France has elected only the second Socialist president in its history -- the first being Francois Mitterrand, who spent 14 years in the driver's seat back when French presidential terms lasted seven years rather than five, and who made a hard-right turn away from economic socialism and toward spending cuts after his first two years in office. The best France can hope for now is that the newly elected Francois Hollande takes a similar plunge into a pothole of pragmatism and douses any budding socialist ideas.
France is deeply in debt, so it's really not the time to experiment with an ideology that has a poor track record outside of countries that are comparatively small and/or limited in freedoms. And it would be a mistake for those viewing France's elections from the outside to presume that Hollande doesn't actually know this himself.
I'd like to give Hollande a generous amount of rope in the wake of this election, if only to make an amusing yo-yo when he ends up warranting a tug.
It's hard to tell what Hollande will end up doing policy-wise, since there's little record by which to assess the validity of his campaign promises. Hailing from Correze -- the same rural south-central department that spawned former President Jacques Chirac -- Hollande has held a lot of political positions: mayor of Tulle, federal legislator, first secretary of the Socialist Party. However, nothing really stands out in his background. The ability to spend three decades in politics and remain so benign is an accomplishment in itself and suggests a certain pragmatism. An ideologically driven politician would have long ago drawn fire. Hollande never really has. He's not flashy, not brash -- he just is. Period.
The markets appeared to collectively yawn in the wake of Hollande's election. Perhaps it's a sign that regardless of who's captain of the ship, it's still considered to be on a crash course with the iceberg. Nonetheless, it's hard to denounce the "socialism" of a platform that includes raising funds for new housing construction by raising limits on personal investment amounts from which the funds are derived, cutting taxes for small and medium-sized businesses, refusing to increase state-provided daycare, and decentralizing and downloading power to the regions and away from Paris. But these measures are tempered by proposals to raise taxes on those making more than 150,000 euros annually and to stick anyone making more than 1 million euros a year with a 75 percent marginal rate. "It is patriotic to agree to pay a supplementary tax to get the country back on its feet," Hollande has said.
As Nicolas Sarkozy said to his challenger during a debate: "Are you aware we are in an open world?"
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