Both candidates in the first hour of the French debate acted as if they were running for chancellor of Germany.
Socialist candidate François Hollande kept pointing out that the German economy (and the American) has done better than the French during right-of-center President Nicolas Sarkozy’s tenure.
Sarkozy’s response was, if you like Germany, you should vote for me, because I have proposed some of German’s economic solutions for France, yet my opponent, Hollande, is against them. Sarkozy also pointed out that Spain did poorly under Socialist policies (implying that France’s fate under Hollande would be similar).
Sarkozy marginally won the debate. But the election will come down to how much voters blame him for la crise.
Hollande, frustrated, said over and over that “nothing is your fault” — i.e., that Sarkozy blames the financial crisis and not his own policies for everything from high unemployment to high inflation. Sarkozy’s rejoinder is that his policies helped mitigate a crisis that could have been far worse for France.
How much French voters blame the incumbent matters for America (and Britain), too. President Obama, who took office later than Sarkozy did, places even greater weight on the argument that the crisis and its aftermath are his predecessor’s fault, and Prime Minister David Cameron does the same, if more subtly, in Britain.
— Nicole Gelinas (@nicolegelinas on Twitter) is contributing editor of the Manhattan Institute’s City Journal.