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mardi 29 mai 2012

What Hollande means for France, through the New Yorker's eyes

Sometimes your blogger finds it useful, and less depressing, to take a different spin on world events. And so, to look over what Adam Gopnik of the New Yorker thinks of France's new president, François Hollande. Since so much of the coverage of the elections in the American press focused on the mistaken idea that Hollande's mild manner somehow meant he was inexperienced, Gopnik's more nuanced view-point was a pleasant surprise.

He made several points, worth considering:
  • Hollande is a sort of anti-Sarkozy. While Americans might be comfortable with Sarkozy, may French people are less so. “Sarkozy seemed merely showy, and his energy, over time, merely antic and self-pleasing.”
Elections are decided not only on the merits of the candidates' programs, but also on how they are perceived. While Sarkozy promised changes, French voters were not pleased by his period in office and also important, were not pleased by the image he gave of their country.
  • “Professional worriers worry about the prominence of the political extremes in France—and it’s hard not to worry when their parties take a third of the vote—but that vote wasn’t quite as large, or as big a deal, as it might seem.” Gopnik considers Le Pen and Mélenchon, and their seemingly extreme ideas.
Part of how Americans see politics in other countries is influenced by their familiarity with the two-party system and the fact that it seems to be the “normal” and others are an aberration. Now, there is no reason that everyone needs to have a two-party system, and as various pundits mention regularly in the New York Times, having such a system leads to polarization and makes compromise more difficult. As much as some of Le Pen's public statements may be incendiary or racist, the presence of extremes in the French electoral field is only important if their agenda is implemented, an issue of concern in Sarkozy's politics, particularly towards immigrants.
  • Then Gopnik raises a good point: “What would an actual, honest-to-God Socialist President do in office? Probably not anything particularly socialist—nationalizing the means of production or the like—but, rather, something more along the lines of striking a protective stance.”
Thirty years ago, Mitterrand assumed office and nationalized some industries, but it's hard to imagine that happening today. Other changes might seem slightly more possible; during Mitterrand's term, there was an opening towards diversity, with campaigns like the anti-racist Marche des Beurs in 1983 or “Touche pas à mon pôte.” Since issues concerning the presence of immigrants (or people perceived as immigrants) continues to be a hot-button issue and the Right have played into it, perhaps the election of a Socialist heralds an easing of racial and communitarian tension.
  • Then Gopnik plunges into an examination of American schadenfreude at the problems Europe grapples with during the current economic crisis :
    “A continent torn by the two most horrible wars in history achieved a remarkable half century of peace and prosperity, based on a marriage of liberalism properly so called (individual freedoms, including the entrepreneurial kind) and socialism rightly so ordered (as an equitable care for the common good). Any pleasure taken in the failure of Europe to expunge all its demons threatens to become one more way of not having to examine our own. A mild-mannered, European-minded citizen king is, at least, better than a passionately convinced exceptionalist. France, and Europe, learned that lesson the hard way.” 
Hollande has only just taken office and so this blogger will give him the customary hundred days before making any pronouncements on the direction his government is taking. However, of great interest will be how a Socialist-led France deals with the crises of international affairs, and with former colonies and protectorates in particular.

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