Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Thoughts on France's Weekend

First, from the BBC, a story on this weekend's French presidential election that reports that 8% of French Muslims plan to vote for National Front candidate Jean-Marie Le Pen.

Yes, the same Le Pen who has been running for many years primarily by capitalizing on French anger at immigrants, who are largely Muslim.

The reason for the 8% appears to be some weird, unholy alliance of people who object to gay men kissing on television.

So, they um, agree on that part anyway.

All awe at some voters aside, the upcoming election is an important one. Conservative Nicolas Sarkozy holds a small lead over Socialist Segolene Royal and surprise UDF center-right candidate Francois Bayrou. Le Pen has significant support, but is unlikely make it to the second round runoff voting on May 6th.

It is important I think that either Sarkozy or Bayrou win the race. Most French people know that the oppressive welfare state they've put themselves under is hurting their economic prospects and fueling civil unrest, and that it needs reform. But are they willing to vote for that reform? Under Royal, who is an attractive candidate in more ways than one, advocates a platform that would only make the hole deeper.

She has also been prone to numerous gaffes that to me indicate her unreadiness for this position. From the New York Times last week:

Eric Besson, her former chief economic adviser, quit over differences with her, then savaged her in a book published weeks later. He described her as making decisions solo, improvising policies without forethought and then portraying herself as the victim of a male-dominated news media to gain an advantage.

“I think, in all conscience, that Ségolène Royal should not become president of the republic,” he wrote. “I do not wish it for my country. I fear it for my children.”

Ms. Royal also has been criticized for trivializing the issues. At a women’s forum sponsored by Elle magazine last week, for example, she announced her three priorities for women: ending violence against women, securing more government aid for preschool children and putting the remains of Olympe de Gouges, the 18th-century feminist, into the Panthéon. The audience groaned.

During a campaign trip on March 30, Ms. Royal announced a new government-subsidized initiative to put unemployed youths to work, only to be attacked by her own camp and the far left for coming up with a warmed-over version of the government’s doomed job creation initiative put forth last year.

Ms. Royal has been most gaffe-prone on foreign policy terrain. On a visit to China in January, she visited the Great Wall, wearing white, the color of mourning in China.

Last Thursday, in discussing the fate of two Frenchmen held hostage by the Taliban in Afghanistan, she called for United Nations-imposed penalties for rulers like the Taliban, as if unaware that the Islamic extremists had been ousted in 2001.

When the interviewer pointed out that the Taliban were no longer in power, Ms. Royal ignored him and moved on.

Sarkozy and Bayrou are more serious candidates, and would at least have France start taking its medicine.

No candidate is likely to embrace America and drastically improve relations, but Sarkozy would improve them most. This would be a great asset to have in place for our next president, likely any of whom would also seek to improve our relations with France.

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