Saturday, May 5, 2007

ségo et sarko

Unless something dramatically unforeseen occurs in the next 24 hours, it appears that Nicolas Sarkozy, the candidate for the center-right Union pour un Mouvement Populaire, tomorrow will become the next president of France. Sarkozy is a combative, authoritarian demagogue who favors trading civil liberties for political gain and reducing the separation between church and state. While he's not exactly a fringe far-right candidate like George W. Bush (he opposed the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, for example), I think that he will lead France in the wrong direction.

Unfortunately, his main competitor, Socialist candidate Ségolène Royal, never mounted a serious challenge to Sarkozy. Although Royal has a certain charisma and a populist message, she never demonstrated enough familiarity with the issues to attract voters beyond her Socialist base. She rarely offered specific proposals to go along with her more general message of participatory democracy, and is therefore seen as stronger on rhetoric than policy. She never, for example, articulated a clear position on Turkey's accession to the European Union -- a key issue in this year's election.

It's too bad. France might be well situated to strike off on a path toward a pro-education, pro-environment, pro-gay, pro-family future. I think that Royal would defend the sane working week (35 hours) that helps to make France such a special place to live. Instead, France will undoubtedly move toward an American-style economic system -- lower taxes, yes, but also longer hours, lower wages, privatized health care, a smaller safety net for the poor, every man for himself. Haven't the French seen the way Americans live? Don't they know how good they've got it? Of course, maybe this is easy for me to say, since I'm not French -- and maybe I'd be something of a Luddite even by French standards -- but it seems to me that France is a pretty wonderful place, not only to visit, but to live. Why are the French willing to trade their quality of life for what might be termed American-style quantity of life?


Lord Nazh said...

Maybe they want 4.5% unemployment, much better per capita incomes, much better economy and less cars torched per night?


Jim said...

Well, yeah. Of course. What I'm questioning is whether Sarkozy is the person to bring about these improvements. I have no doubt that he'll try to implement changes that make the French economy more like that of the U.S. That could be good in some ways, but it will also mean worsening conditions for the poor, longer work hours, lower wages for entry-level positions, and higher medical costs for everyone. It probably will be a wash, but at least the banks will be open at 1:00 in the afternoon.

As I acknowledged in my initial post, I'm torn. Surely part of my motivation is a nostalgia for the way France has been. I'm not French, so it's a little unfair for me to judge them for wanting to live in a way that more closely resembles the way that I live. (I can only dream of working 35 hours a week!)

As for the torching of cars, we'll see what effect Sarkozy's presidency might have on the anger bubbling beneath the surface there. The French are worried about issues related to immigration, and if Sarkozy can address those worries without succumbing to the combative rhetoric that has marked much of his career, he might be all right. I hope that his Cabinet members have the good sense to ask him to tone it down.