by Malcolm Curtis | May 4, 2012
It is not often that the word anaphora leaps into the news but François Hollande helped make that happen this week.
At the end of his bravura performance against right-wing incumbent Nicolas Sarkozy in the French presidential debate on Wednesday, Hollande responded to a question about what kind of president he would be by rhyming off a list of promises.
The Socialist candidate began every goal with the phrase, “Moi, Président de la République” to enumerate how he would be different from Sarkozy, while saying he would respect the French people and remain attentive to their concerns.
In one of the most memorable segments of the two-hour 50-minute debate, he repeated the phrase at least 15 times in a three-minute recitation to pound home his message and draw a contrast with the outgoing president.
Hollande used the words, reminiscent of “I, Claudius,” the title of Robert Graves’ novel about Roman rulers, mostly to say what kind of president he would not be, implicitly criticizing Sarkozy in the process.
For example, he would not be a “ruler over all and responsible to no-one”, he would not “participate in fund raising for his own party in a Parisian hotel” and he would not allow the president’s office to interfere with the justice system.
Hollande claimed afterwards the repetition of the words – in English, “I, president of the republic” – came to him spontaneously and was not rehearsed.
Consciously or not, Hollande used a rhetorical device, known as anaphora, that comes from the ancient Greek phrase “carrying up, or back”.
French analysts of the debate pointed out how Hollande’s forceful employment of the technique helped give him a presidential stature, although it was a risky strategy.
As Le Monde editorialist Francoise Fressoz pointed out, Sarkozy allowed Hollande free rein by failing to interrupt and contest his use of the phrase.
After the debate, Sarkozy supporters criticized Hollande for “arrogance” in assuming the mantle of leader before the voters had decided.
But the complaints came too late.
In any event, opinion polls showed that most French who watched the televised debate (almost 18 million people) felt that Hollande was the most convincing of the two candidates.
Sarkozy earlier boasted that he would “blow apart” his rival, whom he had ridiculed as a “nobody” lacking experience.
But Hollande, once nicknamed “Flanby” for his soft pudding face appearance (before he went on a diet), more than stood his ground.
He aggressively took on Sarkozy, known for his skillful use of demagoguery, at every turn.
With anti-Sarkozyism still reigning supreme in France, the latest opinion polls show Hollande is comfortably on track to become president in the second round of voting on Sunday.
After far-right Front National leader Marine Le Pen gained almost 18 percent support in the first round of voting, Sarkozy abruptly toughened his anti-immigration platform in a bid to lure her supporters.
This week he lashed out at the media and the “elites” for opposing him, while assuring partisans in Les Sables d’Olonne on Friday that the French voters will have the final say.
That they will.