Le Figaro on the Upcoming American Presidential Election

There’s a pretty fair article in Le Figaro on the upcoming presidential elections in the United States. The pretty fair translation of the article has been provided by Watching America (hat tip: The Moderate Voice). It’s interesting to see how our European cousins view us, what they understand and what they’ve got wrong.

So, for example:

Money plays too big a part. Ridiculous sums are spent and will continue to be spent. Candidates must constantly seek contributions, as if a full coffer is the sign of incontestable popularity.

That’s a standard complaint, both by Europeans and by Americans. How realistic is it? Campaign spending on presidential elections is tightly regulated in France to just 20 million euros, a little less than thirty million dollars. The campaigns spent nearly $4 billion in the 2004 presidential election. Nearly a 20-fold difference. France’s population is roughly one-fifth that of the U. S. so the fifty cents per person cost of the French election is quite high relative to the $13 per person spent here. Is that the appropriate comparison?

Compared to the U. S. France is small, compact, and densely populated. Its 63 million some-odd people are packed into an area between California and Texas in size. The United States is about twice the size of the European Union or fifteen times the size of France and, because of its size and sprawl, probably has fifteen or twenty times the number of major media markets that France does. That suggests that, while the U. S. still spends more to reach the people than France does, it doesn’t spend that much more, certainly not ridiculously more.

The U. S. GDP is a little more than six times that of France. That means there’s a lot more more money available to be spent on politics here.

Finally, the U. S. Supreme Court has found that money is speech and, consequently, strict spending limits such as those in France are prohibited under our Constitution. How much would be spent in France if speech were as free there as here (by American standards)?

The article continues:

Hillary Clinton had to loan 5 million dollars of her own money to her campaign, which confirms that she has less money than Barack Obama.

As I understand it, it’s actually a little more complicated than that. It’s not whether she has the money or not but which pocket it’s in. She’s reserving a substantial amount for the general election.

I found the article’s assessment of the politics of the various candidates pretty accurate. On Obama the article notes:

The two candidates, who have been carefully scrutinized, differ less in substance than they do in style. Barack Obama is an excellent orator who ignites the enthousiasm of crowds. He benefits from the support of young people as well as blacks (who too often stay away from elections until the last minute).

I believe that’s true of young voters, untrue of black voters.

It doesn’t seem to matter that his program is a bit uncertain. He has become the idol of the elite, the best educated, and independent voters alike.

Sen. Obama’s policies have received relatively little scrutiny to date. His new frontrunner status means it’s likely that will change.

Here’s the article’s spot-on assessment of Hillary Clinton:

Hillary Clinton has her policy at her fingertips. She is counting on the votes of women, Hispanics, Jews, voters older than 40, and bedrock Democrats. Bill Clinton, the former president, brings his support, which is sometimes beneficial and sometimes embarrassing. The candidates are neck and neck. Their battle is without concessions, and almost violent.

I didn’t think the understanding of Republicans was nearly as good:

The Republican party is also divided. John McCain has not yet convinced the hard-core conservatives, those who are opposed to abortion rights, who want to impose creationism, who defend tooth and nail their religious values. They support Mike Huckabee, the former Baptist minister.

I thought that was an awful parody of the position of social conservatives and doesn’t seem to appreciate that not all “hard-core conservatives” are social conservatives. But this is correct:

It is also possible that McCain will attract a good number of independents. His candidacy will be situated firmly in the center right, and not at the far right.

“Center right” by French standards or American ones? By French standards most of the aspirants for the nominations of their parties to the presidency have been center-right or far right. John McCain is probably far right by the standards of French politics but center-right by ours.

But this is completely wrong:

As the only nationally elected leader, the President must express the will of the greatest number of voters. He cements the unity of the nation.

That’s not true by construction. The President must express the will of the majority of the voters in states having a majority of electoral votes. The presidential quadrennial is not a nationwide plebiscite. If the Congress wanted to change this, they most definitely could. They haven’t so, consequently, they don’t.

The most essential fact missing from this French assessment is that, historically, presidential elections in the United States have been won by the candidate better able to paint an optimistic and affirmative picture of the future of the country and its people. And in my view unless circumstances intervene that will be the case this year as well.

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