(St. Tropez, France) –Not only in America did a presidential election cycle kick off thispast week, but also in our alter-ego, France.
There were no grand debates about war and peace, however. Noquestions raised about this candidate trying to disguise his Muslimupbringing by joining a mainstream Christian church. No huge gamblesover the fate of the free world.
This is France, after all. So the biggest “news” of thepresidential campaign – just three months from the first round!– was the grammatical error Socialist Segolene Royal madeduring a trip to China. Or again, an offhand comment she made inParis this week in support of a visiting separatist leader fromQuebec.
France has become a profoundly frivolous nation, dedicated topleasure, and that suits many French men and women very well.
In St. Tropez this week, the movie stars and the sun-bathers havegone home. Now as the mistral whips the port into a chillyfroth, the local clothing boutiques are well into their annualhalf-price sale, and nearly everyone one of them is staffed bywannabe teenage beauty queens or by ever-tanned women in the 50s whocan still wear skin-tight jeans and boots and look stunning..
Disco Volante of James Bond fame looked positively tiny parkeddown the quai from two 135 foot Mangousta yachts registered in Nassauand the Cayman Islands (one of them called, appropriately, Don’tTouch!). How many of you have ever seen a 135 foot yacht?It’s the maritime equivalent of a ten carat diamond. –and about as expensive.
The biggest gripe among locals this week was the outrageous price offresh truffles. Alas, they’ve quadrupled from last year and aregoing for 1,000 euros a kilo – that’s $650 a pound. Whatis the world coming to?
Nicholas Sarkozy is widely touted as the front-runner for president,and that is good news for America. He is smart, he is conservative,and he understands that the protector of French prosperity is inWashington, not Brussels.
No French president is going to increase French defense spending tothe level where the French could actually deploy an army overseas anytime in the near future. Unlike the other candidates, however,Sarkozy doesn’t just know this, he says it openly with realismand clarity.
He came to Washington this past autumn – none of the localsthere noticed him much, but his visit was widely commented upon herein France. Sarkozy the pro-American, his enemies call him. And to hiscredit, he finds that title just fine.
Sarkozy began his political career three decades ago as theprotégé of Jacques Chirac. At one point, he was evendating Chirac’s daughter. He fell out first with one, then theother, and became a fierce critic of Chirac’s silly (and attimes, dangerous) anti-Americanism during the Iraq war.
Two years ago, Chirac was hoping to put an end to Sarkozy’scareer once and for all, as allegations floated in the media that hehad a secret (and illegal) overseas bank account. This perfidiousdeed came to light when a list of these secret accounts, held withClearstream in Luxembourg, surfaced in the French press.
To Chirac’s surprise, Sarkozy didn’t just bow down andsurrender; he fought back, filing a civil lawsuit for defamation.That turned the matter over to a French investigative magistrate, whobit by bit began interrogating witnesses under oath until –mince, alors! – he discovered that the whole businessappeared to have begun in 2004 ¬Ýin the privateoffice of Dominique Galouzeau de Villepin, Chirac’sswashbuckling foreign minister.
Sarkozy came out the winner, and it was Villepin’s career thattook a fatal tumble. Instead of rushing to battle on his whitecharger, a fanion with Napolean’s eagle waving in the breeze,the overwrought Prime Minister plunged to his political death atunder 20% in the polls. He recently pledged fealty to Sarkozy, forthe few centimes his support is still worth.
A very pleasant man named François Bayrou has also joined thepresidential steeple chase, and the press is falling over themselvesto push him forward. He hails from the centrist party of formerpresident Valery Giscard d’Estaign, and is a very sensible,honorable professional politician.
But French politics can get serious, and it can get ugly. And it canhave a decided negative impact on the United States, as the 2002election showed. Faced with neo-fascist leader Jean-Marie LePen inthe second round, Chirac rallied the left and won the run-off with aresounding 82% of the vote. That led him to believe –mistakenly – that he had a mandate to transform France intoAmerica’s strategic adversary and save the Middle East forFrench banks, oil companies and arms merchants,
The press would love Mr. François Bayrou to become thespoiler, and knock out Sarkozy in the first round so their realfavorite, the Socialist Segolene Royal, will face the ageing LePen inthe run-off.
That’s the scenario, folks. And unlike America’selections, we’ll know how it plays out soon enough.
Meanwhile, the French have begun to see the downside of a weakenedGeorge W. Bush. Just last week, political commentator Bernard Guettawas reviewing the Latin American tour of Iranian president MahmoudAhmadinejad, where he was squired around by Hugo Chavez ofVenezuela.
The two of them pledged to try to convince OPEC to lower productionquotos, so oil prices would return to record highs. Ah, but why didn’tAmerica do anything about all this, Monsieur Guetta wondered. Whatdid this mean? He knew the answer (after all, he is French).
“It means we are seeing the weakening of America,” hemoaned.
When America is too strong, too self-confident, and too rich, theFrench worry they will become insignificant and do everything theycan to hold us in check (as Chirac did in Iraq).
But when America becomes weak, the French start to fear for their ownsafety.
America is still the guarantor of freedom in this fallen, imperfectworld of ours. And we should never forget it.
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