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Tuesday, May 22, 2007

A long rambling essay about what I thought of the French election

I've been meaning to write about the recent French election since I was (sort of) there to witness France's amazing feat of not flushing itself down the toilet. At lunch with one of my professor's just before the final election he told us that he hoped France would do the right thing (translation: Vote for Sarko!) but that French people have a tendency to be a bit illogical. So he was worried. And considering moving his business out of the country if heaven forbid that nutbag socialist Sego were to win. I'm putting words in his mouth with the nutbag socialist comment but I'm pretty sure that's what he wanted to say.

In the end it wasn't really surprising that Sarko (we Americans became very fond of the "Sarko vs. Sego" terminology - it made the election sound like some kind of Godzilla vs. King Kong face off) won. Once it was announced that it would, in fact, be Sego and Sarko in the runoff most French people seemed to indicate that Sarko would most likely win, especially since Bayrou chose not to endorse either candidate (I read/heard somewhere that Sego would have needed nearly all of his votes in order to beat Sarko).

But still, before April 22nd it seemed like there was a fairly decent chance that France could end up with a truly whacked out socialist President. I only met one person who really sounded like he wanted to vote for Sarko. And I still think Sego might have won if not for Sego herself and her whole "I am a mother so you should vote for me" campaign strategy. One of the strangest things to me about French people (and, I assume, Europeans in general) is how completely comfortable they are with the word "socialist." I mean liberals in America won't even admit to being liberals, much less being socialists (which, let's face it, a lot of them are) so it was weird being in a country where people were totally open to admitting, "Yup, I'm voting for the socialist." Maybe it's my American-ness but I am totally not convinced that socialism is not just a hop, step and a skip away from communism. If anything, in my mind, it's more insidious because it pretends to be something else but it will eventually wind up in the same place. Wasn't it Khrushchev who said that the West would become communist in the end because it would creep in slowly?

This is a bit off topic, but I remember before I went to France people were telling me how great it would be for me because it would open me up and make me see how the American way of doing things isn't the only way and blah blah blah. But you know what? You want to know the real, honest to God's truth? While I do love a lot of things about France and do have a newfound affection for French people, I spent a lot of my time in France going, "What the f***?!?" Because so much of the time, their way didn't make any sense. Whatsoever. Like not even a little bit. And honestly, I think it is a lot of the things they do different from America that has them in such deep doo doo right now.

Their social welfare system is completely out of control and one of the main arguments I heard against Sarko (besides "he's a racist" which I don't think is true) is that he actually pointed out the fact that something has to change. Towards the beginning of the semester one of my professor's was talking about how France's economic woes are extremely paradoxical. On the one hand they've got this huge social welfare system that people have grown accustomed to, which you can't take away because people are accustomed to it (this is something America needs to pay attention to) but that you also can't really afford anymore because you've got so many people using (and in some cases, abusing) the system. So you raise taxes on the people who can supposedly afford it (i.e. rich people, businesses). Well rich people, for the most part, didn't get rich by being stupid and ditto for people who are running successful businesses and seeing as how globalization has made it easy for people to pick up and leave one country for another, rich people and businesses are leaving France. In one presentation given by my French classmates we learned that over 1/3 of French people who leave France are executives. Okay, so you have a severely overburdened system and the people who are stuck paying for it are getting sick of being chumps and heading for America (or wherever) leaving the government with the same bills to pay but a lot less people footing the bill. So what does the government do? Raise taxes on whoever's left. Which of course drives more of these rich people/businesses away and so on and so forth until you're left with a giant bubbling mess of who knows what.

Seems pretty hopeless no?

Is there hope for France? Is Sarko that hope? I don't know. Sarko is far from perfect. Not long before the election he made some comment that amounted to capitulating to the Taliban (saying he would withdraw French troops shortly after the Taliban made a statement threatening France if it would not withdraw its troops). So nope, Sarko is definitely not perfect. But is he better than Sego? Uh, yeah. That woman was nuts. I don't know if you guys over here heard about "participative democracy" or not, but if not let me explain it to you: Basically she had no ideas, no real platform, nothing so she thought of this gimmick - you tell me what you want me to do and I'll tell you I'll do it. Let's talk about it. Yup. The sad thing is it almost fooled them into making her their next President. Not to mention the only ideas she DID have were about how to spend more money the government doesn't have.

Am I glad the elections turned out the way they did? Sure, why not. It turned out the best it could under the circumstances I think. And I'm probably a lot happier about it than most French people are since they all were very aware of the fact that most Americans wanted Sarko to win.

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wingless was still breathing at 12:05 AM -

very interesting.
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