Friday, Dec 19, 2014
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Reiniers: The French Connection - Hope for America?

BY JOHN REINIERS
More Than Words

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French President Francois Hollande has taken an astonishing turn to the political right after the voters spoke.

In the post-war era, French politics has been a precursor for the American political left. It would be useful for Americans to understand its machinations.

We have historical ties to France. They were an important ally of the United States during the Revolutionary War against British rule. Our independence was followed by their own revolution in 1789, pitting the French people against their government and culminating in the abolition of the French monarchy and the bloody Reign of Terror in 1793. Then came the dictatorship and military adventures of Napoleon, with France's defeat in 1815. They have seen it all. Fortunately we took a different path. And France's storied history of military failures also was evidenced in World War I and World War II, both of which cost many American lives.

Yet the American left never stopped admiring French culture and its militant socialism. It is estimated that 50,000 American ex-patriots live in Paris alone. (All Americans love movies filmed in Paris, and the long line of French entertainers and film stars who have inhabited the screen through the decades.)

Socialism itself had its origins in the French Revolution, evolving as the French intelligentsia criticized the poverty and inequality brought about by the Industrial Revolution.

In the modern era France has had its share of egomaniacal leaders such as Charles De Gaulle, who once casually remarked: "When I want to know how France thinks, I ask myself." This attitude is not unlike our president who believes he is more in touch with mainstream American values than the people or the Congress. He has the executive orders to prove it.

Socialist François Hollande won the presidential election in a landslide in 2012 with coattails that gave socialists total control in 21 out of 22 provinces, and all major cities. Running on an anti-austerity program similar to President Obama and the liberal progressives, he brought thankful tears to the faithful by promising a 35-hour work week, taxing the rich at 75 percent, higher taxes on corporations, lowering the retirement age to 60, hiring 60,000 more teachers and increasing federal government payrolls.

All this in a country whose government manages to spend an astonishing 57 percent of its GDP, compared to Germany at 45 percent and the United States at 39 percent. France now has record unemployment at near 11 percent. The French newspaper Le Monde recently reported that 22 percent of those under age 35 still are out of work three years after leaving school.

In May 2013, France entered its second recession in four years. Businesses started fleeing France. Incredibly, by the fall of 2013, not even one third of the French approved of Hollande's job performance. What a swift turnaround in public opinion.

One could ask what France's failed economy has to do with the United States, but Hollande himself said, when elected: "You could say that Obama and I have the same advisers." It looks as though Hollande, a life-long government functionary, now realizes he made a serious mistake.

Local elections in March were a disaster for Hollande.

In a speech on March 31, Hollande shocked France's socialists when announcing a complete right turn: "I've heard your message; it's clear - not enough jobs; too much unemployment; too many taxes." Wow! What a confession for a politician. No spin. Hollande continued: "Today it's time to begin a new chapter. ... so I've entrusted Manuel Valls with the mission of leading the French government."

Equally as stunning as Hollande's confession of failure was his selection for prime minister. Valls is Spanish-born and didn't become a French citizen until age 20. To say he was disliked by his own party would be putting it mildly. He once shocked his party by recommending they delete the word "socialist" from its name because, "It doesn't mean anything anymore." He received only 6 percent of the vote in the 2011 primary. No wonder. He was against the 35-hour work week and is viewed as a conservative by the base. In his maiden speech to the French parliament he vowed to cut both taxes, spending and the deficit! And this guy is a socialist?

In spite of economic policies completely at variance with Hollande's own campaign promises, Hollande selected him as prime minister. Amazing.

Even though Vall's speech amounted to a repudiation of socialist values - and, I would argue, Obama's and liberal progressives' also - BBC Europe reported Valls actually got a vote of confidence after his speech. He is viewed as a right-wing Social Democrat - akin to a U.S. "Blue-Dog" Democrat. Astonishingly, Valls polled at a 61 percent approval rate by the electorate after his selection, but his boss - the president who appointed him - polls at a dismal 25 percent!

Think of President Obama when you read what the German Spiegel International said after the historic new low for French Socialists in the just-held local elections: "It was an expression of the voters' frustrations with the bad economy, the seemingly amateurish performance of their government and the elusive president. . On election day these feelings turned into anger."

"Elusive" is a shorthand description for the lack of leadership. That describes Obama. "Amateurish" is also how many political experts would also describe the Obama administration, and "frustration" aptly describes the majority of Americans. So the question arises as to whether these feelings will turn into anger by the time of our elections in November 2014 and in 2016

John Reiniers is a retired lawyer and regular contributor who lives in Spring Hill. Email him at jbreiniers@yahoo.com.

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