- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Nicolas Sarkozy’s record-breaking victory — 53.06 percent to Segolene Royal’s 46.94 percent in an election that mobilized a magnificent 85 percent voter turnout — goes beyond the statistics to the very heart and history of the French nation. Mr. Sarkozy promised, in the last days of the campaign, to “liquidate the heritage of May ‘68.” He may be putting a crimp in the heritage of the 1789 romantic revolution, followed by terror, overturned by the restoration of the monarchy.

Mr. Sarkozy was the target of a gutter-slime anti-Sarko campaign, passed off as a citizen’s movement against a dangerous fascist. His Jewish origins and trans-Atlantic affinities were slandered in a Nazi-style cartoon showing him at the center of a Star of David, pointing to Tel Aviv and Washington. Vicious lies about Mr. Sarkozy, his family, his program and his millionaire friends circulated from extremist Web sites to left-wing bobo mailing lists and turned up, freshly laundered, in Miss Royal’s speeches. International media, apparently ignorant of the lower depths of the sleaze, picked up the rumors and the less objectionable caricatures. While mudslingers called Mr. Sarkozy a dwarf — he is not tall like Charles de Gaulle and Jacques Chirac — wily denigrators dressed him up as Napoleon.

In fact, the new French president is more like an American self-made man. He was not anointed with political power at birth, did not glide on the wings of nepotism from the elite school of administration to a provincial circumscription and upwards to a presidential cabinet. He fought his way to the top, overcoming obstacles and bravely swallowing defeat.

Miss Royal’s dilettantism was played as a virtue against Mr. Sarkozy’s “indecent” ambition. It didn’t work. Voters want an efficient, pragmatic, determined president. Using her bright white smile and feminine charm to seduce voters, Miss Royal left the heavy lifting to her campaign team, then turned nasty when the going got rough. She went into the May 2 TV debate like a spitfire, slashed at Mr. Sarkozy, displayed her incompetence, burst into histrionics — and lost a few more points of voter intentions. On the eve of the final round, Miss Royal declared on RTL television that Nicolas Sarkozy was a liar, a brutal man and a danger to the nation, and that his election would provoke a massive domestic uprising.

If, as alleged in Le Monde on Monday, the Socialist candidate knew by then that she had no hope of winning, the implicit call for rebellion is all the more reprehensible. The “tous sauf Sarkozy” (anyone but Sarkozy) strategy had failed; it broke Miss Royal’s momentum in the first-round campaign when a portion of her electorate turned to UDF centrist Francois Bayrou, convinced that he could defeat Mr. Sarkozy.

After Mr. Bayrou was eliminated, Miss Royal tried frantically to win back the misguided votes by courting Mr. Bayrou. The sluggish centrist took advantage of her ingenuity to keep himself on the front pages for one whole week of the two-week second-round campaign. Meanwhile, all but one of the 29 UDF deputies threw their support to Mr. Sarkozy. The final tally showed that 40 percent of Mr. Bayrou’s vote went to Miss Royal, 40 percent to Mr. Sarkozy, and 20 percent down the drain in abstention. Mr. Bayrou’s vainglorious promise to make a big showing in the mid-June legislative elections with his new Mouvement Democrate is floating high in the sky like a lost balloon.

Still playing the “tous sauf Sarkozy” tune, the Socialists are trying to grab the legislature under the pretext that their majority will temper President Sarkozy’s “absolute power.” Again, they are pandering to undemocratic forces determined to overthrow the newly elected government by street warfare.

Shortly after Mr. Sarkozy’s victory was announced, clashes began at the Bastille in Paris and in countless French cities. Thugs tore up the streets, hurled paving stones at policemen, smashed shop windows, trashed bank facades and set fire to cars. There is no guarantee that the banlieue will not explode in turn, but the current center-city uprising is led by extreme leftists, revolutionary Communists, anarchists, nihilists and misguided Segolene groupies. One rioter justified the violence as a protest against the police brutality that Mr. Sarkozy “plans to impose.”

Addressing some 30,000 supporters gathered at Place de la Concorde to celebrate on election night, Nicolas Sarkozy said, “Victory is not sweet if it is not generous.” France is aflutter with hope. The son of a Hungarian immigrant whose ancestor fought the Turks in the 17th century, grandson of a Jewish doctor from a Salonika family largely exterminated by the Nazis, Nicolas Sarkozy — an intelligent, serious, hardworking man — has taken on a huge responsibility and asks to be judged on his results. Accountability just might enter the French vocabulary.

Nidra Poller, an American writer living in Paris, is Paris editor of Pajamas Media.

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