Francois Fillon Turns the Tables in the French Presidential Election

With only seven weeks to go before the first round of the French presidential elections, no one is talking policy.  Everyone is talking “Fillon” instead.  And all the conversations and predictions are about whether this candidate should stay or go.  Three days ago, 100 political chiefs deserted him.

Bordeaux Mayor Alain Juppe just says No to Plan B.
Bordeaux Mayor Alain Juppe just says No to Plan B.

Yesterday, the Plan B candidate, Alain Juppe, officially proclaimed he would not run.  So today, Francois Fillon is back – and it looks like he’s going to stay.  His strategy is just to keep standing and let the others come and go as they please.  That seems to be working for him.  Is it working for France?  Only time and votes will tell.

Fillon hosted a rally on March 4th in Paris to insist publicly that he is still the Presidential hopeful.  The Fillon team said there were 200,000 people in attendance.  Now, that’s the French version of fake news since Trocadero, where the rally was held, can only hold 45,000 people, according to the French police. Polls show that more than 70% of French voters want Fillon to withdraw his candidacy.  They want him to resign; name a replacement and ride off into the sunset of a possible indictment that is facing him.  But, just like the Elton John song, he’s still standing.  Here’s how all this unprecedented mess started.

Penelope and Francois Fillon very much in the public eye.
Penelope and Francois Fillon very much in the public eye.

Back in November, 2016, Francois Fillon won the first-ever Republican party primary with a healthy score of 44%.Things were looking good for him and the party in general. Since this was the first time for a primary, no one thought about what happens if the candidate gets into a legal scandal before the election.  As it stands, the only exit for acandidate would be a resignation letter.  However, Mr. Fillon is adamant that he is in for the long-haul.  The scandal  he is now in is being called “PenelopeGate.”  He is supposedly about to be charged with creating fictitious employment for his wife Penelope (to the tune of almost a million euros, pretty much the same amount in dollars).  The suspicious employment he gave to two of his children while they were law students is also on the judge’s table.

So, for the French right party, the Republican Party, Francois Fillon is a candidate who might (or might not) be indicted on March 15th when he is summoned to court.  The far-right populist candidate, Marine Le Pen, has also been summoned for financial dealings concerning two members of her staff but she has “solved” her problem by saying she simply won’t go.  On the left side of the government, Francois Hollande, the current president, bowed out of the Socialist primary.  He chose not to run for the “good of the party” since all polls were saying he was sure to lose.  The Socialists had their scandal just before the last election in 2012 but theirs was a sexual one.  Dominque Strauss-Kahn, the left front-runner for president, was accused of raping a hotel maid in New York back in May 2011. He subsequently spent a night in Rikers prison and settled the civil case out of court for an undisclosed amount. The accompanying disgrace ended his chances of running for president and that’s when Francois Hollande came into the picture.  He was Plan B for the Socialists in 2012.

Mr. Fillon is now being compared to Trump..
Mr. Fillon is now being compared to Trump..

 

The French media like to compare their presidential candidates to Trump.  Up to now, they were consistently doing this only for Marine Le Pen.  She is France’s Populist candidate on the far-right. She is consistently anti-immigration; anti-European and anti-Muslim. However, this week, the media has started to compare Francois Fillon to Donald Trump since he attacked the judicial system which he feels is attacking him (something equivalent to Trump’s tweet about the “so-called judges” who stopped his Executive travel ban order).  Mr. Fillon also staged his public “feel-good” rally in Trump fashion and urged his supporters to “resist,” to “fight this strange combat” along with him.

 

Francois Fillon's latest Motto.
Francois Fillon’s latest Motto.

After Fillon’s anti-justice system declaration, his spokesperson resigned; his campaign manager bailed and many elected officials said that Fillon had “crossed the line.”  They all point to the fact that Fillon initially said he would pull out of the presidential race if there were to be a formal investigation.  There is a formal investigation and Fillon is still running.  France is on political hold.  The only thing is sure at this point is that Fillon is the candidate for the conservation Republican party.  He has managed to “divide and conquer” his party — just by running in place.

PenelopeGate – A New Feminine Twist on French Political Scandal

There’s another political scandal blazing in France and this time it doesn’t involve the President taking a ride on a Vespa and paying a nocturnal visit to his girlfriend. It still concerns a woman though, but a woman who has done, and openly admits to doing, nothing. No problem in that, in and of itself, except that she was allegedly paid 831,400 Euros (about $894,000) for that “nothing.” Now that’s a problem.

Francois Fillon, the Presidential candidate for the French Republican party, and the frontrunner, is suddenly

Penelope Fillon out and about in Paris.
Penelope Fillon out and about in Paris.

embroiled in a situation that is wreaking havoc on his party and the whole country.  Mr. Fillon is accused of falsely employing his wife, Penelope Fillon, as a Parliamentary assistant over several years and paying her an enormous sum of money – from public funds.  There is nothing illegal about employing family members in the French political system (nepotism is welcome here).  What the voters are upset about is that it seems there is no proof that she actually worked in the Parliament.  There is no trace of a badge, no pay slips, no one remembers seeing her working in the wings of the Parliament building.  Adding to this is the alleged salary of 84,000 Euros (about $90,000) that Mr. Fillon paid to two of his adult children for their legal advice.  Again, hiring family members as lawyers is not illegal, however, his children were not yet qualified lawyers when they were paid.  They were still students.

Before the investigative French newspaper “Canard Enchainé” broke the story, Francois Fillon was the morally irreproachable man of the hour.  He won the Republican primary by a landslide.  He had been the Prime Minister under former President Nicolas Sarkozy and was the perfect candidate from the right to replace the Socialist President, Francois Hollande.

Fillon family at their French chateau.
Fillon family at their French chateau.

His solid, Catholic family was picture-perfect – married for 37 years to the same woman, Penelope, who is of Welsh origin.  They are both in their early 60’s and have five children.  They live in an honest-to-goodness chateau in the Sarthes region of France.  In the rare television or newspaper interviews that Penelope has given, she has always talked about how she was just an ordinary housewife bringing up her children and letting Francois handle the political stuff.  In October 2016, she was quoted as saying, “Up until now, I have never been involved in the political life of my husband.”  Unfortunately, she is very involved now, and may be the reason that her husband’s political life might soon be over.

So, what’s happening now in French political circles?  Well, it’s one ill-timed, right-sided mess.  The first round of the presidential election is April 23rd.  Mr. Fillon and his family are being questioned this week.  They could be exonerated of all suspicion or the affair could continue to criminal court, and if that happens, Mr. Fillon could not run for President.  This is not the first time a politician is accused of mis-use of public funds – far from it.

Marine Le Pen, the far-right candidate, is one happy camper.
Marine Le Pen, the far-right candidate, is one happy camper.

The problem is the timing.  If Mr. Fillon were President, the government would have to wait until his term was over to take him to Court to settle this accusation.  However, he is only a candidate.  But, he is the only candidate that many French people think could have easily won the Presidential race…that is, until the doors of “PenelopeGate” opened.

Recent polls say that 6 out of 10 voters want Francois Fillon to resign as presidential candidate. Alain Juppe, the mayor of Bordeaux who lost to Mr. Fillon in the primary, has already stated he refuses to be the “Plan B.” The party would have to come up with someone else – but they are running out of time. Meanwhile, this instability definitely helps the other runners.  The ones who are currently left standing are Marine Le Pen, the far-right, anti-immigration, anti-EU, Trump-loving representative of the National Front party; Emmanuel Macron, the former economy minister under President Hollande, who is running as an independent; the Socialist rebel and ex-minister of Education, Benoit Hamon and Jean-Luc Mélenchon, the perpetual candidate from the hard-left.

Mr. Fillon's campaign tract calling PenelopeGate a witch hunt.
Mr. Fillon’s campaign tract calling PenelopeGate a witch hunt.

Francois Fillon is on the road campaigning this weekend; claiming this whole deal is a witch hunt, a set-up by his political enemies.  He is asking his supporters to just look at his program but, when they do that, they see he wants to cut 500,000 civil service jobs, which does not look good next to the allegations of paying his wife close to a million euros for allegedly not working at all.

It seems that, at this point, it doesn’t even matter whether or not Fillon mis-used public funds – the damage is already done.  The entire Republican party is in disarray and the Presidential election is around the corner.  How they will get out of this sticky situation is anyone’s guess.  Maybe there’s another woman hanging around on the left who can generate another political scandal.  That seems to be business-as-usual in French (and other) political circles.

Surprising French FaceOff as Presidential Primaries Begin

All I can say is that political polling seems to be really off its rocker in both the USA and France. No one saw Trump coming; most of the polls wrote him off early, but then Voila! – he’s here. A similar thing just happened with Francois Fillon

One Happy French Camper - Francois Fillon.
One Happy French Camper – Francois Fillon.

in the first round of the presidential primaries of the “Republicans,” the center right party of the French government. On November 20th, an unexpectedly high turnout of voters, (4 million Frenchmen and women), surprised all the pundits by putting Francois Fillon at the head of the race and ending Nicolas Sarkozy’s political career.
All the predictions were for Alain Juppe, the mayor of Bordeaux, to come in first; Sarkozy second and Fillon third – but a long way behind Sarkozy. However, the results were 44.1% – Fillon; 28.6% – Juppe and 20.6% – Sarkozy. Since the Cartesian French keep their elections simple, that means Sarkozy is out, and on November 27th, there will be a face-off between Fillon and Juppe. The victor of the run-off, by a simple majority, will be the candidate for the right-wing Republicans. That winner, Fillon or Juppe, will be in the global spotlight until the elections on May 7th 2017 since so many people are looking to see if he will be able to defeat Marine LePen, the far-right, Front National candidate who is hoping to ride the Brexit/Trump wave.
You can read up on these candidates in other political blogs, in this article, I wanted to talk about how this first French Republican presidential primary was conducted. It’s so different from what happens in the USA that it’s worth a closer look. Any registered voter could participate in the primary as long as they signed a “Republican” charter and paid two euros (about $2.12). Here’s what the charter stated, “Je partage les valeurs républicaines de la droite et du centre et je m’engage pour l’alternance afin de réussir le redressement de la France”.

French voters (including Alain Juppe) waiting in line to sign the Charter.
French voters (including Alain Juppe) waiting in line to sign the Charter.

In English, it translates to something like this, “I share the Republican values of the Right and the Center and I am committed to the change of power so that the recovery of France will succeed.” That sounds a bit flowery and, when you analyze it, it’s a pretty general statement, not really requiring a great deal of thought on the voter’s part. Kind of like a “goes without saying” situation. And, after signing the charter, you had to pay.

I, for one, was taken aback by the fact that the French voters had to go to the polls with a two-Euro coin in their collective pocket. (The pre-voting publicity was very clear about not making change nor allowing for electronic payments.) However, after reading about the reasoning behind the contribution, it started to make sense. The primary costs between 6 – 9 million Euros to run. The rules say if the voter contribution

The price to pay for voting in the French primary.
The price to pay for voting in the French primary.

is not enough to pay for those costs, the Republican party will make up the difference. If there is more than enough, the extra amount will go to the winner of the primary to be used in his campaign. Since there were four million voters who contributed two euros each, the costs were largely covered by the eight million that was collected and the lucky winner of the November 27th run-off will get the overflow.  Surprisingly, none of my French friends protested paying to vote in the primary. I can’t even imagine that system being allowed in the US – not even for a second.

So, what happens on the left once the center-right candidate has been chosen? Well, between December 1st and 15th, the Socialist candidates who plan to run for president must make an official announcement.  It’s still not certain if Francois Hollande, the incumbent, will run, since his popularity rating is at an historic all-time low of 4%. The Socialist primary is on January 22nd and the first round of presidential elections on April 23rd. If no candidate has the majority of votes in April, the second and final round between the top two will be held on May 7th 2017. And that’s it, the new French presidential primaries and elections take place within a span of seven months! For once, the French touch is an efficient one. Let’s see if the polls can get this one right. We’ll have to wait and see.

The Disrespecting Women Effect in Presidential Elections

Everyone I have spoken to about the upcoming US presidential election, both in France and America, is shocked at the incredibly low level our presidential debates have sunken to.  The French news media broadcast both debates live but it’s really the second one that is the most embarrassing.  You see, when you’re an American living in Paris, your French friends and family feel it’s absolutely necessary to badger you with their opinions and questions about the elections.

The candidates in the second round of low-level debates.
The candidates in the second round of low-level debates.

They ask you how Donald Trump could have been nominated in the first place; why do Americans dislike Hillary Clinton so much; how does the electoral college work; why don’t the candidates talk about their policies during the debates; why is sex so important in the election and on and on.  Explaining the electoral college system to the French is boring and useless so I’ll just skip it.  Let’s talk about sex – and its part in both French and American recent and future elections.

The latest sexual development in the American campaign is, of course, the sound track of Donald Trump’s offensive comments regarding having a license to grab women’s private parts.  This caused Republicans like Paul Ryan and John McCain to withdraw their support of Trump, saying he had crossed the line.  This also gave hope to Hillary supporters who believe that the indecisive voters will now be on her side or not vote at all – which in the end is good for her.  I just want to remind everyone that Trump crossed the line with racist comments many months ago.  He also insulted families of soldiers who have died for their country.  But fellow Republicans didn’t raise an eyebrow until he was exposed as a sexual aggressor.  Just goes to show how women, or rather disrespecting women, could make or break this election.

Presidential candidate hopeful DSK being arrested in New York City.
Presidential candidate hopeful DSK being arrested in New York City.

Now the French have their sexually-related political problems too.  Remember Dominique Strass-Kahn?  He was the Director of the IMF (International Monetary Fund) who was supposed to have run as the Socialist candidate for president of France in 2012 but encountered a major obstacle in 2011. That was when he was taken off an Air France plane in New York and arrested in connection with the alleged rape of a hotel maid.  His subsequent trial and eventual settlement blew his chances for political success and cleared the way for Francois Hollande’s win in May of 2012. Another potential-president bit the dust due to a woman-related issue.

Again back in the USA, the Trump campaign is hitting Hillary hard with claims that Bill Clinton has sexually attacked and abused women for many years.  The fact that Bill Clinton is not running for president doesn’t seem to deter Mr. Trump.  For the second debate, he brought in three women, Juanita Broaddrick, Paula Jones and Kathleen Willey who have all alleged that Mr. Clinton sexually assaulted them

Trump and the women who claim Bill Clinton sexually assaulted them.
Trump and the women who claim Bill Clinton sexually assaulted them.

during different points of his career.  Their claims range from sexual harassment to rape.  Mr. Trump thought he would show that Hillary is not a defender of women’s rights.  He said and I quote, “Hillary was an enabler and she attacked the women who Bill Clinton mistreated afterward.”  The second debate seemed like more of a reality-show-gone-horribly-bad or, even worse, a horribly bad TV show that suddenly becomes real.  I have never seen anything so hard to watch.

The French have now begun their debates in view of the presidential elections which will take place in May of 2017.  France is hosting primaries for the first time in its political history and the first meeting of seven candidates of the center-right party was held this week.  It was a tame, polite meeting compared to the Trump-Clinton debates, but it’s only the beginning.

The first French Presidential primary debate - a calm affair - for now.
The first French Presidential primary debate – a calm affair – for now.

The current president, Francois Hollande, has not yet announced his candidacy and will not do so until December.  That makes for only five months of French political campaigning, which seems like heaven at this point.  Women-wise, we’ll see what happens.  So far, so good, no major sexual scandals have emerged.  But, like I said, it’s just the beginning.

Moo’s, Boo’s and Whistles in Paris – France’s Cash Cow Industry Speaks Out

     Even though the French equivalent of the Oscars, called the “Césars” and the Oscars themselves were happening this weekend, the real star of the show in Paris was not Leonardo di Caprio in LA or Michael Douglas in Paris.

Meet Cerise - Best Head Shot Ever for a Farm Fair Mascot
Meet Cerise – Best Head Shot Ever for a Farm Fair Mascot

The real star was “Cerise”, otherwise known as Cherry, the Bazadais cow from southwestern France who was the official mascot for this year’s International Agricultural Fair, a prestigious Parisian annual event which attracts about 700,000 people and a whole lot of animals.

Cerise must have been a bit surprised at the reception she received on the pre-opening hours of the Farm Fair – at 6:45 on that Saturday morning. She was expecting to have a one-on-one, face-to-face encounter with Francois Hollande, the president of France. The President made it to the Fair, but could not get anywhere near her. Cerise heard the boos and whistles and the insults that invaded the Expo Hall that morning. She knew that was not a good sign. Cerise also heard the destruction of stands that had just been assembled the day before. She looked for her owner, Bernard, to explain the chaos to her but she was left alone in a corner for a long, long time. (She later saw Bernard on the evening news. He was an integral part of that chaos. He could have let her in on it before he took off like that.)

The Salon mascot looked up at the television monitors and witnessed the pandemonium. She felt bad for the President. She was looking forward to meeting him. That’s pretty much why she accepted this role as mascot – for the prestige of getting a nod, a compliment and maybe even a pat on the behind from the Head of State. But Cerise knew from the conversations she overheard back home that these were very difficult times for her family of farmers. She knew they were justified in giving the President and the Agricultural Minister such a hard time. But, Cerise still wanted to see the President in person. Since she couldn’t, she listened to his speech instead.

No one could get near the French President at the Farm Fair.
No one could get near the French President at the Farm Fair.

Mr. Hollande said that he heard the cries of distress from the farmers and that he would do something about it. He blamed the overproduction of wheat and the Russian embargo. He would change the laws to make it better. “The whole country of France suffers when agriculture suffers”, he said. Cerise agreed with that comment. Her milk was worth less and less every day. But it was really good quality stuff. How could France continue to make the best cheese in the world if it did not also produce the best milk? Something had to change.

Cerise saw more police in one hour at the Agricultural Salon than she had seen in her entire lifetime. They were blocking the way of the President and steering him in a direction far from her. She saw on the TV that he was actually petting a different cow on the other end of the fair. She was beginning to regret ever having entered this mascot beauty contest. What was the point of winning first prize if she didn’t even get to say hi to the First Guy of France?

The beautiful, pregnant Ayem Nour speaking for all the cows of France.
The beautiful, pregnant Ayem Nour speaking for all the cows of France.

Then she saw a TV presenter who wanted to send a message to the President.  The lady’s name was Ayem Nour and she was very much pregnant. Her message to Francois Hollande went like this – “In the name of all the cows in France, please know that we are very happy to see you. Love you President.” Cerise agreed. But she still hoped the President would come back to see her for that “tête-à-tête”. After all, she was the Star of the Show.

Hell (and Paris) Hath No Fury Like a Woman Scorned

        It seems that, in some political circles here in Paris, Valerie Trierweiler, the 50-year-old ex-First Lady of France, has a nickname. When she was hanging out in the Elysees Palace with her pal, Mr. President, Francois Hollande, she was known as “Rottweiler”, supposedly due to her extremely short, growling temper.   And now, even though she is no longer romantically associated with Mr. Hollande and no longer lives anywhere near the glimmering Elysees Palace, she continues to show the public that the nickname was well-deserved.

About ten days ago, Valerie allegedly slapped a man in a bar in Paris.

France's Ex-First Lady supposedly gets slap-happy.
France’s Ex-First Lady gets slap-happy

Why? His version of the story is that he asked her a simple question, “How is Francois?”. He said he did not ask it in a sarcastic manner; he was just making conversation. She snapped; asked for an apology which she did not get. She decided to leave and, on her way out, spun around on her high heels and smacked this guy’s face. She got her vengeance and he got a lawyer.

Valerie Trierweiler is allegedly being charged with assault. The victim’s lawyer has requested that Ms Trierweiler be ordered to undergo a psychiatric evaluation to determine her “dangerousness”. The man she struck is Mohamed Rizki, a 33-year-old junior right-wing politician.   He’s not famous…well, he wasn’t before he got hit. Now he’ll probably be in her upcoming movie. But I’m getting ahead of myself here. Let’s go back a bit – about six months.

Mohamed Rizki, the 33-year-old alleged victim
Mohamed Rizki, the 33-year-old alleged victim

Six months ago was when Valerie allegedly slapped a woman in a bar. This woman was the ex-wife of the Minister of Finance. She seemed not to like the kiss-and-tell- all autobiography that Valerie had just written about Francois called “Thank You for This Moment: A Story of Love, Power and Betrayal.” (Ms Trierweiler lost her place as First Girlfriend when Francois cheated on her with Julie Gayet, a 42-year-old actress).

Valerie found out about the affair at the same time as the rest of the world did, when Mr. President was seen on a scooter, clandestinely leaving the new girlfriend’s apartment (and looking pretty silly in the process – I mean really, a sushi delivery man has more class than that). In the woman-slapping incident, it seems that Mr. Trierweiler did more than slap the critic; she scratched her face and pulled her hair – a real public display of why her Rottweiler nickname is not so far off mark.

I notice that the journalistic tides are changing in France. When I first moved here 25 years ago, the press would not cover a story about the President’s women (not any of them and they all had mistresses, kids born out of wedlock, etc.).

Valerie and Francois under happier skies.
Valerie and Francois under happier skies.

The French strongly believe that the private lives of politicians are not public property. But, Valerie’s book, which belittles the President in a very effective way, sold 730,000 copies in France and has made Ms Trierweiler an estimated two million Euros. A paperback version, with more juicy details will be out shortly. Besides the book’s success, the movie rights have been sold to a French film producer, ensuring more compensation for the First Lady who came in second.

As you can see, someone has been buying the book so someone cares about how Mr. Hollande is doing. That would lead to the conclusion that the victim of the slap-happy ex-First Lady was only being curious. Why oh why should Ms Trierweiler care, or even worse, get upset, if someone asks her how Francois is. If no one cared about Francois, no one would buy her book.

The Power of Publicity.
The Power of Publicity.

In retrospect, Ms Trierweiler should probably say “Thank You for This Moment” to Mr. Rizki.  As the saying goes, “There’s no such thing as bad publicity.”

August in Paris – An Entire City on Holiday

Heaven on the Seine

It’s the most wonderful time of the year in Paris.  It’s the month of August, the time when vacation with a capital V invades the city; kidnaps the Parisians and forces them to go somewhere else.  Most of them go south or to Normandy but it doesn’t really matter where they go.  The big deal is that in the month of August, the Parisians are not in Paris.  They lend the entire metropolis to a few stragglers (like me) and lucky tourists who can peacefully explore Paris without the usual hustle, bustle and stress.  It’s heaven.

The Inherent Right to Go Away

It has always been amazing to me, almost scandalous sometimes, the way Paris allows itself to slow down to a near-halt in August.  It’s a time-honored tradition that gets everyone involved from shop keepers to civil servants to government officials.  It’s probably the one thing that opinionated Parisians agree upon – their need, their right to a month’s holiday.  Good for them.

The newspapers are full of stories of where the president, ministers and local celebrities are spending their time off.  Francois Hollande made news by taking a high speed train instead of the expensive government plane to get to Fort de Bregancon, an official presidential retreat on the French Riviera.  He and his girlfriend, Valerie Trierweiler did travel first class but I guess that’s to be expected.  Their appearance at the Gare de Lyon in the middle of thousands of other fleeing Parisians was certainly a surprise and a big change from his predecessor.

Police Peace of Mind

There are a couple of downsides to an empty city but the Parisians have thought of everything.  For example, there is a higher incidence of break-ins in Paris in August.  To help combat this, the Prefecture de Police has launched Operation “Tranquilité-Vacances” (which translates to something like Peace of Mind during your Vacation).  What this means is that the police will pass by your apartment during the holidays just to check that everything is all right.  You have to sign up for this service in person at the local police station (bringing the right form and proof of residence) and must be gone for at least 7 days (that’s super-easy to do in France!)  This free service applies to private citizens and shop keepers alike.

Daily Bread – It’s the Law

If you are thinking that fresh bread might be hard to find in Paris during the month of August – don’t worry.  The French government has it covered.  The 1200 bakeries in Paris are forbidden by law to choose their holiday period; the city does it for them.  In 1790, right after the French revolution, a law was passed forcing all bakeries to close either in July or August – on an alternating basis.  And that law is still enforced to this day.  A baker who has closed up his shop when he should legally be open risks a fine of 11–33 € per day.  We all know how serious the bread business is here.

A big upside in Paris in August is car-related.  There is a liberating lack of traffic jams; an unheard abundance of street parking – which, unbelievably, is free.  Yes, the meter maids are all on the beach in August; no one is minding the store.  How cool is that? You can count the cars on the fingers of one hand - that's how you know it's August.

The Ultimate Playground

So if you really want to enjoy a city on vacation during your vacation, come to Paris in August.  Just don’t expect to mingle with the natives – mingling with foreigners is not a Parisian cup of tea anyway.  Just come and enjoy the ultimate playground – Paris.

Twitter and Tweets Invade French Politics

Junior High a la Francaise

The Presidential Kiss

I’m sitting here in my Parisian living room watching the French legislative election returns on television, and, for some strange reason, am having painful flashbacks back to junior high.  This is extremely disconcerting but when I explain to you what’s been going on in France this past week, you’ll understand (and you might start dreaming about your junior high school as well).

The biggest subject on campus is the electronic cat fight that started with a tweet and ended with the cat swallowing the canary.  So, the “cat” who won is Valerie Trierweiler, supposedly the first lady of France.  She is the “companion” of Francois Hollande, the newly-elected president of France.  She used her smart phone to scandalize the country this week by sending one simple tweet supporting the Socialist candidate who was running against Segolene Royal.  Now, Segolene Royal is Francois Hollande’s “ex-companion” and the mother of his four children and was also publicly supported by the president.  Are you following this?  I warned you – junior high.

What a Difference a Tweet Makes

As the week wore on, the tweet got more publicity than anyone’s political platform.  Insults were thrown all over the place; one of the girls had tears in her eyes and everyone had an opinion about who is really running this country.  The Prime Minister even publicly announced that this new first girlfriend should find her place and stay in it.  The French population had elected Francois Hollande, not his girlfriend, so she should just zip it and let Segolene get elected to the National Assembly so that she could hang out with Francois again.

In the end, Segolene lost – it could have been because of the tweet, but it also could have been because the voters liked the other guy better.  We will never know.  Segolene used the word “treason” in her concession speech.  Journalists asked her if she had been in touch with Francois Hollande to discuss her political career.  She avoided answering.  They asked her about the tweet; she avoided answering once more.

The President’s Avoidance Policy

But you know what I want to know?  Where in hell’s name is the president?  Is he watching the returns with the Tweet Queen hoping that she can wipe that smirk off her face?  Is he secretly texting sympathetic messages to Segolene from the presidential bathroom?  Why isn’t he on TV claiming victory for his party since they did a pretty job good in winning a clear majority in the legislative elections?  Is he afraid of the questions the journalists would ask him?

The fine line between public and private is all messed up in France right now.    The new girl in town might be modern and highly skilled in social media but she seems to be lacking in socio-political integration skills.  The old girl in town (sorry Segolene) seems to be lacking in political clout, especially after today’s significant loss.  It looks like there’s a serious chance that she might fade off into the sunset.

Who’s Afraid of Valerie Tweet?

And the new guy in all this?  Is he really running the show?  Is the President the one wearing the designer pants?  Is he going to go public and tell the whole junior high of France which girl wins his heart?  Or is he going to keep playing ostrich and wait until the tweet passes over?  Someone should tell him – one tweet can hide another.