The French tend to view American politics with a mixture of bemusement and condescension. Yet French politics has a soap opera quality that America cannot match. And it’s not as if that politics is producing presidents that make one forget Charles de Gaulle.
The latest soap opera installment involves France’s new president Francois Hollande and the parliamentary run-off elections being held this weekend. Hollande’s former long-time lover and the mother of his four children, Sigolene Royal, is running for parliament with the expectation of becoming a parliamentary leader. Readers may remember that Royal ran unsuccessfully for president against Nicolas Sarkozy in 2007.
Hollande has declared his strong support for Royal. However his current lover, journalist Valerie Trierweiler, is openly supporting Royal’s opponent.
Now, reasonable minds can differ as to whether Royal or her opponent is the best person to represent the good people of La Rochelle, who split 32 percent to 29 percent in favor of Royal in the first round. But Royal believes that Trierweiler’s opposition is not based on a good faith assessment of the candidates’ merits. Rather, she takes it personally, declaring herself “mortified” and demanding respect on behalf of herself and her children.
Although Royal’s statement seems a bit too dramatic, Hollande’s prime minister, Jean-Marc Ayrault, a sensible fellow, concurs with her general sentiment. He has told Trierweiler to remember her place and to be “discreet.”
Trierweiler, though, has a lofty regard for her place. So lofty that she recently compared her role to that of Eleanor Roosevelt when she was America’s First Lady.
But as First Lady, I don’t believe that Mrs. Roosevelt endorsed candidates expressly opposed by FDR. Nor, as far as we know, could anyone plausibly claim that her political preferences were rooted in personal jealousy.
In fact, Eleanor Roosevelt worked hand-in-glove with her husband. For example, FDR needed to stay on good terms with racist voters who were a core part of his political base. His wife, though, could reach out to black voters, whose support the president also wanted.
After FDR’s death, Roosevelt became a more independently influential force. She was able to accomplish this in part because of the reputation for high seriousness she developed as First Lady. Trierweiler seems to be intent of developing the opposite sort of reputation.