April 23, 2007
Left vs. Lefter
This past weekend,
France voted in yet another attention grabbing presidential election.
While he was a candidate, right wing extremist Jean-Marie Le Pen was not
the most controversial figure on the ballot. This year, it is Segolene
Royal, Socialist and first female contender for the position.
If there is one
thing that American and French political cultures share, it is a deep
division over a woman seeking power. Yet from an American point of view,
the difference in opinion over gender may be the most profound the
In comparison, the
leaders entering the final election represent different areas on the
political spectrum – left and . . . lefter.
Not to dismiss or
mitigate the importance of the issues facing the French people, but to
an outsider they are at times almost undistinguishable. For example, the
role of the welfare state, a phrase no smart American politician will
ever use in public, is the leading concern in the election.
The question of
whether there should even be a welfare state is still very pertinent and
much discussed on this side of the Atlantic. Although it varies from
election to election, the candidate’s position on abortion, military
spending and gay marriage tend to be the hot-button issues. Elections in
this country are not decided by education spending.
Some of the key
promises put forth by the French presidential hopefuls, on the other
hand, concern private rent caps in housing and tough, clearly
libertarian-spirited reforms like cutting the benefits for those
rejecting work and giving the citizens the right, yes, a right, to work
more than 35 hours a week.
Somehow, it is
difficult to imagine Hillary and Barak, and much less one of the two
and, say, John McCain, have a heated debate about whether we should
permit people to work overtime. There would be some heated discussion
over who should have a permit to work and how much of the wages should
go to the state. Nevertheless, no American politician is going to try to
protect her constituents from seeking employment and contributing to the
It is therefore
confusing and amusing at the same time to read European news sources
that hail an upcoming battle between the right and the left. You get to
the last paragraph and think, “How convenient! The liberal media got
only one side of the story again!”
That is not to say
that the French election should be taken lightly. The country’s reliance
on nuclear power and increasing intensity of squabbles with the European
Union have led some candidates to propose the creation of a
Mediterranean Union that would include France, Spain, Portugal, Italy,
Greece and Cyprus. The omission of Turkey is not accidental. Thus, some
issues familiar to the American voter, including strained relations with
a predominantly Muslim country and a female commander-in-chief, are also
on the agenda.
grapple with these topics may be an interesting learning experience for
us. The stark differences between the French and American political
cultures may provide us with examples of what we should not do given the
distinction, bringing us closer to determining what we should.
© 2007 North Star
Writers Group. May not be republished without permission.
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