When is the Left Not the Left?

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BY SHAYNE NELSON
DISPATCH FROM PARIS ///•\ Dateline: 28 June 2007

Very few people today connect the brilliant strategies of Charles de Gaulle with today’s situation in France, but unless I’m mistaken, there’s a direct link. Not only does the major Paris airport bear the General’s name, but the political climate still suffers, I believe, from one of his major coups.

Back in the early Sixties, (I believe it was ’61) the powers that be approached de Gaulle asking him to take the reins of the sovereign nation of France. The general hedged, and hesitated, and played hard to get, then finally said he’d only do so on three conditions.

I’ve forgotten the first two conditions, but the third really stuck in my memory because of something a friend had said around that time, that reapportionment is [perhaps] the single most important political issue of
all time, in all countries.

You know, gerrymandering, as they call it in Civics 101. The art of rewriting the map of the political landscape so that the party out of power loses votes. It’s an old trick, an old dirty trick, going back no doubt to the dawn of democracy, and it’s an amazingly powerful one. By redrawing the boundaries between voting districts with care, you can get the same number of popular votes as before and still end up winning an election you would have lost before the gerrymandering.

Today, in the US, the gerrymandering game is played every four years, as the party in power painstakingly redraws all the voter district lines to shave votes (and thus power) from the opponent’s scoreboard.

De Gaulle’s third condition or stipulation was that he be given the right to reapportion the voting districts in France, to gerrymander to his heart’s content, and the French government, either in their stupidity or in total desperation, said okay.

It may be that the lines have been redrawn again and again since then, but since De Gaulle had to get the approval of the government at the time to even do it, it may be that the district lines are still where they were when he got through with his pencil and his maps. I’m not going to do research on this, in order to be sure of it, but I have a hunch his map is still the one being used.

That map steals power from the left, openly, crookedly, effectively, and if I’m right, eternally. The General, with this one ‘tiny’ manoevre i.e. condition, castrated the Left in France overnight, and tilted the power in France to the right forever—or, judging from the way things look now, for at least a heck of a long time.

True, the ‘Left’ did, despite this crippling blow by the cunning General, manage to get two Presidents (actually ‘Chiefs of State’ in France) into power after that date, but each of them was handicapped in his reform power by a lack of representation of the Left in the French Assembly and Senate.

So take another look at the results of the recent French election. Segolene Royal got 47%, and Sarko got the throne.

My question is, would Sarko be in power in France today if the General hadn’t doctored the maps forty-five years ago?

Shayne Nelson serves as a senior writer and correspondent for Cyrano’s Journal based in Paris.

One comment on “When is the Left Not the Left?
  1. Terrific that we may be reading dispatches from Paris by a keen-eyed observer. A great addition to Cyrano. My nickel on this thought-provoking piece is that while gerrymandering is usually an underestimated trick that distorts and in extreme cases denies any democratic virtues a system might possess, it often isn’t, by a long shot, the whole story nor the most important factor. The French left probably lost for the same reasons we see the Democrats here losing ground rapidly in popularity after a big victory only a few months ago. What happened? They’re not acting like a real left, not acting as a real opposition to the system’s criminals, the corporatocracy. They’re losing whatever credibility or hope they might have amassed (undeservedly in my view given their pathetic cowardice) as a result of their astonishing lack of principle. Fact is, in America as well as in France professional politicians put their careers ahead of the public interest. The masses may be dumb, but eventually that attitude percolates enough to make voting for them a distasteful proposition. In sum, all the gerrymandering in the world could not stop a properly led public.

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