I have just returned from France, where the next presidential election, scheduled for April 2007, is starting to heat up. Although the actual candidates will not be known until November, both of the major parties have frontrunners. For the ruling party, the UMP, otherwise known as the mainstream party of the right, that would be the current minister of the interior, Nicolas Sarkozy. For the Socialist Party, the mainstream party of the left, that would be Ségolène Royal. Although anything can happen in the next seven and a half months, Royal is leading in the polls.
If Royal is elected the next president of France, this could pose a major problem for George W. Bush...not because Royal is a leftist, but because she is a woman. Anyone who has seen the footage of Bush's awkward attempt to give a shoulder rub to German's chancellor, Angela Merkel, knows that our president is not comfortable with women who do not revere him.
If he has trouble dealing with Merkel, what is going to happen when Bush is forced to negotiate face-to-face with Ségolène Royal? The French magazine Closer recently published photos of Royal, who is frequently described as "leggy," walking on the beach wearing a bikini, while on vacation with her "companion" François Hollande.
Yes, the current favorite to become the next president of France lives in an unmarried state with Hollande, the father of her four children. (Hollande also happens to be the chairman of the Socialist Party.) To counter the impact of these photos, Sarkozy's supporters released photos of him jogging barechested on a different beach. Really.
The image of the socially immature George W. Bush discussing the crisis in the Middle East, or any other serious topic, with Ségolène Royal, would be laughable if the stakes were not so high.
By the way, the French voters with whom I spoke were greatly dismayed by the prospect of a Sarkozy-Royal contest. As one friend put it, "We would be forced to choose between a worthless conservative and a worthless liberal." Maybe the French aren't that different from us after all.