Voilà my favorite member of the French government. For those who don’t know her—which includes no one in France but just about everyone outside—, she’s the Minister of Justice (since May ’12), was a deputy from French Guiana for some twenty years, is affiliated with—though is not a formal member of—the center-left PRG—a small party permanently allied with the Socialists—, and was a candidate in the 2002 presidential election (the first ever presidential candidate of color to qualify for the ballot; she received 2.4% of the first round vote), which was when most people (myself included) learned about her. She was the guest last night on France 2′s weekly prime time political interview show ‘Des paroles et des actes’, where a first-tier politician is grilled for 2½ hours (no commercial interruption) by journalists and opposition politicians. I wonder how many American politicians would subject themselves to such an exercise. It was Mme Taubira’s first time in the DPDA hot seat and she succeeded with flying colors. She was excellent, on both form and substance (highlights are here). She was well spoken, fast on her feet, responded to or parried the tough questions with aplomb—and the stupid ones too, e.g. on her views on intervening in Syria, which is not in her ministerial purview (and as if she’s going to publicly break ranks with her government)—, and avoided langue de bois (Franz-Olivier Giesbert was à côté de la plaque in pronouncing her guilty of this). Her response to the question on her youthful advocacy of independence for Guiana was exactly as it should have been: no apologies but circumstances changed and I therefore changed my mind, period. And she dominated the sarkozyste Christian Estrosi, her major political detractor these days and who was invited to spar with her on the show.
In addition to her personal style—on this level even politicians on the right like her—she’s been great on the issues. It was a big surprise when she was appointed Minister of Justice, as she has no background in the law—her higher academic degrees are in economics and agro-alimentaire—, but she’s been very good in the job. She successfully steered the gay marriage bill—an issue I posted on exactly once—through parliament and which she defended brilliantly (and, as one knows, the opposition to it was virulent; thus her high negatives among voters of the right). Her big issue now is the impending penal reform bill, which includes some important measures, notably on introducing probation—both for convicts on early release and as a substitute for sending lesser delinquents to prison—into the penal code (which exists in the American system, of course, but not in France) and abolishing mandatory minimum sentencing (an insidious measure introduced by Sarkozy—and one of the worst in the American criminal justice system, in some states at least). The right is all bent out of shape over this and with Estrosi leading the charge (accusing her and the government of laxisme, angélisme blah blah). But their arguments are purely demagogic. When it comes to prisons and the criminal justice system, there are stark differences between the right and left—and which remind me of why I’m on the left. It’s too bad the Taubira-Estrosi exchange last night, which lasted twenty minutes, wasn’t a full-fledged debate, as Mme Taubira would have left Estrosi on the floor.
So with Mme Taubira, A Star Is Born. But the Place Vendôme is as high as she’s likely to go, as she has no ambitions to be PM, let alone président de la République. Who would want those thankless jobs anyway?
UPDATE: Here’s the full 2½ hours of Mme Taubira on DPDA, for those interested.