sarkozy ahead by 4 points.
After the debate, the numbers did not change.
Going into this debate, the polling numbers were almost exactly the same, but this time it was Hollande who has the lead. Today after the debate, nothing really changed...for the time being. Hollande still holds the same lead. They say the debate never really changes anything, but there have been some pretty dramatic debates in the recent past. Mitterand /Balladur...when Mitterand, who was the underdog, slyly toyed with an envelope labeled "diamonds" during the debate. Balladur was facing a scandal involving illegal donations involving diamonds at the time. Mitterand won the presidency and was probably the most popular president of France's recent history.
Sarkozy is facing multiple scandals which would lead to his prosecution except for the fact that a sitting president cannot be prosecuted under French Constitutional law. The latest scandal involves the funding from Gadhaffi for his 2007 presidential campaign. That's getting very messy. He denies it, and claims he is suing the journalists who are making the charge. He claims the evidence is forged. The evidence is a letter from Gadhaffis' Foreign Minister who is now in prison awaiting trial. The journalists are counter suing Sarkozy for calumny. Implicated in the scandal are both the present Foreign Minister, Claude Gueant and the former Foreign Minister, Brice Hortefeux. The Foreign minister of course controls the "Secret Service". Today, making it even more interesting is the claim from Gadhaffi's prime minister, who is in prison in Tunisia, that he was at the meeting when the arrangements were made and to further muddy the waters, another player in the scandal, the Gadaffi's Oil Minister, Shokri Ghanem, who had been granted diplomatic immunity, was found mysteriously drowned in the Danube in Vienna on Tuesday.
This didn't come up in the debate last night, but it could have as at one point Sarkozy tried to smear Hollande with guilt by association by bringing up Dominique Strauss-Kahn. Hollande shot right back, "I was waiting for you to go there. Who appointed him to be head of the IMF? You know as much about DSK as I did and if you want to start bringing up scandals, where should I start?"
Hollande was like Muhammed Ali, he floated like a butterfly and stung like a bee. It was pretty amazing to watch the coolness and the razor aggressiveness. Hollande comes across as a pretty likable fellow, a trait that is exploited by his critics, but last night he defined himself as a tough dominant player.
Sarkozy was reduced to a parody of himself as performed by the political humorists who have his tics and gestures down to an art. He was reduced ti calling Hollande a little liar and arrogant. Of course, in calling Hollande a liar, it only gave Hollande a chance to prove his point in demolishing Sarko's arguments. The debate covered all aspects of politics, economy and foriegn policy.
In todays fall out in the French press, Hollande is being called the winner by both the editorialist and analysts on the left and right. He had a huge rally in Toulouse this evening and Francois Bayrou, the PollyAnna of French politics even gave his endorsement to Hollande. The kicker was Marine LePen, who Sarkozy's UMP was desperately trying to court, making the statement today that stopped short of an endorsement, but saying of the two candidates, Hollande was the better. On Tuesday, she urged her followers to vote blanc...or abstain.
Yesterday morning, I awoke with angst. I still have the feeling that if I am too positive that I could jinx the election, but I will admit, tonight I have considerably less angst. It was a nice day, the sun came out.
I mowed the lawn.