The Corner

Comédie Française

Our cultured cousins, the Europeans — role models for higher Dems — hate math. So last weekend they voted against it. The result today, as Reuters reports: Greece has a splintered parliament from which an anti-austerity majority must be formed, and Andorra has a new co-prince.

The news in Europe now is dominated by François Hollande. In a few days, he will become the first Socialist to Occupy Elysee in 31 years. But it was far less a victory for Hollande than a defeat for Sarkozy, who had entered office as an anti-establishment candidate, fighting his way to the top over the strong objections of his own party’s elite. In fact, the victory was so imaginary that to celebrate last night, France 24 reported, “Thousands storm Bastille for left’s long-expected party.” Some ideas die hard.

Sarkozy seemed to represent a refreshing future for French politics after years dominated by cynical men like Mitterand and Chirac. And he seemed like a man of the moment: Throughout the world there is a growing disgust with the political class — the same gallery of men and women with the same trite ideas and sentimental platitudes, all propped up by media companies that have lost their ability to inform, let alone influence. Just five years ago, Sarko was a little guy who looked tough and fought tough, thumbed his nose at his president and at the press — and won.

#more#Then he made himself despicable by becoming just another visionless officeholder and a celebrity. He became George H. W. Bush standing on a national platform staring at his wristwatch for five long years. He packed his cabinet with his new friends who were his old enemies. Stalwarts of the Left were brought in to help imitate unity. He worked to take power from local governments, did little to cut spending, and left untouched many provisions of the 35-hour workweek, the prize treasured most of all by state employees and their unions. He was an admirer of George W. Bush but took only five years to make himself as pointless as W., who needed eight. Vision? What vision? He asked, putting on his shades, and by the time he arrived at a TV studio for the one and only debate of the campaign, he was already a loser by acclamation, no longer duking it out with an entrenched political aristocracy, but struggling to defeat a dull opponent who was only there to fill the shoes of an overweight suspected sex offender. The only bigger loser was France.

It was a horrible performance. French presidential debates are not like ours; the set is arranged like a local-news horseshoe with the rivals seated on either flank of a pair of confused news anchors. So last week, for 2.5 hours, the citizens of France watched what appeared to be an angry, sullen sports guy arguing with a weatherman who appeared to hate the sun. Neither had even a germ of an idea to offer. Hollande kept repeating “your fault,” while Sarkozy writhed indignantly, swatting at miniature issues and ignoring the big picture because he had nothing to say except, “Help me, Angela!” The election result was surprising only in that it was much closer than the polls predicted. From an American p.o.v., it is always interesting to see a political content from which almost all social issues have been removed. Those issues are supposed to obscure reason, but in fact, the result is what we’ve just seen.

Now France is committed to a government that promises to reduce debt by creating more of it. It’s a continuation of the same old postwar deal: You give the state all your money, and in return you’ll get a nation going bankrupt providing all the goods and services a massive, expensive bureaucracy under the protection of public-service unions can provide, but at an artificial price. In the new France, if the government can pay the printers’ wages, money will come from printing presses – and, if they take Paul Krugman’s hint, those bills might be worthless francs. Krugman is now joining the call for the break-up of the eurozone, followed by devaluation. It’s back to the future! Smart investors are flocking to loaves of bread and wheelbarrows.

In these elections, taxpayers are asked all the hard questions. Check here if you prefer “austerity” and hard work, or here, if you’d like economic fantasy with lots of days off. So now only Angela Merkel can stop the slide into devaluations and defaults. Politically, she’s trying to convince her constituents that one for all does not mean the pockets of German workers should be emptied for the sake of holding together a union of Europeans who are increasingly unlike themselves. As the Hoover Institution’s Paul Roderick Gregory observes in Forbes, “early accounts suggest that wealthy French businessmen have begun moving their assets out of France. If France’s own citizens react in that way, I can imagine what the international bond vigilantes will do. In the meantime, we can sit on the sidelines and watch Hollande test drive Obama’s election platform.” Ditch ahead.

Denis BoylesDennis Boyles is a writer, editor, former university lecturer, and the author/editor of several books of poetry, travel, history, criticism, and practical advice, including Superior, Nebraska (2008), Design Poetics (1975), ...


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