Well, what do you know. The French hold an election. It comes at a generational turning point in the history of the Fifth Republic. A war is raging in Iraq and Afghanistan and the Sudan and lapping the tonier shores of the Seine. A doddering old Gaullist is on his way out. A young and beautiful socialist is offered to les peuple. The French greet this situation with the highest turnout of voters in memory. Practically everyone goes to the polls. And whom do the French elect? Why, none other than George W. Bush himself.
That is an exaggeration, sans doute. But Nicholas Sarkozy's election is part of a pattern that puts an end to the "Old Europe" on which Secretary Rumsfeld once remarked, the Europe in which President Chirac sought an entente with Chancellor Schroeder to counterbalance Prime Minister Blair's Atlanticist ties. Mr. Sarkozy will join the new German chancellor, Angela Merkel, and Gordon Brown, who is poised to succeed Mr. Blair, as European leaders committed to a strong relationship with America. How are all those Democratic Party pinky-in-the-air U.N. admirers who wailed about Mr. Bush's alienating of Europe going to explain this turn of events? No doubt a victory by Ségolène Royal would have elicited an outpouring of talk about how Europe had just given a rebuke to the policies of the Bush administration. Mr. Sarkozy represents a "rupture," to use his own term, with Gaullism as it had come to be practiced by Mr. Chirac. The president-elect's default position on international affairs is not only not anti-American, but one could even call it pro-American. His views on Israel and the Arab world hearken back to the socialists of the Fourth Republic in the 1950s, who understood threats to France as emanating chiefly from the Arab world and viewed Israel as an ally.
All this, moreover, was put to the French voters in no uncertain terms by an increasingly frantic Ms. Royal. In an interview with the daily Le Parisien published Friday, Ms. Royal accused Mr. Sarkozy of holding to "the same neo-conservative ideology" as Mr. Bush and even of "mimic[ing] the American president's technique of compassionate conservatism." She had already sought to distinguish herself from Mr. Sarkozy by asserting, "My diplomatic position will not consist of going and kneeling down in front of George Bush," a reference to Mr. Sarkozy's high profile visit, in September, to Washington and New York.
During that visit, Mr. Sarkozy not only met with Mr. Bush, but asked for a private meeting with American Jewish leaders that was widely reported in the French press. This flew in the face of the tradition of widespread demonization of the "American Jewish lobby" among French political elites. So did Mr. Sarkozy's active and successful courtship of French Jewish support, leading to one of the big, unwritten stories of this election. It is the first time a French president would have to say that, in part, he owes his victory to an organized effort on his behalf within the Jewish community.
There is more than a little irony to all this. Mr. Sarkozy, the son of an immigrant and, as Jean-Marie Le Pen reminded voters during the first round, a man with "three foreign grandparents," was considered the "enemy" of immigrants and a force for a more integrated French national identity. Ms. Royal, the champion of multiculturalism who warned that a win for Mr. Sarkozy would set off "violence and brutality … in the country," is a child of the old French establishment.
To those of us who have some experience in trying to explain Reagan to Europe, neither of the two has cleft this issue quite the way the supply-side political economists would have recommended — which is to abjure both the multiculturalist and the xenophobic approaches and focus on economic liberalization and pro-growth polices. Mr. Sarkozy has a steep learning curve ahead of him if he is to get all this right, as was evident when, in his New York visit several months ago, he sat down with a group of conservatives over lunch at the Four Seasons. But he has described France's economy as excessively complacent, risk-averse, sluggish, and unproductive.
Unemployment in France is a savage 9% on average, far higher in the banlieues that house the Moslem and African immigrants. When Prime Minister de Villepin offered a minor proposal that would have allowed businesses to terminate young workers within the first three years of their contracts, tens of thousands took to the streets until the premier — and Mr. Chirac — skittered off in retreat. It was that incident which proved Mr. de Villepin's political undoing, ensuring the UMP nomination for Mr. Sarkozy. So the new president has his work cut out for him.
As Interior Minister, Mr. Sarkozy displayed zero-tolerance toward rioters and gang violence. But he also spoke of "positive discrimination" to accelerate the inclusion of Moslems into the mainstream of society. He has challenged the doctrine of church-state separation that in France is called laicite, proposing that the French state license preachers for mosques to cut French Islam off from its fundamentalist wellsprings in North Africa, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia. He is a vocal opponent of Turkish membership in the European Union (we are not), and actually proposed on television that if the Union were looking to enlarge it should offer membership to Israel (it would do better to keep its independence).
In any event, the accession of Nicolas Sarkozy can only be good for America and those who are appearing in arms in our and freedom's cause – and a source of encouragement for Republicans anxious about America's 2008 election. In some precincts here, Segolene Royal was given the hyphenated first name of Segolene-Hillary-Barack and the hyphenated last name of Kerry-Royal. In the face of her challenge, Mr. Sarkozy triumphed as a candidate of change even though he had been closely, if not always happily, part of the Chirac government. Once Mr. Bush has finished welcoming Elizabeth II to the White House, let him shine the windows on the Rose Garden yet again for a state dinner in honor of the new president of the Fifth Republic. It'll be an encouraging moment for all of us.