PARIS -- The left revels in sex scandals involving preachy conservative moralists, but when members of the left get caught up in seedy financial scandals, so perverted and twisted is their relationship with money that the effect can be equally jaw-dropping and salacious.
Former French Budget Minister Jerome Cahuzac, who left his Socialist government post earlier this year amid allegations of a secret Swiss bank account, now faces a formal investigation for allegedly laundering the proceeds of tax evasion.
This would be less of a big deal if Cahuzac himself hadn't been one of the loudest supporters of French President Francois Hollande's plan to tax income above 1 million euros at a 75 percent rate. After the French Constitutional Council rejected the proposed measure in December as being unconstitutional, Cahuzac proclaimed to the media that it would be reworked and back on the table by fall. "That measure had the objective of encouraging a bit of prudence and decency in a certain, very rare, number of leaders," Cahuzac said.
Speaking of fall, could there have been a better setup for one? Cahuzac's biggest problem is that he tried to shoehorn himself into a socialist ideology with which his own life path was destined to come into conflict. His talents -- he was previously a cardiologist, then a plastic surgeon and hair-transplant specialist -- made him well-off. Why shouldn't he have been entitled to keep his earnings? Instead, Cahuzac decided to adopt the Socialist label that inherently stands for the notion that your own talent-driven wealth isn't yours to keep, but rather everyone else's to share regardless of merit. At some point, Cahuzac must have felt that he was getting a raw deal.
It's not difficult to understand the appeal of sending your hard-earned cash on a vacation to a place where it won't be put upon by oppressive taxation -- particularly when you're in France. You just have to look around to see all the ways in which the state can fritter away your earnings -- from propping up a bloated government bureaucracy and political class to paying universal health care for far too many chain smokers and unproductive beneficiaries of state generosity.
But rather than announce that he'd had an epiphany and had decided to leave the Socialist Party for the more free-market-friendly alternative, Cahuzac apparently decided to lead a fiscal double life. Worse, as budget minister, he spoke out in favor of increased wealth confiscation of productive citizens like himself.
It all started coming apart in December, when a French journalist came across a 12-year-old audiotape of Cahuzac whining about what a "pain in the a--" it was for him to have to make trips to Switzerland to sign off on banking matters. After much stonewalling, a media denial tour and threats of a libel lawsuit against the media outlet that revealed the information, Cahuzac eventually resigned and issued a statement in which he apologized to Hollande and the French people, adding, "I fought an internal struggle to try to resolve the conflict between the allegiance to truth, which I failed to uphold, and the desire to fulfill the missions entrusted to me -- and especially the last one, which I could not carry out."
Cahuzac's failure wasn't his inability to see the 75 percent super-tax through to fruition, but rather his insistence that other French citizens earning the same kind of money pay the sort of exorbitant taxes that he had taken extraordinary measures to avoid himself.
Predictably, the Cahuzac incident has pummeled Hollande's popularity. His approval rating has fallen to 26 percent -- lower than any other modern French president at this point in his mandate. A Harris Interactive poll found that 86 percent of French, regardless of ideology, consider the Cahuzac affair a serious matter. Hollande's prime minister, Jean-Marc Ayrault, is trying to turn the tide and restore some sense of confidence by demanding that government members publicly disclose the value of all of their accounts and holdings -- foreign and domestic -- for public scrutiny.
It's hard to imagine that seeing the detailed wealth of the "gauche caviar" in all its glory will do much to restore the trust of a French public who thought they were voting for "Mr. Normal" and someone much more like them than his predecessor, Nicolas "Bling-Bling" Sarkozy.
It's not easy being Socialist and an elite. Maybe these hybrids should choose one category or the other rather than living a lie that they're constantly trying to make everyone believe.