During a recent visit to Paris, I participated in an animated discussion among a group of French and American expatriates at lunch about politics in the US and France. While there are poorly informed members of the public on both sides of the Atlantic, the French have the impression much of the American electorate has a superficial understanding of the issues, especially foreign affairs. The impression seems to be that we Americans are making decisions about candidates based mainly on slogans rather than a grasp of the implications of one versus another choice. They acknowledged that isn’t very different among a segment of the French as well.
I had the impression that most in the group had a generally favorable impression of Barrack Obama and thought Romney has a simplistic and somewhat dangerous world view. They seemed very puzzled about why Americans equate socialism with communism, which are entirely different, and fear them equally. Though there were divided views on the Hollande socialist government, I heard many of the same feelings of disappointment among those on the left that I have heard over the past four years about Obama by the progressive wing of the Democratic party in the US.
Though there is unemployment in France (about 8%) as in the US, our French friends don’t seem to be as overwhelmingly concerned as we are in the US. I didn’t speak with anyone who expressed the view that it was a serious problem there, though acknowledging it had been a problem five years ago. I suspect the reaction would be different among minority groups in France, such as recent immigrants. The far right parties (there are 12 main parties in France) are capitalizing on hostility toward immigrants taking jobs from long time French citizens as among some blue collar white voters in the US. The economy is in a deficit in France pressuring the Hollande government to cut government expenses and promote business growth, though there are strong differences of opinion about how to do that in France, especially among those on the Left. While Republicans are attempting to eliminate labor unions in the US, in France national laws prohibit firing workers except with severance pay, and workers there have many benefits Americans would envy. So though pay is lower in France, the net result is most French people are well off because so many basic services are free in France. Facism exists more openly in France than the US and there are fears among many about resurgence of a Vichy-style movement as had occurred during WW2 headed by Marshall Phillipe Petain, which collaborated with the Nazis. There are similarities between the Tea Party and the National Front and Marine Le Pen’s party. But unlike the irrational acceptance of many Tea Party views by Republicans, most conservatives in Sarkozy’s party in France reject the Far Right movements and find it puzzling that so many Americans are drawn to such atavistic views.
In France as in the US, there is an undercurrent of discourse about the functions of government, though the starting point for those conversations is very far to the Left in France compared with the US, in which our point of departure for discussion in the US is from a very conservative Republican perspective. For far to long the Democratic Party has rolled over and played dead in the US and moderate Republicans have been like puppies running scared with their tails between their legs as the “Big Dogs” among the radicals bark their dangerous commands. Though the Big Dogs account for a very small proportion of the electorate in the US, they are the tail that wags the dog because of their vast wealth.