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Tuesday, November 15, 2016

The Incredible Disconnect of French Presidential Candidates

Buying your pastry yourself to oppose the prospect of a G8 consisting of an additional protectionist and nativist figure next to Trump and Putin doesn't seem too much to ask.

In France, it’s countdown to the 23rd of April 2017, election day in the République. The French Republican party is currently running its primary campaign, in which two candidates have shown that the disconnect many voters perceive in the political class is incognizably true.

Where I am from, there is an expression which translates to “knowing what butter costs.” It connects the knowledge of the price of an everyday good to standing on your own two feet, growing up. Children are told, “if they just knew how much butter costs” they’d appreciate the value of things and the efforts needed to produce them. Ever since I started to buy my own bread at the bakery down the street, I understand what my father meant when he said this. The French pain au chocolat (famous French pastry, usually for breakfast) costs between €1 and €1.20 depending on the place I go to, so not necessarily an inexpensive good for everyone.

When Republican presidential candidate Jean-François Copé was asked on the radio station Europe 1 how much a pain au chocolat costs, his estimate lay between 10 and 15 euro cents. What would supposedly spark rapid laughter turned out to become a major talking point in the entire country. By French standards, this oops-situation overshadowed Gary Johnson’s Aleppo-moment by a long shot. But Copé did not only have to deal with malice – indeed, his gross underestimate of the price of a simple piece of pastry showed his disconnect with ordinary people. Famous French comedian Rémi Gaillard participated and fuelled the outrage on the internet by tweeting to the candidate:

You cannot intend to be a man of the people yet support every inclination that you’re nothing but an overpaid bureaucrat who doesn’t do his own day-to-day errands.“You’d be better confessing that you don’t give a damn about the real lives of French people.”

You cannot intend to be a man of the people yet support every indication that you’re nothing but an overpaid bureaucrat who has to do neither his own driving, cleaning, laundry, or grocery shopping, and that for the last 30 years. Copé’s rival Alain Juppé, current front-runner in the Republican primary and current favorite to win the general election, beautifully illustrated this last weekend.

In an interview on the French TV channel France 3, Juppé illustrated his thoughts on some candidates’ basic income proposal of some candidates by saying,

“Would a basic income really apply to everyone? Would everyone get it, from Miss Bettencourt [richest women in the world] to the cashier at Prisunic [supermarket chain]?”

Nothing potentially controversial there, until you notice that the last branch of the supermarket chain Prisunic closed down in 2002. If you are one of the millions of disaffected voters in France who believe that politicians are nothing but wealthy elites, ready to pander to the simple pleb to nourish their own self-interest, then this was the cherry on top of your ice cream.

If the French political establishment continues their Marie Antoinette-like disconnection with reality, then they will not only discover that the population will never support the so-needed reform of entitlements, but will also face voter’s wrath through the far-right National Front of Marine Le Pen. The 10 cents pain au chocolat and the grocery store that closed down 14 years ago are not too far off from the “if they don’t have bread, let them eat cake,” and although Republicans might not lose their head like the monarchs in the 18th century did, they might just lose the vote.

Buying your pastry yourself to oppose the prospect of a G8 consisting of an additional protectionist and nativist figure next to Trump and Putin doesn’t seem too much to ask.

  • Bill Wirtz is a Young Voices Advocate and a FEE Eugene S. Thorpe Fellow. His work has been featured in several outlets, including Newsweek, Rare, RealClear, CityAM, Le Monde and Le Figaro. He also works as a Policy Analyst for the Consumer Choice Center.

    Learn more about him at his website