04/03/2012 10:17 am ET Updated Jun 03, 2012

2012, Bleak Wilderness

Just like the child in Hans Christian Andersen's The Emperor's New Clothes, who cried out the truth when all the court did not dare, Daniel Cohn-Bendit has summed up the fog enveloping this campaign: "we are bored," he said.

It was a sentence that would be inconceivable in other times, uttered just three weeks before France will decide if it will renew the mandate of a president whose office has been highly contested or elect for the first time in 24 years a socialist president, one who can't seem to galvanize the electorate.

But it was an understandable sentence, as so much of the substance of this campaign has all but disappeared. The two main candidates bear the main responsibility for this happening: Hollande released a 60-point program two months ago at Le Bourget -- but who really remembers any of the key measures, apart from his 75 percent tax rate proposal? Meanwhile, Sarkozy has promised to announce and quantify his proposals this week -- and it's about time, just over a fortnight before the first round of the election! -- after having imagined a new law almost every day, and already suggested four referendums.

So why would the French, who are suffering the worst crisis since World War II, feel involved in a campaign that isn't even addressing the many choices that we could make to mitigate or even reverse the slump we're currently in?

When we see, that like Greece, Spain is sinking into a serious social crisis that threatens to choke the country into unbearable austerity, the question we need to answer is how to contain the debt that is strangling us while reviving growth and keeping unemployment in check. How do we fight abyssal deficits while maintaining employment opportunities? This is the center of all concerns. But instead of trying to answer this question, the presidential contenders are playing an entirely different game.

Sarkozy has his head in the stars. His morale is high, and he's become intoxicated with good news from the polls. He's relaxed in his meetings, and playing the role of the comedian who simply mocks his opponent's lack of depth.

Holland, by contrast, has been too quiet where Sarkozy has gone too far, saying that the calmer he his the less he will open himself up to attack. He is playing it safe. But hasn't he learned the lesson of 2002, that betting on only one second round and the rejection of the outgoing candidate can be a deadly risk? Where voters expect to hear his voice, they feel him holding back, playing a minimalist strategy to coast in on the momentum of the primary.

As for Nicolas Sarkozy, to whom the attacks in Toulouse presented an opportunity to regain the position of head of state, he could have seized the opportunity to become a true leader -- one to guide the French into the uncertain future they are concerned about. Instead, he has simply inserted one socially liberal sentence into the middle of a markedly right-wing discourse.

We hoped to hear his take on the severity of the situation, but were treated instead this week to the consciously and deliberately publicized arrests of Islamic militants. The timing was so perfect that the TV crews were ready for the assault and that the Figaro -- or the Pravda, as some overly cheeky journalists like to call it -- was able to announce it before anyone else. To make us believe in his sincere desire to protect the nation from an impending attack, Sarkozy should have required that the intervention take place earlier and that the press not be invited. In short, he shouldn't have taken the French for suckers.

In doing so, in between jokes and mocking the "the small club of happy navel-gazing socialists," he engages in ever more visible foot calls to the far right, which he hopes to woo for the first round before attempting to recenter for the second.

Just this last weekend, Nicolas Sarkozy continued to harden his speech on immigration, by questioning not only the issue of integration but also of assimilation. And he was pleased to repeat on Saturday -- against the advice of all legal professionals and in defiance of all traditions of the law -- that victims should have a say regarding the inmate's parole. The seduction of the right-wing electorate is becoming an everyday activity.

Moreover, in addition to the major issues affecting the lives of everyone, one would have hoped that topics on civil liberties or the rule of law would be addressed. But... no. François Bayrou has tried to cast "suspicion on the very large financing of Nicolas Sarkozy's 2007 election campaign," concerning the continued detention of Patrick de Maistre. But there has been no response.

Senators, after the controversy over the effectiveness of the DGSE and DCRI, have claimed the ability to hear the police officials of these institutions, but the ministers of Interior and Defense have raised an estoppel.

So the electorate will know nothing about everything that is important.

As the crisis destabilizes those who are most fragile, as social unrest in Spain begins to indicate other shocks elsewhere in the world, and as, in the words of the cheeky economic journalist at le Huffington Post Alexander Phalippou, who tweeted, "after the fall in rising unemployment, the huge deficit is less massive than expected," we have been treated to a complacently triumphant right-wing candidate and a half-reaction from the Socialists.

The suitor has neglected the fact that we expect him to show us a path, a method, a means. The incumbent is trying to forget that he has been in power for five years and that he is accountable to his citizens and owes them coherent proposals.

There remains only a few days to mobilize the French. And as the result of several stupid decisions, there will be no more televised debates in the weeks before the elections -- abstention has become more of a threat than ever.

I rarely agree with Nicolas Dupont-Aignan, but when he says that television producers should organize debates with all of the candidates, as was done successfully during the Socialist primary, he's right. I welcome his denunciation of the laziness of both the networks and the candidates. This is the campaign of 2012: how to waste the opportunity of a beautiful and great national debate.