Desperate for any original angle on the recent, as the Daily Show put it, "Squabble in Coral Gables", I decided to turn to the international press. Specifically, the French press. Because, if there's one country whose opinions Americans will consider in the upcoming presidential election, it's France, right? Or do we now only care about what the Polish think?
Well, since I don't speak Polish, I'll have to stick with the French.
Let's get started with Lib??ration, the leading newspaper of the non-Communist French Left. "John Kerry plays his hand well in the debate", they announce. "His only faux pas: Kerry, in contrast with his opponent, barely looked at the camera - i.e., the American people - preferring to address himself to the host, Jim Lehrer." After concerning himself with the substance of the debate for a few paragraphs, the author, Pascal Riche, turns his attention to the "spin" of the debate (he uses the English word, which his editor helpfully defines for his readership as the movement made by a top.) "As soon as the debate was over, the principal advisors of the two candidates rushed into the "spin room", followed by aides carrying little signs so that one could find them: "Dr. Madeleine Albright", "McCain", "Giuliani"…the journalists could go from one to the other, as if they were doing their shopping."
Also worth noting, on Riche's blog, is the comments section, in which the posters swoon over Kerry and his mention of De Gaulle ("a vote for Bush amounts to a vote against America. … In any case, let's be clear: a Kerry in the White House is good for us. He even cited the General in his answer about the concerns that make him opposed to Bush, that's a sign."), and later concern themselves with directly influencing the American electoral process (after a spirited discussion about the legality of non-Americans contributing to American presidential campaigns, one poster remarks, "I've become accustomed, for each US election since the invention of the Internet, to buy a superb 'bumper sticker', 'Kerry Edwards: a stronger America', for the sum of $2. Between the t-shirts, the mugs and the stickers, you have a choice. In the US, business is still king and no law prevents a foreigner from buying a t-shirt. So 'rock the vote' like they say on MTV!")
Le Monde writes up the debate as a victory for Kerry. "Before the American people, John Kerry clears the first hurdle" reads the headline of a piece that breaks no new ground, unfortunately. Le Monde being the French New York Times, but with less color than the Grey Lady, this is unsurprising, though their article, "For a few clarifications, get yourself to 'Spin Alley'", is interesting enough. "The alley of smooth talk", as Radio France translates the phrase, presents, particularly for the foreign press, "a unique opportunity to interrogate, in one hour, high-ranking Republicans, generally inaccessible advisors and members of Congress that [the foreign press] doesn't always have the chance to meet."
However, their profile of Jim Lehrer ("Jim Lehrer, the public service") is pretty amusing. "During the several decades that he has spent in the public service [PBS], Jim Lehrer has been one of its most respected members. And when we say 'public service', in the United States, we mean quality, in-depth debates and programs that would make spectators of Arte [a Franco-German public television station that is in reality a hundred times more highbrow and two hundred times more soporific than PBS] yawn with boredom." After congratulating Lehrer for asking tough questions this time around, Le Monde gets a little wistful: "In his moments of fancy, he writes novels. One of them is called The Last Debate. It's the story of three leftist journalists who scheme against a conservative candidate during a televised debate…"