The Embedded Ambivalence of Democracy Appears
Here in the United States, as we gear up for our own set of elections in 2012, our normally ‘self-centered’ gaze will turn even more inward as we focus on our problems and scrutinize our own political leaders. Necessarily, it seems, the discourse will feature, as it seems to do often, the populist lingo which often informs our intense national identity as an America in a world of strangers and not neighbors.
However, the reality is that that the United States has a number of neighbors who (though they don’t always see eye-to-eye) seem to get us in one way or another. One such neighbor is France. While it seems the worst of our national chauvinism is directed at this Western European (used-to-be) powerhouse, we do have an undeniable friendship, which, as anyone who takes a basic American History course knows, goes way back.
France is our partner in NATO, an economic homie, and believe it or not a close societal relative. We share many of the same sociopolitical issues. So it seems important for us to pay attention to the goings-on of French Politics.
For starters, just yesterday, Sunday, May 6, 2012, Francois Hollande, the leader of the French Socialist Party (center-left/social democrat), just won the presidential election. He snubbed the incumbent, leader of the center-right UMP (Union pour un Mouvement Populaire), beating Nicolas Sarkozy 51% to 48%.
To the American eye and ear, hearing that a socialist candidate won the Presidency of one of the world’s most influential countries might stir alarm. However, such an alarm would be the fault of our own hegemonic ignorance.
Despite the warning of the April 28th publication of The Economist of “The rather dangerous Monsieur Hollande” the truth is, Francois Hollande is not a real socialist; he’s just a little to the left of Obama and that’s not very far left at all. Tracy McNoll’s response article in The Daily Beast entitled “Would Francois Hollande Really Be a ‘Dangerous’ French Leader?” echoes this assessment.
The kind of distrust associated with words like “socialism” and “Marxism” in the United States is rooted in the shameful history of McCarthyism and has been revamped by the unfortunate likes of Allan West who not only thinks there’s something morally wrong with the salient observations of Karl Marx, but worse, thinks anyone who advocates progressive taxes as a social responsibility is actually a foot soldier of the writer of the Communist Manifesto.
These seemingly baseless sentiments are actually echoes of a ‘conservatisation’ which has taken place in the United States with the rise of the Tea Party – a part of a larger polarization which saw the rise of the Occupy Movement, which entertained among its confines, real, live socialists (not terrible people). Oddly, a similar nation-wide polarization has taken place in France with the strengthening of the Front National, behind the candidacy of Marine Le Pen who wants to halt immigration because she believes France should be for the French and that Islamic values are going to take over. During this last Presidential election in France, she rounded up 20% of the Nationwide vote, splitting France’s right wing and forcing a run-off election which resulted in Hollande’s election.
With the upcoming summer parliamentary election, 20% of the nation’s ballots means that the FN could be occupying a significant amount of elbow room in the national law-making framework. France will undoubtedly feel this heavy pull from the right and its policies may reflect this in, if nothing else, a nullification of the left-wing’s efforts.
Such a move has been alleged of the Right in the United States, in Robert Draper’s new book, “Do Not Ask What Good We Do: Inside the U.S. House of Representatives.”
But what do these election seasons in these two amicable countries mean for one another?
France may very well see the mobilization of an energized right-wing like that of the Tea Party and others during Pres. Obama’s first term. Just as Pres. Obama’s presidency has coincided with an economic downturn, stimulating ready-made criticisms and valid ones alike, the European Union’s current struggles may enable conservatives like Le Pen to pin blame on Hollande non-stop and in truth mis-steps on his part could have exaggerated consequences which contributes to the right-wing push back.
As was the intention of Pres. Sarkozy to shift to the right to collect some of Le Pen’s votes, the new weight in France’s far right wing, could encourage Hollande to position himself firmly in the center, as Barack Obama has done. But of course, Pres. Obama was avoiding more than just criticism from political opponents as a black man occupying what is rightfully a wh ite man’s position. Still, if Hollande shifts to the right to occupy a firmly centrist position, those on the far-left could feel alienated and mobilize a larger movement all their own as was done with the Occupy Movement.
What is most interesting is what this could mean for the presently divided GOP in the United States. The downfall of the French Right could be the downfall of the GOP come November. Currently, there exist 2 to 3 factions in the Republican Party which seem to have irreconcilable differences: libertarians (i.e. Ron Paul), Tea Party/ social and/or paleoconservatives (i.e. Rick Santorum, Allan West, Herman Cain), and electable conservatives (i.e. Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich… I only say Newt because he’s lasted so long and because he used to be the leader of the GOP).
Libertarians believe in the Market, want a small government, hardly any taxes, they don’t care about marijuana or prostitution, are often socially liberal, but generally don’t like affirmative action, and advocate states’ rights. Paleoconservatives also don’t like taxes, but they want their government to be big enough to say who can get married, to ban abortion, to wage war on Muslims and North Korea, and they hate when you talk about race, gender, sexual orientation, or anything other than what they know. They too advocate states’ rights, but only if it looks like most of the nation wants to legalize gay marriage. Electable Republicans don’t believe anything, but they can say anything and make it reasonably sound like they believe in it. They are rich and like big business, their policies change from place to place and time to time, but in general they are just electable whatever that means, whatever that takes.
It seems that the first two factions of the Republican party have beliefs, and strong ones at that. They always lose to the Electable Republicans and end up having to vote for them, but in reality they don’t like them. However, if Mitt Romney admits to seeing a progressive tax, or not overturning Roe v. Wade, or allowing gay people to walk down the street and ‘be gay’, or having a Muslim friend, or playing Uno with one of the ‘illegal immigrants’ who was landscaping his property for years, or wanting to spend money in a deficit as reasonable options — he might end up like Nicolas Sarkozy, wealthy and out of work. The Republican Party is radicalizing and the libertarians and paleoconservatives don’t seem to be willing to negotiate — their values are based on ‘morals’ and like Le Pen, they won’t back down. They’d rather mobilize like they have been through the Tea Party than continue to vote for ‘liberals’, ‘communists’, ‘marxists’, and ‘socialists’ like Mitt Romney, or George Bush, or Colin Powell (but he’s black anyway so he doesn’t count for the paleos).
Although Sarah Palin has faded into a lonely dusk, America might be ripe for a Marine Le Pen of its own. With Romney’s dance with Obama will draw him toward the left into the center, making him indigestible to many on the Right, could France’s conservatisation be a forecast for things to come?
Ah, who cares about the French anyway. America!