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Law professor blogs on American presidential race for French magazine

French news magazine L’Express has hired U of C law professor Bernard Harcourt to cover the U.S. presidential campaign.

French news magazine L’Express has hired U of C law professor Bernard Harcourt to cover the U.S. presidential campaign, providing coverage and analysis on education reform, the Bradley Effect, and recent allegations about Democratic nominee Barack Obama’s association with William Ayers, a former member of the Weather Underground Organization.

Harcourt spent the last year in Paris on a Fulbright Scholarship conducting research at the Bibliothèque Nationale de France and has published several papers in French.

Asked whether his blog posts reflect particular political leanings, Harcourt said he let readers make informed decisions.

“I offer conclusions, not just opinions,” he said.

In light of France’s recent race riots, Harcourt’s discussion on the Bradley Effect—which suggests that non-white candidates often fare better in opinion polls than they do in the election because voters are pressured to avoid being racially biased when polled—has become relevant to his French audience.

In France, because constitutional prohibitions prevent collection of information about race during censuses, the French government does not keep official numbers of black French citizens currently living in the country or how many are active in the government or professional circles.

Harcourt describes race as a taboo topic in France.

“Practices are similar [to those in the U.S., but] the rhetoric is very different,” he said.

In French, the phrase most often used to identify blacks translates as “persons of Muslim culture,” an uncomfortable term reflecting the high percentage of black immigrants from northern Africa who bring Islamic religion and practices with them.

In the midst of this tension, Harcourt said that for the French, Obama emerges as “a voice of moderation and conciliation” and as a candidate capable of finding solutions for problems common to both countries.

Even among Europeans, the French stand out in their support of Obama: A July Gallup poll found that 64 percent of French people surveyed preferred Obama to McCain, a figure that is higher than his approval ratings in both Germany and the United Kingdom.

“In France, they place a premium on intellectuals, on ideas,” Harcourt said. “[Obama] captures that.”

The feedback from readers on the blogging that he has done thus far has been very positive, Harcourt said. One reader wrote to congratulate Harcourt, saying that the professor had addressed topics that he had been confused about but had never before seen written or discussed.

  • Olivier Denier Long, Esq. AB 73

    The French political system differs from ours in important ways. It certainly is more issue-oriented; and therefore less reactive to politicians’ private lives. However their major disadvantage is the glass ceiling imposed by the “grandes écoles,” the public institutions of higher learning that are generally off-limits to minorities. It is good that Professor Harcourt can contrast for the French the attributes and limitations of politics in each country.