French debate captivates 18 million, boosts Hollande (+video)
In last night's presidential debate, challenger Francois Hollande matched President Nicolas Sarkozy point for point, occasionally putting the famed debater on the defensive.
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“If there is one point in which the lines have moved, it is the image of Francois Hollande as a leader,” opined the highest circulation newspaper, West France. “Hollande needed to show he was capable of presidential stature and on that field he scored points,” offered Nord Éclair, located in Lille.Skip to next paragraph
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Fighting for his political life, Sarkozy threw the first punch. He called Hollande’s opening appeal for placing “justice” at the heart of a France that needs to be less divided and more united as simply “traditional… old-fashioned language,” inauthentic, and “a beautiful dream… not reality” at a time when France is “not just in one crisis but in a series of crises.”
Yet when Sarkozy complained that Hollande’s aides misrepresented his record, sullied his image, and cast him as a divisive social figure for currying voters on the far right, Hollande interrupted to say, “Mr. Sarkozy, it is going to be difficult for you to play the victim…. the French will judge you on your record.”
For the next 170 straight minutes the two men locked horns, talked past each other, made personal attacks, and occasionally so exasperated the two moderators that at some points all four were speaking at the same time.
Sarkozy contrasted his economic approach with Hollande's, portraying his own as one of structural reform rather than public spending.
“The key word is competitiveness,” he said, taking a page from the German industrial and manufacturing playbook that he has been championing as a partner to German Chancellor Angela Merkel throughout the eurozone crisis. He blamed the Socialist party and former president Francois Mitterrand, Hollande’s mentor, for the 35-hour work week that he says contributes to France's economic woes and said, "For me, the example to follow is rather the example of Germany than that of Greece or that of Spain."
Does 'Mr. Normal' belong in the presidency?
While Sarkozy turned his body into an instrument, leaning forward and often cocking his head like he was listening to a naïve graduate student when Hollande spoke, Hollande sat erect and looked steadily at Sarkozy, something many French politicians have shrunk at attempting.
Holland noted that in 2007, Sarkozy promised to lower the unemployment rate to five percent, but today it is 10 percent. That was the start of a lengthy tiff about the interpretation of statistics that came to characterize the entire debate. Sarkozy clearly hope to overmatch Hollande with his grasp of the intricacies. Both men cited a dizzying array of authorities for their different figures on trade, jobs, training, and immigration in a debate that was as technical as it was often personal.
Hollande became the Socialist candidate following the sex-scandal-prompted flameout of former International Monetary Fund head Dominique Strauss-Kahn, and has characterized himself as “Mr. Normal” in contrast to Sarkozy’s flamboyance.
Toward the end he said, “Nothing is normal when you are president because conditions are exceptional. … But the president needs to be close to the people.”
Sarkozy shot back, “Your normalcy is not up to the stakes [of the job.]”