Those wacky French - guess what they are up to now? By some estimates they could be on the verge of electing a farmer President of France.
Well, Mr. Bayrou is the anti-excitement candidate, a sort of political Prozac after all the amphetamines of the Sarkozy-Royal conflict. He is fairly young at 55, and he has a relatively full head of hair, but so far he has left the paparazzi in a soporific daze. He wants to unite everyone — he’s a member of a centrist party but might well appoint a Socialist prime minister; he is a Catholic but a staunch defender of secularism in schools. The message is that if he can unite God and the atheists, surely he can unite France.While viewed as unlikely, a Bayrou victory would be an astonishing development even by French standards.
Most of all, he is something that even urban voters see as quintessentially French — a farmer. His official Web site shows him pitchforking hay on the family farm, and he was recently quoted in the weekly Le Point as saying: “My friends and I aren’t the jet set. We’re the tractor set.” [More]
A Bayrou victory, which is unlikely but not impossible, would constitute a triple revolution. It would lead first to the end of the Socialist Party created by Francois Mitterrand. Following former prime minister Lionel Jospin's humiliating defeat in 2002, the Socialists simply would not survive a second consecutive failure to reach the second round. Moreover, a Bayrou victory could signify the end of the conservative party created by Chirac, as well as of Charles de Gaulle's Fifth Republic. But de Gaulle's legacy would most likely be snuffed out gently, with nostalgia for both Mitterrand and Chirac possibly proving very tempting for a people disaffected with the political system but desiring to be reassured. France wants the illusion of change, but is continuity what she truly desires? Finally, while this election was expected to usher in a new generation of politicians, few were prepared to anticipate the peaceful political tsunami that a Bayrou victory would bring. Yet that would be the outcome if the attraction towards the center proves to be as irresistible for significant segments of the Socialists and conservative parties as it now seems. [More]Our two party system rules out the possibility of a none-of-the-above vote by the electorate - usually we just stay home on election day to signify discontent. As Republicans grovel to the extreme right and Democrats to the left to gain the nomination, the hope is candidates will wander back to the center after the primaries.
Parliamentary systems can actually have centrist candidates, although that seems to insure all the excitement the middle can feature. And Bayrou seems to fulfill those low expectations.
The 55-year-old Catholic, a father of six children and farmer from the southwestern French Béarn region, has figured out how to position himself as an anti-establishment candidate, hero of the common man and antidote to voters' dissatisfaction with the government and politics. Bayrou presents himself as a "peacemaker" who stands above the traditional trench warfare between the right and the left, a struggle that has so far consumed the full attention and energy of the frontrunners. [More]He is playing the "farmer card" intensely, despite being in government for a considerable career. (Do I hear a Jimmy Carter drawl?)
The outcome in France will likely affect the current economic balance between the dollar and the euro. It will also impact how France deals with their own Islamic question. None of the candidates shows much inclination to adjust hard-line French policies toward farm issues, especially concessions to achieve a WTO success.
I'll be watching this campaign, which ends with the election April 22. What happens in France - despite our disinterest - does matter .