U.S. Elections Fascinate the French

Are you hooked on the U.S. presidential election campaign? Are you still fascinated by the exhausting Hillary Clinton-Barack Obama battle for the Democratic Party’s nomination? Now that Obama looks like the winner, are you dying to find out how the two will work out their relationship before the Republican-Democratic face-off in November? You are not alone. On the other side of the Atlantic the French are following the twists and turns of the American electoral race with almost as much focus and passion as home-grown U.S. voters. Not a day goes by without French newspapers, television and radio news programs reporting the latest Clinton and Obama statements and political manoeuvres and speculating about their respective strengths are, would be or would have been against Republican party nominee John McCain. It is common now also to find the French, when meeting a U.S. citizen in France, replacing their usual “Where in America do you come from?” with the more immediate question, “Are you for Clinton, Obama or McCain?” Both parties, understandably, have their enthusiasts campaigning and mobilizing voters among expatriate Americans living in France. But the U.S. campaign excitement also has spurred French enthusiasts to launch their own U.S. election activities. One French student, Samuel Solvit, told the weekly French news magazine l’Express, which led off the month of June by putting Obama on its cover, that he enthusiastically had pasted up Obama posters on the walls of the Paris Metro because…”The president of the United States is, above all, the president of the world. “ Solvit didn’t stop there. He has organized a French support committee for Obama and a debate about Obama’s impact in France before a 600-strong audience at the ultra-prestigious Institut d’Etudes Politiques in Paris. Almost simultaneously, as evidence that U.S; election fever has spread well outside the French capital, an exhibition devoted to American presidential elections from that of George Washington up to the present day just opened in the south of France in the town of Le Thor not far from the city of Avignon. The inspiration came from an uncontested Franco-American source, Madame Poppy Salinger Le Cesne, the French-born widow of Pierre Salinger, the noted journalist and author who was press spokesman for John F. Kennedy during the latter’s years in the White House. Before Pierre’s death in 2004, they created the Poppy and Pierre Salinger Foundation whose mission is to promote better Franco-American relations in the realm of cultural affairs. Headquartered on the property of their home in Le Thor, the Foundation expanded in 2006 with the inauguration of Pierre Salinger Museum filled with memorabilia from his years in journalism and politics. At the moment, the museum is serving as the site of the exhibition devoted to American Presidential elections. Inaugurated at the end of May the exhibition bears the patronage of U.S. Ambassador to France Craig Stapleton and eminent representatives of the French Heritage Society and the French branch of the Society of Cincinnatti. The latter’s members essentially are descendants of French soldiers who fought alongside American colonists in the U.S. War of Independence. Hillary Clinton, in France as well as in America, initially was considered to be the almost certain Democratic party candidate for this year’s presidential run. As far back as two years ago a much-watched French television series about a fictitious French woman president even had her dealing with an American president not named but portrayed on the screen as a dead ringer for Hillary. But French public opinion has moved with the times, turning constantly more favorable toward Obama as he became better known and proved his mettle on the campaign trail. Back in January, before the U.S. primary elections picked up speed; the business-oriented French weekly Challenges chose Obama for the cover of its story about the budding American electoral race even though the reportage covered all the hopefuls at the time. Even more far-sighted French book editors locked up the rights to publish in French Obama’s own book, The Audacity of Hope as early as October, 2007 and followed up with a French edition of his autobiography; Dreams From My Father, in March of this year. They already have sold more than 8;000 copies each with the sales figures climbing steadily. In addition French authors already have turned out two Obama biographies and as June began; the French publishing house Grasset put on sale 20,000 copies both in French and English of Obama’s eloquent reply to the attacks launched against him because of his connection to the tempestuous Reverend Jeremiah Wright. Up until now, John McCain has had dutiful but not abundant coverage in the French media. That should pick up, however, now that the Clinton-Obama tussle inevitably gives way to the Obama-McCain duel. Because they haven’t been watching or listening to the U.S. presidential candidates in action since all that takes place in English across the ocean, French public opinion generally is formed by the media coverage their own country’s correspondents provide. That message generally has boiled down to Obama being eloquent, young, dynamic and above all offering change. Clinton has been portrayed as offering experience and doggedness but with serious questions about her and her husband Bill’s political career baggage. McCain gets credit for his Vietnam war record and good intentions but always remains tied, to his detriment, to the much-reviled record of his Republican party’s President George W. Bush, particularly the decision to attack Iraq. While the racist and sexist questions of whether America will vote for a woman or black president weigh heavily…
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