French Politics In Five Minutes

As some of you may know, as we are currently pilfering through our Republican candidates like a pile of dirty left socks, France is having its own Presidential election. It is actually much the reverse of the American situation, as the sitting President is a much-mocked and incredibly unlikeable right-winger, Nicolas Sarkozy, who has made it abundantly clear that he and his gang of Ministers are not here to make friends, they are here to enforce a highly right-wing agenda. It’s up to the left here to dethrone the guy.

They have already had their primaries (within the major left party — formally known as the Socialist Party). Francois Hollande, beating out a rather lackluster panel of opponents (including his own ex-wife, awkwaaaard), has risen to the top as the one to beat Dear Leader Sarkozy. This is something of a problem, as Hollande has the general charm, panache, and ideological fortitude of a noodle you’ve left boiling for two minutes too long. A few of the other candidates, notably Martine Aubry, were briefly talked about as having the backbone it would take to stand up to the sitting President, but as she is ostensibly in possession of a vagina (and what is by all accounts an unforgivable haircut), she was stricken from the list for many French voters.

As a side note, we can hopefully all acknowledge how silly it is for some French voters (voters of any nationality really, but particularly those in Europe) to turn their nose up at female candidates. As we all know, Angela Merkel has become the de facto overlord of Europe with her tough-but-fair leadership, incredibly efficient economy, and the spine required to make Europeans give up on some of their social benefits/ 35-hour-work-weeks to get some real competition going. The average German is making less, but the country is doing much better. Can you imagine how difficult it would be to make that appealing to citizens? These are selfish human beings we’re talking about. Point is, Merkel has the biggest, sturdiest balls in the entire continent, and she’s not afraid to swing them around at all of the other foppish, aristocratic leaders when she needs to.

But I digress.

So Hollande is now up against Sarkozy — and you probably want just a touch of background about Sarko. Doing the usual Presidential thing, he didn’t make good on about 95 percent of his promises — though he seriously took a pick axe to the 35-hour-work-week, which is arguably a good thing. But what Sarkozy notably went in hard on (and this, it must be said, is the “conservative social issue” of any good European leader) is immigration. He was slick, in that he didn’t put any new laws on the books, but he enforced all of the existing rules that were, in practice, complete absurdity. Last year was an absolute disaster, with an approval rate of around 10 percent for immigrants who had done all of their studies in France, were hired by companies, and wanted to change their status from “student” to “salaried employee.” And let’s not pretend that those who were accepted weren’t often the “right” kind of immigrant. It was an absolute mess, but the numbers are starting to crawl back to normal.

So, he’s gotten a lot of left-hatred for that.

Then, you have his personal life. I’d bet that most of you know — if for no other reason than seeing him in pictures next to Obama — that he’s a tiny little man. He’s a tiny little man with an ego that would be out of place in a Nobel Prize-winning Ryan Gosling. He thus wears high heels in public, calls citizens “f-cking assholes” while on the campaign trail, and insists that only short people be put next to him in photo ops (tee hee). This does, however, contradict with his sports car of a 2006 campaign wife-choice, Carla Bruni. It’s true that she’s posed naked and slept with everything to ever hold a guitar, but that’s not what we care about. What we actually care about is a book called Rien de Grave. A few years back, Carla was living with her long-time professor boyfriend in Paris. They had been together for quite some time and were, by all accounts, very in love. She then left this man for his SON who was MARRIED with CHILDREN. Just, god, eww. So the former wife of the son who was apparently more desirable than his father decided to write this book, a thinly-veiled retelling of what happened, and Jesus — it is so messed up. So, yeah, say what you will about our First Lady — or really any first lady ever except Carla Bruni — but at least they didn’t do that.

Also, the two of them had their first kid together this past year, just before the primaries, and were all over every newspaper, magazine, and television in the country. WHAT INCREDIBLE TIMING.

You also have a lot of people who are still extremely upset because they believe DSK would have won the primary (likely) and been able to beat Sarkozy (debatable), and that he was set up by someone working for Sarkozy with his whole ridiculous sex scandal — but that’s a can of worms to be opened on another date.

And of course, like a brave knight riding in on the horizon wearing those all-white robes with the little eye holes cut out, you have Le Pen. Junior and Senior. Le Pen senior, a man, started the National Front party a ways back — largely created to house his racist, xenophobic, nationalist, separatist, crazyist beliefs. He publicly denied the Holocaust, blamed all of France’s problems on immigration, it was awesome. He’s been taken to court many times for hate speech, and though he is an absolutely incredible orator (so was Hitler), would never have a chance to win on any big election. His party, though, (NF is the extreme, extreme, insane right), does win local elections and always builds a large following in times of crisis — gotta find something to blame, right?! Why not people who look different than you?!?!

But you do have his daughter, who has taken over the party and is running for President herself as an outsider. See, she does have a chance — not to win, but to garner a ton of votes and exposure — because she is truly Le Pen Light. She has all of the hateful ideologies, horrendous platforms, and ass-backwards ideas for what France should do economically, but she’s able to bite her tongue in public and not say anything too egregious. Between the two, it is her who should be feared the most. She won’t win, but most French people are so unmotivated to choose between the two main candidates at hand, so she’ll probably make a decent-sized splash.

As an immigrant, I feel obliged to tell you how horrendous a possibility even that is. If the National Front were to do anything, they would immediately close all of France’s borders (to immigration and most trade), get out of the Euro, enforce (if not by law, at least by practice), a Christian leadership, and all but kill people of Arab descent in the street. (That last one may be a bit exaggerated, but not even, really).

So, France has its financial crisis, too. They have their election, too. They have their crazy right-wingers, too. But none of them have yet been renamed as a sexual neologism, so I suppose we still win. TC mark

Chelsea Fagan

Chelsea Fagan founded the blog The Financial Diet. She is on Twitter.

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