France really got it in the neck last weekend. Mon Dieu! On the great tea bag dumping day, Dick Armey, once House majority leader, warned us against creeping socialism and revealed his great fear: “I don’t want to be France.”
During the jolly protest against one-was-not-quite-sure-what, it became apparent that there is fear and trembling somewhere in the right wing (the French gave us left and right as a political division, based on the left and right banks of the Seine River in Paris) that the Republic, and all it stands for, will be subsumed by French values if the wanton spending of President Barack Obama continues.
This is serious stuff, and we should be on our guard. Next thing you know, our supermarkets will be filled with hundreds of unpasteurized cheeses (Pasteur was French, but he never persuaded his countrymen that unpasteurized cheese could be lethal); our women will be wearing haute couture; and tres fast, comfortable trains will be whipping us between cities. Boeing will be merging with Airbus and small, efficient cars will be rolling out of Detroit.
Worse, our culture will be trashed. NASCAR will give way to Le Mans. And our schoolchildren will be corrupted by learning that Toqueville, author of “Democracy in America,” was French; as was Lafayette, Rochambeau and many other heroes of the Revolutionary War. Worse still, they will learn that it was not the French but the perfidious Brits who necessitated the Boston Tea Party in 1773; and those same awful monarchists burned the White House in 1814.
It was the French who gave Jefferson a deal on Louisiana, and the British who held onto Canada.
France just does not get a sympathetic hearing in the United States. The problem is not enough French passed through the Port of New York at Ellis Island. They gave us the Statue of Liberty, but were not front-and-center among the immigrants. Ergo there is not a large Franco-American organization to cry foul when the country, that stood by us many times when it counted, is slandered by Francophobes like Fox’s Bill O’Reilly. Remember, O’Reilly organized a boycott of French goods and services during the Second Gulf War. Mercifully, it was ineffective. Remember also that the French contributed 93,000 troops to the First Gulf War.
Behind the French bashing is a belief that France, which leads the world in railroad technology, nuclear power and has a vigorous defense manufacturing base, is a cesspool of socialism. It is an act of faith on the right that this ill-defined malady, socialism, has had France by the throat since the country withdrew from Algeria under President Charles de Gaulle. In fact, since the present French constitution–the Constitution of the Fifth Republic–was adopted in 1958, only the Mitterand government was really socialist. Only 15 out of 50 years of recent government have been left-of-center. The rest have been center or right-of-center, as is the case now with Nicolas Sarkozy.
However, France does have a statist problem. The blame lies not with its Communist Party and its left-of-center deputies, but with its education system and its prestigious Ecole Nationale d’Administration, created by de Gaulle to democratize access to the senior civil service. This system puts the best-and-the-brightest of French youth on a career path toward public service.
If you put all your talent into government, they will do what talent otherwise would do in the private sector: grow the company. In France’s case, the state has been grown by people who were educated to that as a patriotic duty.
Ergo, social services are very complete in France–truly extending from the cradle to the grave. But France cannot afford its social contract anymore. Globalization has made the French state, comforting as it is for the French, unaffordable. Couple that with low birth rates and aggressive trade unions and France has a dark cloud over its future: the same dark cloud that hangs over the United States, Japan and Germany, for instance. Maybe, it is a little darker in France because of its public service unions. Vive la difference, but it is not that great.