Wednesday, January 31, 2007

French anti-Americanism now part of the presidential campaign

Nicholas Sarkozy: Card carrying American neo-conservative? That's what French voters are being told by the Socialist party. Which in France is about as damning as finding a rat in the bouillabaisse.

The IHT's Roger Cohen has a piece ($) on France's anti-Americanism and how the Socialists have incorporated it into their campaign. Evidently, the Socialist party feels France is willing to swallow just about any tripe about America.
[...] Being the anti- France, the United States, it often seems, cannot be seen for what it is. So freighted is America with meaning, it ceases to be visible. It becomes an abstraction shaped by prejudice rather than a country intelligible through experience. It serves a purpose at the price of being severed from itself.

These reflections stirred on reading an eloquent example of Gallic delusion: the statement just published by Ségolène Royal's Socialist Party about Nicolas Sarkozy, her chief opponent in the French presidential election. This 87-page work amounts to a relentless exercise in Sarkozy-bashing through his depiction as that incarnation of menace: a card-carrying crypto-American.

Entitled "The Worrying 'Quiet Rupture' of Mr. Sarkozy," and displayed on, the party's home page, the work begins by asking: "Is France ready to vote in 2007 for an American neo-conservative carrying a French passport?"

That gets the ball rolling. The party's core argument runs roughly as follows: America is bad, Sarkozy is its agent, ergo he is dangerous. The publication really has little more to say about Royal's center-right rival.

One chapter is entitled "Nicolas Sarkozy or the Clone of Bush." A memorable sentence, among many such gems, says: "Yesterday Europe was importing jeans, coke, rock 'n' roll and cinema from the United States. Now Nicolas Sarkozy is proposing that we import God!"

Apart from shipping God from Galveston to Dieppe and so destroying the lay French state, Sarko is accused of heading up "a sort of French subsidiary of Bush and company." He's said to manipulate the suffering of French Jews to partisan ends and to pander with equal unscrupulousness to the sensibilities of Catholics and Muslims.

"When one listens to Sarkozy, one would think one was listening to the evangelist George W. Bush addressing Hispanics of Catholic tradition in the last campaign," the pamphlet opines.


The Socialist Party portrait of American society evokes a place rotten to the core, stricken by obesity and a high murder rate, driving exploited workers to the limits of endurance, imprisoning 2 percent of its population, engaged in a failed affirmative action experiment that has only "made a racial issue of all problems," and beset by an ominous religious fervor.

The real U.S. unemployment rate, it is preposterously suggested, is not 5.1 percent, but 9 percent. America under Bush has no interest in international law because its sole international aim is "the promotion of the American empire."

The death penalty, torture, renditions, secret prisons, short or non-existent vacations, absent or expensive health care, a Darwinian labor market and the worship of "the individualist entrepreneur" complete this happy picture of France's ally.

"It is in this," the Socialists conclude triumphantly, "that Nicolas Sarkozy sees the future of French society!"

There are a couple of problems with all this. The first is that although some of the individual claims have some merit — a health care system that leaves more than 40 million people without insurance is a bad system — the composite picture is wildly distorted, a collage of doom and gloom.

The America in which French companies from Accor to Business Objects prosper, which grows and creates jobs in ways France can only dream of, which is restlessly self- transforming rather than irksomely self-obsessed, which has assured the postwar European security from which France and the European Union have benefited — this United States is nowhere to be seen.

The second is that although Sarkozy has been happy enough at times to don the mantle of the American agent provocateur — man of action, man of movement, man unafraid to suggest you should earn more for working more — he's been rowing back of late toward the Gaullist mainstream. In this light, Bush clone sounds like quite a stretch. [...]

"The Socialist line of attack is weaker now because Sarkozy is playing the neo-Gaullist rather than the liberal card," said Stephane Rozes, a political analyst. "Moreover, America is an ambivalent rather than negative image for many in France."

That ambivalence may be tending more positive as the end of the Bush era looms and the French are able to indulge their Kennedy fantasy — the perennial notion that some JFK-like figure, in this case Barack Obama, will emerge to personify the French idea of what America ought to be. [...]

The Socialists, in their Bush obsession, cite Sarkozy's reply to a question about how, if at all, Bush differs from him. "He's been elected president twice," is Sarko's pithy response.

Say what you like about the candidate of the Union for a Popular Movement, he looks the facts in the eye, more so at least than his America- mangling detractors.
That he does. God (or whatever secular abstract the Socialists wish to invoke) help France if Royal gets into power. Any hope of meaningful change will be lost.

Fortunately, the Socialists have a lot of scaring to do in this election. Sarkozy is running a better campaign and seems to understand the mood of the public on key questions such as immigration, and law and order.

Royal in contrast is making one blunder after another on the campaign trail, while offering only platitudes, nostrums, and other warm and fuzzy promises to care for the French people. No change is required is the sub-text of her campaign; France is perfect as it is, and only minor, painless tinkering is needed.