This past weekend, the French elected François Hollande to be their new president. Hollande will become the first Socialist president of France in 17 years, following the terms of Jacques Chirac and Nicolas Sarkozy. The Socialists have long been a force in French politics, so this is not earth-shaking news, albeit welcome to the millions of people who sought a change from their current regime.
To Americans, the term socialist is of course an insulting epithet. This is a shame and a delusion, since to be a socialist in France is akin to being for worker’s rights in America. They are perhaps a bit to the left of Britain’s Labour Party. And Hollande, the party standard-bearer and new president of the republic is anything but an outsider. He attended l’École Nationale d’Administration, one of the Grande Écoles (great schools) of France.
ÉNA is responsible for educating the civil servants of France and with few exceptions has provided the top leaders of French government for decades. Ironically, Nicolas Sarkozy, so reviled by the left for his cronyism and nepotism, is not a graduate of such a school, one of the first such outsiders in high French politics.
Hollande will now await the results of the upcoming parliamentary elections to gauge how much, if any, governing power he will have. However, he will also likely be a player, unwittingly, in another upcoming election: the United States presidential election. If ‘socialist’ is an insulting epithet, then for Americans, ‘French socialist’ is downright rude. France and America have a long-time love/hate relationship (think Freedom Fries and “Cheese Eating Surrender Monkeys” on the one side and a raft of romantic comedies set in Paris on the other.) That relationship will undoubtedly rear its uglier head as the presidential campaign ramps up.
By the right, President Obama will certainly be tied to Hollande as a kindred political spirit. Our cigarette-smoking, wine-drinking, Ivy League-intellectual president will be featured as just the kind of person who would feel right at home drinking Bordeaux and eating baguettes at Élysée Palace with comrade-in-arms Hollande and his ‘civil partner.’ In the course of the campaign, Obama will be cast as a socialist but surely the coming invective will not stop there, but will include communist, Nazi, Muslim, and terrorist-sympathizer.
By the left, Mitt Romney will be tied to his past. As part of the Mormon elite, this past includes his Mormon missionary time which was spent living in luxurious digs in the très chic 16th arrondissement of Paris. On top of this, Romney has also spent time speaking French, video of which will certainly surface in a national ad campaign. Romney will be further tarnished as part of the same 1% that Nicolas Sarkozy spent his career forging links with and eventually marrying. Romney will be cast as an out-of-touch elitist, a cult-member, a shape-shifter, and a waffler who earned millions by firing people through the take-over company he co-founded, Bain Capital.
All of this will be done at the expense of the candidates actually engaging each other and voters with real issues. If there was ever a campaign in which the candidates had reason to avoid real issues, this is it. Nonetheless, the American voter deserves better. President Barack Obama is not a Socialist. Like François Hollande (and Mitt Romney for that matter) he is a middle-of-the-road pragmatist who wants the best for the American people. Mitt Romney is not an extremist, even if he is part of the 1%. But he is a businessman and in big business, people win and lose. There will be a lot of losers if he becomes president.
If there was ever a time to question the rhetoric that our politicians and their shadowy backers throw into the airwaves, that time is now. Don’t buy into the epithets, the undermining, the fear, and the lies. Listen closely and perhaps you will hear in the multitude of words that will be spoken, something of greatness; be inspired to act according to your conscience in the voting booth. Unfortunately, in too many elections, the idea of ‘the other’ often rears its ugly head. Remember that when François Hollande makes his appearance and think of this quote:
“Patriotism is when love of your own people comes first; nationalism, when hate for people other than your own comes first.” — Charles de Gaulle.