French President Nicolas Sarkozy was elected five years ago by promising to modernize France's societal infrastructure and bring it more into line with America's: less government reliance, more freedom in life and work. It was a tall order, but his mandate was overwhelming, with a six-percentage-point win over Socialist rival Segolene Royal. Sarkozy was full of vigor and free-market, limited-government ideas imported directly from across the Atlantic.
But then something got in the way: France. It's a case of ambition being unable to surmount the overwhelming power of entrenched history.
The battle of independent-minded men against the French nanny-state mentality didn't start with Sarkozy. In 1848, for example, economist Frederic Bastiat was already comparing the U.S. Constitution to that of France:
"The following is the beginning of the preamble to [the French] Constitution: 'France has constituted itself a Republic for the purpose of raising all the citizens to an ever-increasing degree of morality, enlightenment, and well-being.' ... Is it not by yielding to this strange delusion that we are led to expect everything from an energy not our own? ... The Americans formed another idea of the relations of the citizens with the Government when they placed these simple words at the head of their constitution: 'We, the people of the United States, for the purpose of forming a more perfect union, of establishing justice, of securing interior tranquility, of providing for our common defense, of increasing the general well-being, and of securing the benefits of liberty to ourselves and to our posterity, decree,' etc. Here there is no chimerical creation, no abstraction, from which the citizens may demand everything. They expect nothing except from themselves and their own energy."
Now, facing a hard-fought re-election battle that currently predicts a marked second-round loss to Segolene Royal's former domestic partner, Socialist Francois Hollande, Sarkozy is unrecognizable on the campaign trail as the man of five years ago.