Paris in the Spring Time

“None, but people of strong passion are capable of rising to greatness” – Comte de Mirabeau

It’s 8:30 PM on Saturday, 21 April here on the east coast of the United States. That makes it 2:30 AM, Sunday 22 April in France – where polls will soon open in the first round of the French presidential election. It will be mildly interesting to watch.

The French system is an interesting one. First, all the candidates are lumped together in a free-for-all election. If none of them (there are 10 this year) wins a 50% majority, the top two are placed in a two-way run-off.

The latest polls show Socialist candidate Francois Hollande leading incumbent president Nicholas Sarkozy by something like 29%-to-24% as the front runners of the first round. Further polling shows Hollande well ahead in a head-to-head matchup. More interesting is that there are three other candidates polling in the double digits, including a Communist (that’s right) and the “far right” candidate Marine Le Pen (yet, nobody can explain to me what “far right” really means in France).

It has been my experience that politicians rarely get subtle messages from the voters. Narrow wins and narrow loses are viewed as technocratic failings. “Well, we just didn’t get our message out,” or “we had problems with turnout and the ‘ground game.'” No, for politicians to get a “we’re pissed” message from voters, it has to be embarrassing. For instance, if French voters actually boosted a second-tier candidate (most likely Le Pen) ahead of Sarkozy, the message would be pretty clear – to Sarkozy anyway. It would be a loud “we hate what you’ve done, and you still work for us … and you’re fired” message.

As one commentator pointed out recently, Walter Mondale ran on a platform of higher taxes in 1984 and won just Minnesota (his home state) and the District of Columbia; a 525-13 Electoral College whoopin’. Since then nobody has run on a platform of higher taxes. Oh, they’ve talked about higher taxes on “the massively rich” but never higher taxes in general. They, the politicians, got the message.

I doubt it will happen this time. The odds-on outcome is a Hollande-Sarkozy run-off with a Hollande victory (intrade is currently putting Sarkozy’s chance of re-election at 17%). But a Sarkozy ousting in the first round would be a grand message. As Sarkozy and Merkel toyed around with the euro and sovereign bailouts (that is, bank bailouts, eventually falling on the populace), things continued to spiral out of control. A nice round of “feedback” for failed policies would do the Europeans some good.

UPDATE: It’s now 3:00 PM on Sunday here on the east coast – meaning the polls have closed in France. The latest reports show Hollande beating Sarkozy by something like 4% or 5%, with Sarkozy perhaps 5%-7% ahead of Le Pen. This is about as expected from polling, and a real shame for the French people. Hollande (the socialist) will now likely roll on to win the run-off election (May 6) and view the whole deal as an endorsement of his socialist policies. I suppose socialism is a touch better than corporate, bank-owned fascism (the kind that Sarkozy, Merkel, and Obama promote), but it hardly ranks up there as a step toward freedom.

The election basically gives the French two bad choices: they either get a socialist, who advocates a 75% top tax bracket and 45% for anything over 150,000 euros; OR they give tacit approval to the bank-run fascism of Sarkozy/Merkel/Obama. Can you imagine the “green light” Merkel and the rest of the eurocrats would see in a Sarkozy victory? This is a lose-lose.

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