French intellectuals abandoning Royal
By ANGELA DOLAND, Associated Press Writer
Fri Feb 9, 4:17 AM ET
One by one, several French writers and intellectuals are making the startling confessions. After decades as committed leftists, they are defecting to the right — many saying they've lost faith in Socialist presidential candidate Segolene Royal.
With just 10 weeks to go until the election's first round, Royal still has no platform. She has made gaffes on international affairs, and her popularity with intellectuals and ordinary voters alike has slipped, leaving conservative candidate Nicolas Sarkozy at the top of the polls.
Royal, 53, will take a big gamble Sunday in unveiling, at last, some of her plans for France in a platform speech that will be judged by especially tough standards because she has waited so long to make it.
Until now Royal has been in a "listening phase" of her campaign, collecting ideas during debates and on her Internet site, where people post 2,500 messages a day. That strategy has given her an image as a rare French politician in touch with the problems of ordinary people.
But it has also left many wondering whether the former environment minister's listening is a cover-up for a lack of concrete ideas. And it disappointed some early supporters who put their faith in Royal to reclaim the presidency from the right after 12 years under Jacques Chirac — and who want to see France elect Royal as its first woman president.
Recently, some of the most stinging blows have come from people who seemed like Royal's likeliest champions.
Roger Hanin, an actor and author, came out in favor of Sarkozy this week — surprising because Hanin is the brother-in-law of late Socialist President Francois Mitterrand, Royal's mentor. Though Hanin said he still "worships" Mitterrand, he doesn't trust Royal.
Royal "scares me because she's not cut out for this, she doesn't have the qualifications to be president of the Republic," Hanin told Europe-1 radio. "When you love your country, that's scary."
Leftist essayist Alain Finkielkraut blasted Royal's "manifest incompetence" in an interview with Liberation newspaper, saying he felt closer to Sarkozy, though he did not outright endorse him.
Philosopher Andre Glucksmann backed Sarkozy in a commentary in Le Monde, complaining that the French left was "marinating in its own narcissism." Though he said he respected Royal, he nonetheless took a dig at her by saying that "the left's emptiness was even greater than her own."
The Socialist leader in the National Assembly, Jean-Marc Ayrault, came to Royal's defense by accusing the intellectuals of waging an "insane campaign of denigration and insults" against her. Many observers pointed out that several intellectuals backing Sarkozy had already veered to the right in 2002 by approving the Iraq invasion.
The intellectuals' defection from the left may also have something to do with historical cycles. Jacques Julliard of Le Nouvel Observateur magazine pointed out that leftists have not always dominated France's intellectual circles, though they prevailed overwhelmingly in the postwar years through 1975. Since then, the right has made "discreet but real" gains, he wrote.
The change also has much to do with Sarkozy. The tough-talking interior minister has cultivated a kinder, gentler image recently to woo France's left. In a speech last month accepting his party's nomination, Sarkozy cited several leftist heroes of the past and proclaimed himself a changed man.
There are signs his strategy is working.
A group called "La Diagonale" has gathered 1,000 leftists who plan to vote for Sarkozy — including some people who still hold Socialist Party membership cards.
"There are more and more people on the left who think Royal is either too incompetent or too moralizing," said Geoffroy Didier, an adviser in Sarkozy's Interior Ministry who helps coordinate the group.
Royal is strong on the environment, family affairs and education, and as a mother of four, she cuts an original figure in male-dominated French politics. But she has made a string of gaffes recently that left many wondering whether she has the gravitas to lead a nuclear-armed nation.
When Royal recently praised the speed of the Chinese justice system, critics reminded her of the country's frequent execution of prisoners.
Canada's prime minister rebuked Royal after she said she supported "sovereignty and liberty" for French-speaking Quebec. And she blundered again when quizzed on how many ballistic missile nuclear submarines France possesses — she guessed one, while France has four.