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The benefits of this massive borrowing and spending spree have been far from obvious. French unemployment is now at a 13-year high of almost 10 percent, while public debt has spiked to 90 percent of France’s annual output – up from 64 percent as recently as 2007. Sarkozy is still commonly described as “right-wing” in the foreign press, but there is nothing specifically conservative about his policy agenda. Those who backed him in 2007 based on his promises of economic reform feel understandably betrayed.
They’re not the only ones. In France’s fractured electorate, aversion to Sarkozy for his real and imagined sins now seems to be the closest thing to a national unifier, notes Michel Gurfinkiel, president of the Jean Jacques Rousseau Institute, a Paris-based European think tank. “The Left hates him for being (or pretending to be) a supporter of supply-side economics. Rightwing nationalists and Leftwing anti-globalists hate him for being a cosmopolite, a Jew (allegedly), and an Atlantist. Immigrants hate him for opposing illegal immigration, Muslims for being a Zionist (allegedly),” Gurfinkiel told Front Page.
Bleak as things are, not all is lost for Sarkozy. The silver lining in the first round of voting may be the surprisingly strong third-place showing of the far-right National Front candidate Marine Le Pen, daughter of the party’s founder, Jean-Marie Le Pen. If National Front’s voters switch their support to Sarkozy on the second ballot, Sarkozy could be reelected by a narrow margin. That outcome is not assured, however. Polls suggest that a large number of Le Pen’s supporters will abstain in the second round rather than support Sarkozy or Hollande. As one National Front adviser pungently put it, choosing between Hollande and Sarkozy would be like “voting for the plague or cholera.”
Grumbling aside, the choice is still a significant one. As much as Sarkozy has fallen short of expectations, Hollande could be even worse. For one thing, his political platform is decidedly radical. As well as backing a monthly minimum wage in excess of $2,200, Hollande is calling for a reversal of the 62-year retirement age, and a confiscatory 75 percent top income rate. And while that might seem like the stuff of unreconstructed socialist fantasy, Hollande would have a good chance of implementing it. Michel Gurfinkiel notes that if Hollande is elected president, the socialist left will likely also sweep the National Assembly in elections one month later. France would then have a socialist president, a socialist Assembly, a socialist Senate, socialist administrations in almost all provinces, and socialist mayors in most big cities. It would be a “one-party country,” Gurfinkiel says. “There would be no breaks on the Left whatsoever.”
In the days ahead, Sarkozy will have to find some way to rally an electorate that doesn’t seem inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt. His best argument may be that, bad as he has been for France, the alternative would be worse still.
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