Seven reasons to pay attention to the French election.
1. A woman running for president. Socialist standard-bearer Sigolene Royal made a plea to women voters to support her out of gender solidarity. They didn't. 52 percent of female voters cast their ballots for Mr. Sarkozy, compared with 48 percent for Ms. Royal. Hillary, are you paying attention?
2. The husband issue. Royal's long-time life-partner and father of her four children is the head of the French Socialist party. He's a hugely powerful politician. During the campaign, the couple publicly clashed on a number of important issues, undercutting her persona of being independent and self-directed. Bill, are you listening?
3. The return of the moderates. In the first round of elections, self-described centralist candidate Francois Bayrou came out of nowhere, almost winning a spot in the final round of voting. His hugely popular political campaign advocated a new era of politics based on unity and the middle-way: not too conservative, and not too socialist. In short, the politics of political consensus. Do American voters desire the same? John Edwards and Mike Huckabee are betting they do.
4. Wedge politics. After taking a thumping in the first round of elections, far-right ideologue Jean-Marie Le Pen called for his supporters to boycott the second round. The result? Voter turnout in the all-important second round was over 84%, the highest in decades. Does this signify an end to wedge politics? If so, goodbye Newt.
5. Immigration. This is a hot-button issue in France, maybe even bigger than it is in our country. Yet the most outspoken advocate of clamping down on immigration, Jean-Marie Le Pen, pulled down less than 10% of first round votes. Nicholas Sarkozy, an advocate of 'tough but fair' immigration reform, is now the elected president. Come 2008, where will the American people stand on this issue? Exile 12 million people or figure out a way to allow a reasonable level of immigration?
6. Social programs. The French have hugely generous and comprehensive social programs. They have a liberal welfare system, a compassionate retirement program and a fantastic socialized medical system. It's all very amazing. In fact, it's too good to be true. The costs of maintaining these programs is generating massive national debt. The French seem to be turning slightly away from Socialist-flavored, collectivist solutions and considering the benefits of more Anglo-Saxon type economic liberalism. In what direction will we choose to turn in 2008?
7. Foreign affairs. Immediately after winning the election, Nicholas Sarkozy had a special message for France's American friends. "I want to tell them that France will always be by their side when they need her, but that friendship is also accepting the fact that friends can think differently."
Does this mean we expect an earthshaking change in French-American relations? Sarkozy went on to criticize the United States for obstructing the fight against global warming which he said would be a high priority for his new government. That's not likely to play well in the Bush White House. And Sarkozy's position on Iraq? Don't bother to ask. Le plus ca change le plus ca le meme chose.
... How's that working for ya?