The most salient fact about the French elections is the degree to which they show a France that is moving steadily to the right. "Sixty-five per cent to the right, in fact," as I am told by Louis Dreyfus of the Nouvel Observateur. Only 30 percent of even the dwindling blue-collar electorate can now be counted upon to vote Socialist or Communist. The surprise "centrist" figure in the contest, Francois Bayrou, is an upper-crust Catholic from the elite ranks of Giscard d'Estaing's rump conservative faction. The front-runner, Nicolas Sarkozy, is a "law-and-order" hard-liner who promises to get tough with young Muslim slum-dwellers and rioters. The superficially glamorous Socialist, Segolene Royal, who got the nomination only by forcefully repudiating her party's Old Left, has pitched herself as the spokeswoman for the holy trinity of the tricolor, the Marseillaise, and Joan of Arc.
M. Le Pen smirks broadly and says that everyone is moving his way in one form or another. And he isn't completely bluffing. There is a reason why the French Communist Party, which used to dominate the working class, the unions, and much of the lumpen intelligentsia, is now a spent force that represents perhaps 3 percent of the electorate. And that reason, uncomfortable as it may be, is that most of the Communist electorate defected straight to the National Front. Moreover, as Louis Dreyfus adds rather gloomily, none of Le Pen's last-time voters (who put him in the second round against Chirac and knocked the Socialist candidate out of the race) have any reason not to vote the same way this time.....
All this comes at a time when the French political elite is discredited and enervated to an amazing degree. There is general agreement that the country cannot afford any more featherbedding, but the Socialist program is only the most egregious in promising to pay people more than they earn. Anti-Americanism has reached a point of diminishing returns. A society that has benefited hugely from EU subsidies now resents the very bureaucracy at whose tit it has so long nursed. Amazing insularity is demonstrated in almost every presidential debate, with Mme. Royale the most astonishing in her apparent innocence of a world beyond the landlocked French district of Poitou of which she is regional president. (In the latest of many gaffe-strewn interviews, she seemed to be blissfully unaware that the Taliban was no longer the official government of Afghanistan. And which French Socialist does not know how to snigger at George Bush for his lack of sophistication in foreign affairs!)....
I don't think it is sufficiently appreciated that France has now become the most conservative major country in Europe, where different defenses of the status quo are at war only with different forms of nostalgia and even outright reaction.
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