On a four-day trip to America, the 51- year-old interior minister and the leading presidential hopeful on the right, pinned a medal on the police commissioner of New York, honored firefighters in midtown Manhattan for their losses suffered on 9/11, and signed hundreds of copies of his best-selling book of memoirs for French supporters. He told Jewish leaders of his love of Israel, told American business leaders of his love of free enterprise, and told Francophiles of his love of America. "My dedication to our relationship with America is well-known and has earned me substantial criticism in France," Sarkozy declared Tuesday in a speech before the French-American Foundation in Washington. "I'm not a coward. I'm proud of this friendship and I proclaim it gladly."
In case you missed it, France held Presidential elections last Sunday, April 22. These were quite important, since not only are presidencies relatively scarce in "Old Europe", what with a number of key European nations never having dispensed with their crowned heads like the French did, but also because a French President, like his American counterpart, wields considerable power. Indeed, it is he who chooses the Prime Minister and it is he who is Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces - including France's still impressive nuclear deterrent of 348 warheads. Also, a French President can pardon convicted criminals and even dissolve Parliament. So there was quite a lot at stake la dimanche dernière.
There were twelve candidates for the French Presidential elections, of which only four had any real chance: these were Nicolas Sarkozy of the center-right UMP, Ségolène Royal of the socialist party, the center-left François Bayrou, a Christian Democrat, and the eternal presidential wannabe Jean-Marie Le Pen, of the so-called "extreme rightwing" Front National, which is actually a leftwing party with an anti-immigrant agenda, but more about later. So that's actually two leftwing contenders, one center leftist and one center rightwinger. If you think, golly, the Left has quite some appeal in France, you are thinking in understatements. Of the TWELVE presidential candidates, SIX adhered to Marxist principles! What to think for instance of:
* Arlette Laguiller, trotskyite, the candidate of Lutte Ouvrière (LO - Worker's Fight). Her plan to combat France's rampant unemployment is to forbid companies to fire workers as long as the companies make profits.
* Olivier Besançenot wants to raise minimum wages immediately to 1,500 EUR (some 1950 US$)
* José Bové, the biofarmer, wants to use the profits of the CAC40, the French Stock Exchange, to distribute among the people.
* Gérard Schivardy, of the trotskyite Parti des Travailleurs (PT) has an original solution for France's public debt: abolish it.
* Marie-George Buffet, of the Communist Party, wants much more social expenses, even if it is clear that the current expenses will kill public finances in two decades.
* Dominique Voynet of the Verts (the Green Party), wants extension of the 35-hour working week towards small and medium-sized companies, even if the sign is on the wall - has fallen off it, actually - that the monstrosity is backfiring big time. There's ordinary workers who want to earn more and don't bother doing 50-hour weeks; since they are not allowed to, they leave for the UK.
I kid you not. The smorgasbord of clowns above disguised as gentlemen and ladies vied for the Presidency of what is still a powerful nation, a G-8 member with the world's third largest nuclear arsenal. I have shuddered for far less. For them it's:
* Never mind the collapse of the Soviet Union.
* Never mind how Africa and the Middle East, who embraced socialism in the post-colonial periodn saw mass starvation and unseen impoverishment.
* Never mind that East Germans drove Trabants and West Germans Mercedeses.
* Never mind how Tanzania's collectivist Ujamaa adventure ruined the country.
* Never mind the sluggish economic growth and high unemployment of the European countries themselves, where socialist parties wield considerable power.
* Never mind that the failure of Israel's collectivist kibbuts system is plain for everyone to see.
And never mind the graphs to the right, relative to Ireland's economic miracle, which started halfway the eighties - coincidentally together with the Irish government's drastic slashing of its expenses, read excess personnel, as well of the taxes it imposed. The graphs are drawn from the excellent Belgian/Flemish free market think tank WorkforAll, and they describe in a nutshell how excessive government spending/taxing and high unemployment are interrelated. Until 1985 Ireland was Europes sick man: unemployment of 17%; sky high taxes, high import tariffs, big government. And then... it applied Reaganomics. In three years public spending was slashed 20%, income taxes were lowered drastically, and the market was thrown wide open for foreign products. The results were and are baffling. Today, Ireland is Europes second wealthiest country per capita; over the past twenty years, its economy has grown a staggering 169%; and it has one of the lowest European unemployment rates. In relative terms, it also has the smallest governement. The Irish example is but one in a (very) long string of free market and lean government-induced economic successes. The last striking example came from... the arab-world, where a number of free trade agreements between most countries of the Arab League, one year ago, immediately resulted in an as yet unnoticed economic surge. Actually, taking it all together, socialism is as dead as a deceased whale stinking on a beach. That two-digit IQ square dumbasses like Morales and Chavez still believe nationalizing industries is good for their economies can be understood to some extent, but western leftists, especially the European ones, should now better. They actually remind me of John Herod in The Quick and the Dead, played by Gene Hackman, who before he sees how the sun shines through holes blasted in his corpse, does not realize he's dead. Zapatero, Royal, Schroeder, Prodi: they are the John Herods of our time.
Across the Irish Sea and the Channel now, back to France, because we haven't talked yet about what seems the most reasonable person in the socialist camp, but what is actually by far the most dangerous individual. We are talking about Ségolène Royal, the candidate of the Socialist Party for the French presidency. And one of the two contenders left for the final round. Because Sunday's elections yielded two winners: Sarkozy and Royal. Indeed, under French law a candidate has to have at least 50% of the vote to become President, and if all candidates fail to reach that goal the two leading adversaries proceed to a second round two weeks later. As it was, most candidates had mediocre or downright disappointing results, e.g. Le Pen, who chalked up just under 11% - quite a humiliation indeed, and it showed: the man looked spent. If I'm not mistaken, we have seen here the end of the Front National as a force to be reckoned with. The sextet of marxist parties collectively secured only 8% of the vote, which means that the French did figure out the most radical leftists are indeed hopeless bozos. So, as it was, Sunday April 22 had two clear winners: Sarkozy obtained some 31% of the vote, and Royal just under 26%. So while Sarkozy is clearly the favorite, the difference with his socialist counterpart is not unbridgeable. There still is a chance that Madame Royal, of shaking hands with Hezbollah fame, lands in the Elysée as France's first female president. Well, we have just seen the beneficial effects of stripping the government size to galvanize an economy. What do you think Mrs. Royals remedy is for youth unemployment, now at 20%? In a country where one in four jobs is a government job? Her answer is simple: create 500,000 more government jobs! In a 2006 interview with a Times correspondent, Royal remarked: "The capitalists have to be frightened. There is no alternative. They can't just dispose of people as they wish. They have to be held accountable. We need to tax businesses who want to move out jobs and tax their products when they re-import them." And when Airbus unveiled plans to lay off 10,000 people to cope with the financial losses caused by delays in the A380 programme, she said: "We have to end this ultra-liberal system, put in place by the policies of the right wing government, that ensures it's always the employees who pay for the problems of companies and management errors."
Such nonsense, contradicted by 60 years of post-WWII experience with Capitalism as the one and only Global Wealth Creator, is music for far too many French ears. An item on BBC online described the reactions of some French students in a Parisian café, and one of them, a certain Laurent, explained in two sentences why being dumb does not hurt: "I think globalisation today is the modern equivalent of the slave trade across the Atlantic Ocean. I am for human globalisation, but I am against the capitalist economic system and I think we need to make capitalism history."
In short, even though polls for the May 6 final round give Sarkozy between 52 and 54% of the vote against 46-48% for Royal, there is still cause for concern for France's most successful immigrant (Sarkozy is of Hungarian descent). Because practically all the defeated leftist formations are now endorsing Royal. And it is highly unlikely this will be offset by Le Pen advising his voters to support Sarkozy. It seems the key figure in the final decision is François Bayrou, who got more than 7 million French behind him. He has not yet publicly endorsed Royal, but his policies are far closer to hers than to Sarkozy's. Still, for the second time in this post I pronounce myself moderately optimistic we will get to know, in two weeks, the most pro-US French President ever. A man who, though he too professes at times his confidence in a strong (read big) French state, is bound to represent a sea change in French politics after the dreadful Chirac era. A man who will cut back excessive public expenses. A man who will take on the unreported French Intifada. And a man who has vowed to "make the French less afraid of economic successes." So, MFBB endorses Sarkozy, but I guess you had already come to that conclusion.