America’s ‘Right’ Makes the French Right Seem ‘Left’
“As a journalist, what interests me most is the need to impress upon my readers that they must abandon their instinctive desire to use the
United States as a benchmark for France. Ron Paul is nothing like Le Pen. Barack
Obama is more right-wing than Nicolas Sarkozy. We
must stop treating the Americans like fools just because they aren’t like the
French. … I say the same to Americans: 'stop believing that
the world wants to be like you.'”
gap between the American right and French right has never been wider. Even in
normal times, the French have difficulty understanding the Republicans. Defending
the right to acquire and own (this is not the same as to carry …) weapons,
refusing to accept the principle of universal state-funded health care,
opposing the principle of a national identity card … are all issues that leave voters
of Nicolas Sarkozy
dumbfounded - And even those of Le Pen.
Note: President Nicolas Sarkozy is leader of the center-right Union for a
Popular Movement. Jean-Marie
Le Pen and his daughter, Marine Le Pen, who has
picked up her father's mantle, lead the Front National
[In English we would say the 'National Front'], which is regarded as the most
extreme right-wing party in France].
turn taken over recent days by presidential campaigns on both sides of the Atlantic
expands the “canyon” between the beliefs and values of American Republicans and
those of the French right.
just now heard a French minister defend the right to access free, anonymous and
confidential contraception for minors. Such a position would be unimaginable
for a U.S. Republican and even for many Democrats.
As a journalist, what interests me most
is the need to impress upon my readers that they must abandon their instinctive
desire to use the United States as a benchmark for France. Ron Paul is
nothing like Le Pen. Barack Obama is more right-wing than Nicolas Sarkozy. We must stop treating the Americans like fools just
because they aren’t like the French. We must accept that other countries and
cultures with different histories produce profoundly different candidates. I am
shocked by the superiority complex that many French have in regard to the
Americans, referring to them time and time again as “big kids” or “barbarians.”
Accept the difference. Neither France, nor Europe, nor America is the center of
the civilized world. The world is diverse.
political systems do not converge on a “French model” that every other nation
dreams of duplicating. I say the same to Americans: “stop believing that the
world wants to be like you.”
most striking example of the distance between the two countries is how populism
is expressed. American populism is first libertarian, pro free-enterprise and
individualism, anti-tax and anti-state. It sometimes drifts into anti-immigrant
xenophobia - but not always. It claims to be guided by America’s Founding Fathers.
This is the Tea Party.
type of “right-wing populism” doesn’t exist in France. Tea Party voters in France
would be taken for aliens. It’s a shame, because if we took the trouble to
listen to their reasoning, we might better understand their view of the world,
however arbitrary or false it may seem.
in the United States, there is also a left-wing populist movement angrily
denouncing inequalities in income and conditions. In recent months, the
Democrats have been trying to bring this group back into the fold. It is less
powerful, but the press, which largely favors Democrats, has given it quite a
voice. This is populism partly inspired by Europe and is at the heart of campaigns
of several French candidates - both on the right and left.
idea that a right-wing candidate in the U.S. might focus his campaign on raising
taxes and inventing, on a daily basis, a new, smarter tax, is unthinkable. That
is especially true in the context of the already heavy taxation that prevails
absence of a wide-ranging debate among the French right on how to reduce
government spending is just as incomprehensible to the Republican. The American
right has the impression that the French right has, from the start, conceded
the moral superiority of the left’s arguments: that the state should
redistribute wealth, private initiatives create inequality, and if the rich are
rich, it is because they stole the money from somewhere.
use of taxation, not just to raise revenue but to impoverish the rich, is what
we French call “social engineering.” This is a highly pejorative term in the
mouth of the average American, because it is a theory that admits that the
American model is fundamentally flawed. Could individual freedom and civic
responsibility lead to a class-based society? The Republican doesn’t want to
believe so. But most of all, he wants to believe that allowing the state to
correct these “inequalities” is worse than the disease!
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