Revisiting the Royal-Sarkozy Debate: A Bizarre Impression Explained

PARIS — One of the dominant impressions left by the televised debate between Nicolas Sarkozy and Ségolène Royal last Wednesday was that of a strange disconnectedness of Royal’s discourse from both the questions posed and, above all, the remarks of her ostensible “debating partner” Sarkozy. It was as if Royal was reciting from a prepared script — in which, however, only her lines were written and hence she could not be sure when exactly to pronounce them.
Segolene Royal
This bizarre impression was undoubtedly most pronounced during the most widely cited “exchange” of the debate: when Royal suddenly raised her voice, declaring herself to be “outraged” and accusing Sarkozy of what she called the “height of political immorality.” This virulent reaction was prompted — apparently in the theatrical sense of the term — by a seemingly harmless, consensual comment by Sarkozy about assuring handicapped children places in regular schools. Royal explained her “outrage” by what she claimed was a 50 percent decline in the number of handicapped children attending regular schools under what she called — pointing at Sarkozy — “your government.” Sarkozy was left to interject that he had never been prime minister or, for that matter, minister of education. Moreover, as was widely reported in the French press the next day, the number of handicapped children attending regular schools had in fact nearly doubled from 2002 to 2007, under the last government of which Sarkozy had been a part.

Well, now we know, thanks to the “insider” reporting of the unabashedly pro-Socialist daily Le Monde, that Royal was indeed reciting prepared lines. The following passage comes from an article in the May 8 edition of the paper. It refers to Eric Besson, a former member of the Socialist Party (PS) leadership who publicly denounced Royal and eventually joined the Sarkozy camp, and to Claude Allègre, former Minister of Education under Lionel Jospin and another prominent PS member who was severely critical of Royal.

The Besson “affair”…was one of the darkest hours of the Royal campaign. To such an extent that the candidate had even prepared the following retort for her televised debate with M. Sarkozy, in case her adversary sought to emphasize Besson’s late rallying to his cause: “Just because you have Judas at your table, it doesn’t mean that you should take yourself for the Messiah.” Mme. Royal did not have the opportunity to use the line, just as she did not have the opportunity to use this other phrase that had been prepared in advance in case the “friendly” gestures of her socialist opponents – including those of Claude Allègre – would be invoked: “There are two kinds of Socialists: those who served François Mitterrand and those who used him.”

An accompanying article by the same journalist (Isabelle Mandraud) describes in abundant detail the refreshments offered by Royal to her journalistic “guests” in her garden on election day: “salad, melon, cold beef ‘parthenaise’, and a strawberry tart doused in an Anjou wine.” There is thus reason to believe that the above-cited revelations come directly from the candidate.

The relevant segment of the debate can be viewed here. Royal’s famous — and seemingly premeditated — outburst begins roughly a third of the way through the segment.

More World Politics Review