US Press: pick of the papers

The ten must-read opinion pieces from today's US papers.

1. Who Decided That This Election Should Be About Sex? (New York Times)

David Brooks and Gail Collins discuss the surprising role debates over contraception, abortion and unwed mothers have played so far in the campaign.

2. Two miscast candidates (Washington Post)

Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum still look like weak nominees, writes George F. Will.

3. Big cases on high court docket highlight need to allow cameras (Boston Globe) ($)

This editorial argues that giving viewers a chance to witness oral arguments before the Supreme Court would enhance respect for the Constitution, the court, and its procedures.

4. Obama's defense of religion (Chicago Tribune)

Steve Chapman explains how the President has expanded freedom for the faithful.

5. Getting Iran to back down on its nuclear program (Washington Post)

A threat of overwhelming force could force retreat, writes David Ignatius.

6. The Incredible Disappearing 2013 Obama Budget (Roll Call) ($)

Stan Collender notes that even in a city like Washington, D.C., the speed with which the Obama budget went from lead story to old news was impressive.

7. Teacher's right (Chicago Sun Times)

Against the ruling of an Illinois public school, this editorial argues that kids need to know the history of the n-word

8. Healthcare reform's missing link -- nurse practitioners (Los Angeles Times)

Millions more Americans soon may be searching for primary care providers. Nurse practitioners can do the job and save taxpayer funds, says Patricia Dennehy.

9. NY Knicks' Jeremy Lin shows no sign of cover jinx (New York Daily News)

A second straight Sports Illustrated cover can't slow the media sensation caused by this basketball star, writes Filip Bondy.

10. US leadership at World Bank remains critical (Washington Times)

Robert Zoellick's announcement that he would not seek another term as president of the World Bank has begun anew an old debate: Senator John Kerry asks: should an American continue to lead this institution?

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A loyalist rebranded: will Ségolène Royal run again to be the French President?

The French press is speculating about Ségolène Royal replacing François Hollande as the Socialist candidate.

“I will lead you to other victories!” Ségolène Royal told the crowds gathered in front of the French Socialist party’s headquarters on 6 May 2007.

Many at the time mocked her for making such an odd statement, just after losing to Nicolas Sarkozy in the presidential election. But nearly ten years on, she might just be the candidate the French left needs to win the upcoming presidential election.

There is growing speculation that the current President François Hollande – who was Royal’s partner for 30 years and the father of her four children – will not be in a position to run again. His approval ratings are so low that a defeat in next May’s election is almost inevitable. His own party is starting to turn against him and he can now only count on a handful of faithful supporters.

Royal is among them. In the past, she probably would have jumped at the opportunity to stand for election again, but she has learned from her mistakes. The 63-year-old has very cleverly rebranded herself as a wise, hard-working leader, while retaining the popular touch and strong-willed character which led to her previous successes.

Royal has an impressive political CV. She became an MP in 1988 and was on several occasions appointed to ministerial positions in the 1990s. In 2004, she was elected President of the Poitou-Charentes region in western France. In 2006, Royal won the Socialist party’s primary by a landslide ahead of the presidential election.

She went on to fight a tough campaign against Sarkozy, with little support from high-ranking members of her party. She ended up losing but was the first woman to ever go through to the second round of a French presidential election.

After that, it all went downhill. She split up with Hollande and lost the election to be party leader in 2008. She was humiliated by only getting 6.95 per cent of the votes in the 2011 Socialist presidential primary. She hit an all-time low when in 2012 she stood as the Socialist party’s official candidate to become MP for La Rochelle on the French west coast and lost to Olivier Falorni, a local candidate and Socialist party “dissident”. Royal then took a step back, away from the Parisian hustle and bustle. She continued to serve as the Poitou-Charentes regional President but kept largely out of the media eye.

Royal was very much the people’s candidate back in 2007. She drew her legitimacy from the primary result, which confirmed her huge popularity in opinion polls. She innovated by holding meetings where she would spend hours listening to people to build a collaborative manifesto: it was what she called participatory democracy. She shocked historical party figures by having La Marseillaise sung at campaign rallies and Tricolores flying; a tradition up until then reserved for right-wing rallies. She thought she would win the presidency because the people wanted her to, and did not take enough notice of those within her own party plotting her defeat.

Since then, Royal has cleverly rebranded herself – unlike Sarkozy, who has so far failed to convince the French he has changed.

When two years ago she was appointed environment minister, one of the highest-ranking cabinet positions, she kept her head down and worked hard to get an important bill on “energy transition” through Parliament. She can also be credited with the recent success of the Paris Climate Agreement.

Above all, she has been impeccably loyal to the President.

Royal has reinforced her political aura, by appearing at Hollande’s side for state occasions, to the extent that French press have even labelled her “the Vice-President”. This has given her a licence to openly contradict the Prime Minister Manuel Valls on various environmental issues, always cleverly placing herself on virtue’s side. In doing so, not only has she gained excellent approval ratings but she has pleased the Green party, a traditional ally for the Socialists that has recently turned its back on Hollande.

The hard work seems to have paid off. Last Sunday, Le Journal du Dimanche’s front-page story was on Royal and the hypothesis that she might stand if Hollande does not. She has dismissed the speculations, saying she found them amusing.

Whatever she is really thinking or planning, she has learned from past errors and knows that the French do not want leaders who appear to be primarily concerned with their own political fate. She warned last Sunday that, “for now, François Hollande is the candidate”. For now.

Philip Kyle is a French and English freelance journalist.