It’s too early to hear the sound of the tumbrils rolling, or the excited click-clack of spectators’ knitting needles as the aristos are taken to the guillotine, but don’t bet that a modern bonfire of the pretensions of the very rich won’t happen, and maybe soon. (Peacefully, I hope: Revolutions are mostly horrible affairs.)
The French allusion occurs because the presidential election campaign opened officially there earlier this week, and the first round of the two-stage voting process will take place on Sunday Apr. 22. From the results of that first pass for the French people, we should see something of central interest and concern to our times, with an import far beyond France. We’ll see how mad people are, and how deeply (or not) they feel they shouldn’t take it any more.
The smart money remains on one of the two front-runners in the race: President Nicolas Sarkozy, the candidate of the right, who’s campaigning as if his life depended on it; and François Hollande, of the Socialist Party, an altogether more laid-back man whose travel-to-work transport was, until recently, a scooter (the kind with a motor – modesty has its limits). They both have been hovering below 30 percent in the polls, while 10 percent is taken by François Bayrou, a veteran campaigner and a liberal, centrist, sensible sort of man, who is trying to pump up votes for a job that is unlikely ever to be his.
It’s the other 30 percent of the electorate where the fascination, and maybe the fear of moderates, lies. The woman who, it was once thought, might emerge as the real challenger to Sarkozy, Marine Le Pen of the anti-immigrant Front National, has faded from a high of near 20 percent to around 15 percent – perhaps because Sarkozy has stolen many of her garments, promising in some stump speeches something akin to a fortress France, keeping out cheap goods and immigrants alike.
Yet in a poll midweek for Le Monde, just over a quarter of 18-to-24-year-olds said they would vote for her. Commenting on the poll, Ms. Le Pen said the surge in youthful support was because of her criticism of the current economic model, which had been “massively rejected by the youth, who are shocked by the cynicism of the political elite.”