French election shows neo-cons have won a lot .. even as George W. declines and falls

May 7th, 2007 | By | Category: Countries of the World

Even before the definitive result was known, it seemed clear enough from the cable TV news that the right-wing candidate, Nicholas Sarkozy, was going to win the final round of the French presidential election on Sunday, May 6, 2007. If it’s a choice between “Dracula and Mary Poppins,” as the London press proposed, it probably is somewhat safer to go with Dracula in these troubled times in the global village. For thoughtful North Americans on both sides of the right-left divide, however, M. Sarkozy’s victory is also a reminder that in the recent past the people of both traditional great powers of the old continental Europe – France and Germany – have opted for right-wing conservative leaders. If he weren’t so apparently uninterested in such things as French elections, it’s something that ought to have cheered George W. Bush up a little, as he struggled to remember his manners at the white-tie White House dinner for The Queen.

Advice from the White House …

Part of the story is about how the defeated Mary-Poppins candidate of the French left, the attractive and even interesting female Socialist party leader Segolene Royal, so elegantly summarized so many wider problems still faced by the international left – even or especially in such places as the United States and Canada.

Ms. Royal put a radiant fresh face on traditional left-wing egalitarian values, and spoke up compellingly, in a general way, for the more fair and just and generally better human society that has always been the ultimate goal of her kind of democratic political party. Yet as Canadians had some particular reasons to note, in such more exact pronouncements as her rather thoughtless endorsement of the increasingly obsolete cause of Quebec independence (as opposed to autonomy in a united Canada and so forth) – and her subsequent falling for the hoax of a French comic who pretended to be Quebec Premier Jean Charest over the telephone – “Sego” showed that she and her new bag of left-wing tricks are still not quite ready for prime time.

The other and for the moment more important part of the story is that the grand right-wing realignment of Anglo-American public policy that Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan began more than a quarter of a century ago – and that has perhaps finally reached some beginning of an end with the strange Iraq war alliance of George W. Bush and Tony Blair – has now also ironically triumphed on the old revolutionary soil of La Marseillaise. (Which you could hear M. Sarkozy’s supporters lustily singing, not long before his victory was announced, on BBC TV. And which, even in such domestically partisan circumstances, is surely one of the most stirring national anthems of modern world history.)

It seems something of a Canadian local conceit to use “neo-conservative” as a very general label for the right-wing anglo international revolution that Thatcher and Reagan began – and that may have now ironically run its course in its homelands, in the various domestic and foreign policy reductio ad absurdums of Bush and Blair. Americans like to point out that the real neo-cons form a much narrower faction of the late 20th century right-wing revolution (who almost all descend from reconstructed Trotskyites at the City University of New York, or something like that). And even thoughtful Canadian political partisans who still call themselves neo-conservatives today will tell you that George W. Bush is no neo-conservative.

But the essential point is just how the 2007 campaign for President of the Fifth French Republic showed that the increasingly lame duck US President George W. Bush can at least still lay claim to a few heavyweight achievements in the global village.

Back a number of years ago now, they all laughed when he said that France needed to discover the meaning of entrepreneurship. (That “entrepreneur” is originally a French word is apparently one of the many things George W. does not know, or has forgotten if he ever did.) Yet both “Sarko” and “Sego” made quite clear bows to the underlying advice in the 2007 French presidential campaign.

“Small America” is beautiful, etc …

M. Sarkozy was shameless about his passion to emulate the American free-market entrepreneurial energy and economic dynamism that has most recently given the world the Internet. (Even if it was invented in the first place by the kind of tax-funded public expenditures on military research that US policy since World War II has also been especially happy to augment, from time to time. Or was it really Al Gore who invented the Internet after all?)

When Time magazine asked Segolene Royal “in the summer of 2006 what she thought of Hillary Clinton,” she did say, as you might expect from a French Socialist, that “she’d like to meet her, even though she holds some very right-wing positions.'” But then Time also asked Ms. Royal, characteristically enough, “what France could learn from the United States? There was a long pause before she answered: A spirit of enterprise, perhaps?'”

Back in the 1980s the British writer Anthony Burgess, who had spent much of his adult life living in French-speaking parts of Europe, published a review of recent writing on what was then known as le mal francais. He began his piece arrestingly with the statement: “Some years ago my former professor of modern history, Dr. A.J.P. Taylor, caused a minor riot among British patriots by asserting that any reasonable Englishman would, au fond, prefer to be a Frenchman.” But then Burgess ended with the thought that, nowadays, “France, like everywhere else, has to become a kind of small America.” The people of France, he felt in the 1980s, had begun to grasp this. They were “aware of their mal, but they just want to dream a little longer.”

With their presidential election of 2007, it would seem, the people of France have at last awoken from the dream and accepted their fate in the new 21st century global village. As many different commentators made clear during the, as usual, quite excellent BBC TV coverage of the French election from Paris this past Sunday, it would be quite wrong to jump to any hasty conclusions about just what this might mean for such things as US foreign policy. Nicholas Sarkozy, some urged, is more like Tony Blair than Margaret Thatcher. As Sego had predicted, Sarko’s victory was met by some modest degree of rioting in various parts of France. Sego herself gave a very dignified, spirited, and even radiantly cheerful concession speech, stressing how the election was just the beginning of a renewal and new convergence of the French left. And the US itself has begun to change in who knows just what new directions.

But it does seem clear enough that France has now turned a crucial corner – and that George W. Bush can take some heart from the thought that, here of all places at least, his work has not been altogether in vain. The historic love affair between France and such US founding fathers as Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson are echoing again, in reverse, in our own time. (Well, sort of, anyway.)

Still more to the point, as BBC World TV announced the initial result of Sarkozy 53% and Royal 47%, with 85.5% voter turnout, several guest commentators stressed that it was a victory for French democracy. That is something English-speaking countries could no doubt still learn from as well. And, besides, as Canadians have of course already long ago discovered for themselves, there are a lot worse destinies in the global village today than being just “a kind of small America.” 

Leave Comment