Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Politics (Ick!)

I passed the headquarters of the UMP today, which is one of the more important of the many political parties in France. It's also the party of the current French president, Nicolas Sarkozy. I've passed this way before; there are always barricades out in front, and often shiny black sedans and hefty-looking men in conservative suits milling about.

On this occasion there were large, patriotic banners adorning the building, of the vaguely stirring but not very substantial type that political parties seem to favor. “Helping France win together” was the slogan of the day. It sounds inspiring at first glance, but like most such slogans, the more you look at it, the less it seems to mean.

Unlike the United States, France doesn't have a rigid system of just two firmly-entrenched political parties that have arranged to effectively exclude all other parties from the system. Instead, it has multiple parties that are usually classified as roughly either “left” or “right,” depending on their political leanings (liberal or conservative, respectively). The names change, alliances shift, schemes are hatched, intrigues develop, and so on, but behind it all is the same aging cohort of politicians who play a sort of game of musical chairs, periodically taking up official appointments or even being elected to office, only to have the music start anew with the next round of elections. Some of them get lucky each time the music stops, and the others must stand around and wait for another turn, but the players are always the same.

Also unlike the United States, France has a president who has been married to two supermodel trophy wives, the current of which just released an album (she's also a singer). Laura Bush was cute in her youth (two terms in the White House have taken their toll), but as far as I know she hasn't appeared in Vogue or recorded a CD with all her greatest hits. She did kill her (rumored) erstwhile boyfriend by running a stop sign when she was 17, though, which I guess creates a little bit of intrigue.

Anyway, there are lots of differences in the political systems, even if the foundations are the same. There's theoretically more of a choice of candidates in France, with so many political parties that come and go like clouds on a blustery day, but since the candidates are all drawn from the same pool of old men, the choice is often not as great as it might seem. Still, I have to contrast this with the United States, in which every other Presidential election amounts to a choice between “keep the guy who's there now” and “replace him with someone else.”

Needless to say, I'm not interested in politics and I don't get involved in politics. But it was hard to ignore this big red, white, and blue banner as I walked past it. Which reminds me … why are red, white, and blue so popular for such purposes? I know that children are very fond of the colors blue and red, at opposite ends of the spectrum (look at the color schemes used in many toys)—perhaps there is a connection.

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