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?