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Les Elections
Get Used to the Name: Nicolas Sarkozy

L’état, ce sera lui

Eighty-four percent turn-out for the first round of the French presidential election on Sunday. What could we do in the United States to secure a turn-out like that? Not what France did, please: if 84 percent turned out this time around, it’s in good part because so many had stayed home in 2002, letting Jean Marie Le Pen, the far-right opportunist, defeat the would-be Socialist candidate and face Jacques Chirac in what proved to be the meaningless final round. The French were nutty enough to give Le Pen second place, but not so nutty as to not ensure that Chirac, despite the magnificent pointlessness of his first term, got the nod for a second pointless term. So end ten, or is it eleven, years of lost time for France. No wonder Americans pay no attention to that election. On Sunday, Nicholas Sarkozy, who strikes me as part Arnold Schwarzenegger, part youngish John McCain, came in first, with 30.44 percent of the vote. Ségolène Royal, whose hybrid Socialist-New-Labor-Clintonian centrism would be an interesting coup to pull in France, came in second with 24.79 percent, leaving the non-descript François Bayrou a distant third, though with a smidgen of a kingmaker’s voting bloc to give away (he got 18 percent). Le Pen, le fou, was back there in the dunes with 11 percent, but enough to give Sarkozy the win in the final ballot on May 6: The right-wingers will give him the nod, the Bayrou vote will split between Sarkozy and Royal, with maybe just a tad more going to Sarkozy (because you can never underestimate the French’s sexism), and Sarkozy will be France’s next president. Domage: it would have been fun to see a Clinton-Royal axis of éveil, although you have to question who could possibly extricate either the United States or France from the mess current presidents have made of them. France, the Economist tells us,

has the slowest-growing large economy in Europe, a state that soaks up half of GDP, the fastest-rising public debt in western Europe over the past ten years and, above all, entrenched high unemployment. Over the past 25 years French GDP per person has declined from seventh-highest in the world to 17th. The smouldering mood of the suburbs ( banlieues), home to many jobless youths from ethnic minorities, blazed into riots in 2005 and lay behind new trouble that flared recently at a Paris railway station. The disenchantment of voters is reflected not only in opinion polls but also in their rejection of the European Union constitution in 2005. Tellingly, they have not re-elected an incumbent government for a quarter-century.

The Economist went for Sarkozy:

Ms Royal would be an asset in the second round, turning it into a satisfyingly direct left-right contest. She has other attractions: the first woman to be a serious contender, the boldness to push past the elephants in her party to win the nomination, a willingness to break with Socialist taboos by praising Britain's Tony Blair and criticising the French state's imposition of a maximum 35-hour working week. Unfortunately her policies are woolly even by modern standards. And in economics, she stands squarely behind all the old left-wing shibboleths: state intervention, rigid labour protection and high taxes. […] Which leaves Mr Sarkozy as the best of the bunch. Unlike the others, and despite his long service as a minister under Mr Chirac, he makes no bones of admitting that France needs radical change. He is an outsider, born to an aristocratic Hungarian émigré father; he openly admires America; he is enthusiastic about the economic renaissance of Britain. He plans an early legislative blitz to take on hitherto untouchable issues such as labour-market liberalisation, cutting corporate and income taxes and trimming public-sector pensions. […] Mr Sarkozy has a more sensible, pragmatic approach than either of his main rivals. He is also the most likely candidate to repair France's tattered relations with America. On the evidence of his career and his campaign, Mr Sarkozy is less a principled liberal than a brutal pragmatist. Yet he is the only candidate brave enough to advocate the “rupture” with its past that France needs after so many gloomy years.

That last—that Sarkozy is the most likely candidate to repair France’s relations with America—is irrelevant: the tattering was Bush’s doing, not Chirac’s, and is one of the few commendable aspects of the Chirac presidency. Whoever is elected in France will mend relations with the United States because whoever is elected to replace Bush will be looking to do the same. This is a purely French election, as long as we accept the fact that Sarkozy isn’t an American Republican in disguise (which he is).

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