The Corner

How Do French Socialists Resemble American Republicans?

Henry Samuels’s lengthy recap of the growing dissatisfaction with ex-reformer Nicolas Sarkozy in this morning’s Telegraph makes some very fine points, and brushes against some even finer.

The anti-reform strikes in Paris and elsewhere last week (I mentioned it here) would be thinned considerably if those participating in them and those supporting them thought there might be a real chance the protests would succeed. French government workers will always protest reform. But the French people know they need reform. (That was the meaning of the 2007 Sarkozy victory. Millions of French voters said, “Change us! Somehow.”) However, the more effective the reform, the bigger the protest. It’s confusing, but there are stranger ways of showing love. Besides, protests aren’t elections. Yet.

Samuels points out that most French voters are so fed up with Sarkozy they would like to see a return to power by the Socialists, a party of earnest dullards whose idea of reform is to take a day off work. It’s a thought, but not a likely outcome. There there are three things standing between a Sarkozy now and a Socialist then.

One is that it’s a non-specific desire. Everybody’s fed up with Sarko. Not so much because he’s doing pension reform — something that will fill the streets, but also something that most people know needs to happen — but because he’s no longer seen as the reformer he promised he’d be. Pension reform is a no-brainer. What people want to know is what happened to the more sweeping pro-market reforms that were promised but never materialized. Instead of forcing those, Sarkozy filled his cabinet with political yes-folk. There are now more énarques — men and women trained in élite schools to suck the life from any new notion that threatens privilege — in government than there were during Chirac’s addled presidency. Instead of reform, he’s choppering into immigrant neighborhoods to give pep-talks to cops and donating Romanian holidays to gypsies.

The second thing the Socialists need in order upset Sarkozy is an idea. They only idea they have going for them is that none of them are married to Carla Bruni.

The third thing the Socialists need to win in 2012 is a candidate. The normal reservoir of political insiders is unappealing to say the least: Ségolène Royal may be plenty scenic, but she speaks and unconsciousness ensues; she makes John Boehner, who ever he is, look like a man of vision. There just isn’t a plausible anti-Sarkozy candidate, and there isn’t likely to be one. Because of the eccentricities of French media and politics, the emergence of a redemptive grass-roots Socialist candidate would be squashed faster than Peggy Noonan could say, “Oh, grow up.”

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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