Paul Greenberg

The headline summed up the result of France's presidential election: "Hollande bests Sarkozy/ To claim helm of France." And the photograph that went with it caught the spirit of the occasion: There were the cheering mademoiselles celebrating the great Socialist triumph, their jewelry gleaming as bright as their smiles, the red flag waving in the background. ... Ah, Paris in May! The Revolution might as well have been taking place in the pages of Vogue.

Naturally, the celebration of the Socialists' great victory -- well, 51.6 percent of the popular vote -- took place at the Place de la Bastille, the epicenter of French Revolution No. 1. One loses count of how many revolutions the French have had since.

How many French republics have there been by now? Are the French on their fifth or sixth? Officially only five, but that doesn't count collaborationist Vichy, which disdained the name Republic and styled itself just Etat Francais, the French State.

Vichy seems to have been erased from the airbrushed history of French governments, much the way each revised edition of the Great Soviet Encyclopedia would toss disgraced commissars down the memory hole. Official history is one of the more plastic arts.

The winning candidate in this presidential race ran on a platform that called for still more government spending and still more public debt. (Sound familiar?) M. Hollande and his Socialist Party promised to raise taxes on the biggest incomes to 75 percent and hire another 60,000 civil servants. That should revive the already lagging French economy, all right. The way all those bailouts and stimulus packages have revived the American one.

Even now, government in France consumes 56 percent of that country's gross domestic product, but that isn't enough for the socialists. Among other "reforms," they proposed cutting the work week to 35 hours and moving the retirement age from 62 back to 60.

M. Hollande's economic platform would seem to be based on the happy theory that the piper will never have to be paid. Free lunches all around!

It sounds like a recipe for another Greece (with Spain and Italy right behind) dragging the European Union into bankruptcy. The euro may totter, but the crowd that filled the Place de la Bastille seemed to have no worries. Ignorance is bliss.

"Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive," Wordsworth wrote at the beginning of French Revolution No. 1. "But to be young was very heaven!" How was he to know that another, bleaker dawn awaited?

"I'm so happy!" cried one celebrant, 60-year-old Ghylaine Lambrecht, who remembered celebrating the triumph of Socialist president Francois Mitterand at the same site in 1981. M. Mitterand's was going to be a triumphant reign, too. It wasn't. But what else could you expect from a politician who got his start with the Vichy regime? (Socialists and fascists have this interesting history of collaboration, as in National Socialism. Why should that be? Their common worship of the all-bountiful State, from which all blessings flow?)

Here and there in dispatches from Paris, some spoilsport might be quoted as warning that "we're the new Greeks." Beware French presidents bearing gifts and all that. But who listens? Happy Days Are Here Again!

"It's magic!" cried a voice in the crowd -- that of Violaine Chenais, who's 19 and sounds like it. "I think Francois Hollande is not perfect," she opined, "but it's clear France thinks it's time to give the left a chance. We're going to celebrate with drink and hopefully some dancing."

Why not? It's always possible M. Hollande will rise above his promises. Reality does have this way of sobering up some politicians, the way hitting a brick wall might wake up the driver of a speeding Citroen.

But till then, let's party! "O brave new world," young Miranda proclaims at the end of The Tempest, "that has such people in it!" Not referenced as often is old Prospero's response: " 'Tis new to thee." For he knows the ways of this brave new world. He's seen it before.

Meanwhile, the real winner of the presidential election waits her turn. Marine Le Pen's revitalized, reborn and reconstructed National Front took an impressive 18 percent of the vote in the first round. Having sat out the run-off, now she bides her time and waits for reality to dawn. As it has a way of doing.

The moral of the story: Plus ca change.... The more things change, the more France remains the same.


Paul Greenberg

Pulitzer Prize-winning Paul Greenberg, one of the most respected and honored commentators in America, is the editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.