jeudi 23 octobre 2008

It ain't a beauty contest

France's Ségolène Royal: She lost to Sarkozy, but nobody ever wondered if she was up to the job of President.

First of all, let me say that I don’t give a hoot about Sarah Palin’s wardrobe, hair-do or make-up, but I would like to know how much she’s spending on those French manicures. Just kidding! But did you know that what we call a French manicure is called a California Manicure in France? I guess nobody wants to claim ownership of those hideous-looking things. What does that tell you?

I find all this discussion of Sarah Palin’s "hotness" rather funny, frankly. Is it really surprising that the Republican Party would never accept a female candidate for high office unless she passed the Rush Limbaugh–John McCain "hotness" test? Nobody cares about her qualifications; they just decided a gal was needed to run as Head Stewardess to McCain's Captain in the Cockpit. She just needed to be hot in the quintessentially American way: Big hair, big make-up, big shoes, big French nails. Not to mention big white Chiclets for teeth and a perma-tan.

Somehow, I am sure the French are not drooling over our newest Poupée Barbie. And she would never have made it out of the starting gate in French politics. Like it or not, the French system actually prepares its politicians for fitness to perform in public life and determine public policy. Most of its politicians and top-level civil servants have been groomed at the elite Ecole Normale d’Administration (maybe I’ll write a post about this some day). In other words, regardless of their political views, they receive a solid grounding in government, history, diplomacy and all sorts of vital things like that. The contrast with Palin, who asked in late July what the Vice President actually did and doesn't seem to have understood the answer, could not be more total. However, she apparently can see Russia from her indoor home tanning salon.

Ségolène Royal was the first woman to make it past the first round in a French presidential election – there are two rounds, and the first one includes candidates who run the gamut politically from far left to far right. She lost in the second round to current president Nicolas Sarkozy last year. Y’all know him. He’s married to Carla Bruni, ex-top model, chanteuse de charme and more, touted as the new Jackie-O.

Sexism may have played a role in Mme. Royal's defeat, but nobody would ever seriously claim that she lacks the credentials or training for high office. Her political career bagan in the mid-80's, and she has been everything from municipal counselor to deputé (like a member of the house of reps). She has also served in the cabinets of several Socialist prime ministers (environment, education, etc.), and even gave birth to her fourth child while holding a ministerial portfolio. Did I mention that she lived with but never married the father of her four children, François Hollande? And that this did not raise eyebrows in France, although their break-up after she lost to Sarkozy got some attention. But it is also true that politicians in France are not asked where they stand on abortion or gay marriage. It is a private matter. I'd better stop now. I'm starting to get nostalgic for French politics.

She is also a very attractive 55-year old woman. She doesn’t have big hair; she doesn’t wear a lot of make-up. She dresses well, in an understated way. She has imperfect teeth behind a broad grin. But the main thing she has going for her, besides having spent a couple of decades preparing herself before seeking the highest office in the land, is intelligence. She knows how to string a sentence together, she finishes her vowels and - gosh darn it - she has a grasp of the issues. Is that hot? You betcha!