Hollande's victory long-term pain 0
France's newly-elected President Francois Hollande waves from a balcony at his campaign headquarters in Paris May 7, 2012, the day after his election. (REUTERS/Jean-Paul Pelissier)
Some journalists swooned over France's new socialist president François Hollande. Reuters news agency said he'd "swept to victory ... in a swing to the left at the heart of Europe," while the Globe and Mail crowed about "historic regime change" as though the French had overthrown a murderous tyrant rather than voting out a clown. Put away the champagne. There is nothing to celebrate here.
Not even a "sweep to victory." Would they use such language if a conservative won by 3.2%? Still, behind the overheated rhetoric the stories had a point. Hollande offered an alternative to austerity that many French people wanted and not entirely without reason.
The general feeling of European voters is that the Establishment led them into economic quicksand and has no plan for getting them out. As Reuters rightly noted after its victory dance, "Sarkozy, punished for his failure to rein in 10% unemployment and for his brash personal style, was the 11th euro zone leader in succession to be swept from power since the currency bloc's debt crisis began in 2009."
So yes, Europeans feel swindled by "austerity." But the real swindle goes way back before 2009. For three generations they were told surrendering national sovereignty would let money rain from the sky so governments could spend more than there was on social programs that didn't work.
Debt rained down instead. And when the financial crisis hit, exposing rather than causing the fiscal sinkhole of Europe's welfare state, the Establishment, left and right alike, said the only reasonable option was to remain calm, stop struggling and drown slowly. This dismal, brainless program left ample room for the loony left, loony right and simply loony to attract support.
Revealingly, Hollande defeated Sarkozy by only 1.4% in the first round of the French presidential election while Marine Le Pen's National Front finished third with more than 17%.
Since her party is generally identified as far right, you'd think Sarkozy would draw enough of its voters to win the runoff. He didn't, because National Front supporters are defined more by feeling dispossessed than by any defined political philosophy. And they are far from alone.
In Greece, mainstream right and left partnered on "austerity" and now struggle to keep enough seats to govern jointly. In Italy, fringe parties of the left, right and merely comic just made huge gains in local elections.
Such voting is understandable. But not smart. François Hollande's declared wish "to be the long-awaited successor to François Mitterrand" suggests that he thinks thrashing madly will let the French defy the laws of gravity and rise up out of the ooze. In fact, they will simply drown sooner.
The Globe and Mail quoted a "centrist" associate that many of Hollande's proposals "are only symbolic." Then it murmured soothingly that his scary suggestion to renegotiate the euro bailout treaty "may not be as cataclysmic as it seems. His proposal is to raise government spending limits in order to shift from debt-cutting austerity into growth-spurring spending." Oh, just that?
It makes little sense to reproach the left for pandering to people's fantasies about repealing the laws of economics. But the right waited decades for vindication against the Keynesian welfare state. Then, in their moment of triumph, all they could think of was to make the existing system less generous but not more efficient, offering voters short-term pain for ... long-term pain.
It is not surprising that so many said no. But what they chose instead was acute long-term pain starting right away. Put away the booze, and get ready for stronger medicine.