While you all back in the States are there relaxing in your post-O glow, having a smoke and a cuddle, I’m still in the midst of some serious political drama here in France. The Socialist Sideshow is like a really intense cable sit-dram slash vaudeville act. At least that’s what it looks like to me.

Step right up, folks, and witness an epic clusterfuck…

The setting:

The socialists have to elect a new party leader (First Secretary). They do it whenever they feel like it and the terms vary in duration. (Nothing like stability.) Day before yesterday, 137,000 members of the socialist party voted for either Ségolène Royal or Martine Aubry. The difference announced yesterday morning was 42 votes in favor of Aubry. But the next day there were some miscounts, some mis-reporting, votes not yet counted, some questions… Ségo’s objecting, asking for a revote, and Aubry is refusing. As I write this, the difference is only about eight votes.

Ségolène Royal is fed up with the party paralysis and wants to shake things up. New ideas, new methods. She is a thorn in the side of the old-school socialists who are still calling the shots.

The players:


Ségolene Royal: Ran for president of France last year. Ran for First Secretary this year. Ex-longtime companion (to the tune of 4 adult kids) of the current First Secretary, François Hollande. She connects with the masses and can do things like rouse the rabble to frenzied chanting of the word “brotherhood.” (Can’t have that now, can we?) Ségo haters can’t stand that about her. It’s not the French way, appealing to the emotions rather than the intellect (although she also does the latter)… It’s undignified. They also think it’s cheating and that it’s disrespectful to those being thus hypnotized. And they’re jealous.

François Hollande: Elephant.* Current First Secretary, and he has been for something like the last 10 or 15 years. Has a non-threatening face that makes you want to think he’s a nice guy. But…

Martine Aubry: Elephant. Ran against Ségo for the First Secretary job. She has the charisma of a black hole, the dynamism of an escargot. She was the architect of the famous 35-hour workweek, which was a nice idea but which was implemented in such a slash-and-burn way that it ended up doing more harm than good and became the biggest socialist party controversy in a long time.

Benoit Hamon: Came out of nowhere to run for First Secretary. Younger, positioned himself to the left of the others for purposes of this election. Seems to be quite impressed with himself.

Bertrand Delanoë: Almost ran for First Secretary. Dashing, urbane and gay mayor of Paris. May be thinking of running for president in 2012. Everybody loves his Vélib program, but hates what happened with the traffic in Paris when he made bus lanes. Nobody seems to feel strongly one way or the other about him.

Lionel Jospin: Elephant. Total old-school socialist, been around since forever. The party patriarch. Was Prime Minister under Chirac and later ran for president against him, but failed miserably because he believed he was so awesome he didn’t think he had to campaign. He was beaten in the first round by the ultra-right-wing candidate Le Pen! He was so disgusted that people couldn’t see his inherent awesomeness that he stormed off and retired for a while. But he got over it and today still thinks he’s The Shit. He now skulks around behind the scenes undermining Ségo. Heads one political clique. Mortal enemy of Fabius.

Laurent Fabius: Elephant. Ran against Ségo for the socialist party presidential nomination in 2007. A pompous blowhard. Was prime minister under Mitterand and his heir apparent, groomed for greatness (which never came) by Mitterand, the 20th-century socialist golden boy himself. Heads a different political clique. Mortal enemy of Jospin.

Dominique Strauss-Kahn (DSK): Elephant. Ran against Ségo for the socialist party presidential nomination in 2007. Current director of the IMF. (The Wall Street Journal recently outed him for having an affair with an underling. Never would have made the news in France.) Smart guy, generally respected by left and right, doesn’t engender strong emotional responses from people. Heads yet another political clique.

Jack Lang: Elephant. A smiley, likeable guy (very un-Elephantish in that respect). Was Minister of Culture under Mitterand and is widely respected, left and right, for what he accomplished for the arts during that period. A huge Ségo supporter during the presidential election, but then he supported Ségo’s arch-rival, Aubry, in the First Secretary election.

*The Elephants, also called the heavyweights, are the dour, jowly old-schoolers who haven’t made the leap to the 21st century and aren’t ready to pass the baton. In fact, they’re holding onto it the way Joey held onto his firetruck when you’d try to take it away from him in kindergarten.

What transpired:

2007: Ségo runs against two Elephants (Fabius and DSK) for the socialist presidential nomination and is elected by over 60% of the party members, to the shock and dismay of the other two. They sulk for the duration of her campaign, making sure to scowl and look disgusted or bored whenever they’re seen in public with her. They also back-stab her at every opportunity. (So much for solidarity.) She loses the presidency to Sarkozy, 53 to 47. (Not half bad if you ask me.) Before she ran for the nomination, there had also been noise of her longtime partner François Holland running…

After the presidential election, Ségo and François break up almost immediately. (Sour grapes?)

At which point François, then First Secretary of the party, arbitrarily (citing some “we’re not ready yet” bullshit) moves the next election for First Secretary to more than a year after the French presidential election (to ensure that Ségo won’t be able to ride her presidential momentum into the First Secretary spot) and even schedules it for the week after the US presidential election (hoping that will distract people from their party politics?).

After the French presidential election, the Elephants all band together (several bands, actually, because a lot of them hate each other) to bash Ségo. Their only unifying element and single common goal is stopping her from going any further. They become known as the “tout sauf Ségolène” front (anyone but Ségo). They all have their reasons, but publicly they accuse her of planning to make political alliances with the centrist party (which they all did during their local and regional elections, the bunch of hypocrites) and having ideas that aren’t consistent with the socialist party line. (Thinking outside the box = bad.)

2008: Stay with me now. So you have Ségo, Aubry, Delanoë and Hamon submitting proposals containing their ideas and plans for the party’s agenda for the next term. This is a first step towards running for the First Secretary position. Party members vote on the proposals, and so you get an idea of what your chances would be for the First Secretary job. Ségo’s proposal won (29%), despite a year of rabid bashing by the tout sauf Ségo crowd. Aubry’s came next (25%), Delanoë’s (24%), and Hamon’s (19%). The party establishment was shocked. Their disinformation and defamation campaign had not worked. (It might have even backfired.)

So what happens now is they have a two-day congress during which those who submitted proposals are supposed to work together and come up with some compromise proposals and select a candidate or two for First Secretary. Ségo was raring to go, more than willing to negotiate. After all, the proposals were not very different from each other. Should have been a cakewalk.

But no. Nobody would let Sego play their reindeer games. They flatly refused to deal with her, even though she had the most support of the party members. They tried to make deals with each other, but Delanoë was backed by Jospin and Hollande, and Aubry was backed by Fabius, Lang, and pals of DSK. And because the Elephants behind the candidates’ curtains didn’t like each other, they wouldn’t make an official deal, even to band against Ségo.

During the congress, Delanoë backed out of the race, saying he was not endorsing a particular candidate. The other three forged ahead. A day later, Delanoë officially threw his support and, presumably, his supporters to Aubry.

First Secretary election – first round: Ségo vs. Aubry and Hamon: Ségo wins again (43% to Aubry’s 35% and Hamon’s 25%). Obviously Delanoë’s supporters didn’t all do what they were told. Hamon is eliminated and tells his supporters to vote for Aubry in the second round.

First Secretary election – second round (November 21): Everybody thinks Aubry will win by a huge margin since she supposedly has all the other candidates’ votes and all the haters assume they are a majority (but it’s like the haters in America; they’re just louder.)

Yet here we are, down to a single-digit vote difference.

What this tells me is that half the socialist party members are ready to reinvent their party and half aren’t. It’s not a pretty sight, seeing a revered and honorable institution like the French socialist party going through a transformation that looks like something in one of those sci-fi movies where the guy is writhing and bulging and screaming as he turns into whatever it is he’s turning into.

My take on it all is that if ever there was a need for a strong worldwide socialist movement it is now, with the dire economic and environmental state of the world, with America on the downward slope and other, volatile powers rising, and with the likelihood of large-scale humanitarian and social crises in the near future. This is their chance—in fact, it’s their moral obligation—to take the wheel.

But the French socialist leaders can’t stop their infighting.

Vincent assures me that what appears to me to be essentially kindergarten playground biting and sand-throwing is really the result of decades of deep intellectual, philosophical, ideological, etc., differences.

Yeah, whatever. They look ridiculous. They need to get over themselves and act like grownups.