Sunday, May 6, 2007
A look forward
Sorry it took so long to get back, there were some technical difficulties. This was a night filled with statements. First Royal graciously accepted defeat, then Sarkozy spoke, then Royal again spoke from a balcony, and finally, UDF candidate Francois Bayrou, who had the last word on his own political fortunes.
But rhetoric does not naturally translate into practice. Nicolas Sarkozy now must prove himself, making sometimes painful economic reform palatable and sustainable in terms of public opinion, reinvigorating US-France relations without becoming the next Tony Blair, and dealing with a host of other domestic and international issues that are not pressing but still crucial. Sarkozy does not and will not succeed in everything, but he is being elected on a promise of competence, and that will demand quick results of some kind.
In many ways we have had mixed impressions and messages from Sarkozy. He is the son of an immigrant who wants to crack down on immigration, but who has at the same time suggested affirmative action and other initiatives to integrate the unemployed/underemployed minorities. He wants to cut state jobs and liberalize the labor market, but will not hesitate to interfere in the name of economic nationalism. He once called Frances stance in advance of the Iraq war "arrogant", but then praised it. The real Sarkozy will only be revealed overtime, for better or for worse.
Royal will also have a chance to prove herself. With her stunning primary victory, she gave her party a whole new criteria with which to choose candidates, at the risk of sounding cliche, the whole process became more Americanized, realizing that exciting personality is a key component in a democratic leader. Some thought she might become a French John Kennedy. She didnt. But she is still a relatively young woman in political terms, and can still accomplish a great deal if she wished to.
The great thing about democracy is that although it is hard to find great leaders, getting rid of bad ones is easy (unless Le Pen gets into the second round). If five years hence Sarkozy has reneged on his promises in face of pressure from the street, or enacted reform that has genuinely harmed the French way of life, he can be removed. Whether there are good alternatives is the task of the French left and center for the next five years.