- The Washington Times - Monday, October 18, 2010



The French like to think their country and culture is unique, though no one has ever called it, as Lincoln did of the United States, “the last best hope of mankind.” Nobody does cuisine, couture and the can-can better than the Parisians, but the dreaded work ethic smacks of the hated Anglo-Saxons.

Goons have pretty much shut down Paris, with the cops and students trading volleys of tear gas and gasoline bombs. The only bright spot Monday was the dwindling supplies of gasoline; when the pumps run dry, there won’t be any more Molotov cocktails to throw at the cops.

The foreign airlines have been told to top off their tanks before taking off to France because they won’t find fuel for a return trip. Thousands of gasoline stations have already run dry. “Youths,” as young goons (some of whom look to be decades beyond their barefoot years) are referred to in the kind and gentle way, are turning violent, as they are always eager to do when they can manufacture a provocation. In Lyon, they fought for social justice on Monday by smashing bus shelters, tossing a gasoline bomb at a school in the Paris suburb of Combes-la-Ville, blocking traffic at the Paris Town Hall and on the Champs-Elysees, looting restaurants and burning cars. Burning cars has become the national sport of France, uniting Muslim and infidel in pyrotechnic solidarity, if only for the moment. (The national soccer team is usually bounced out of the World Cup early, but nobody can torch a Citroen better than a French layabout.) Truck drivers and railway workers are joining the protests, and France will soon be isolated to marinate au jus. (But who marinates better than a French chef?) The riots are expected to go nationwide Tuesday, and already many trains have been canceled, and half the flights to Paris have been deleted from the arrival boards at Orly and Charles de Gaulle airports.

What could unite the fractious French nation in such a pious fury? A foreign army must be marching at the gates of Paris, a government is about to fall to a revolutionary mob and the guillotines have been filed to a razor’s edge, or a foreign visitor has innocently mispronounced the name of a celebrated sauce for the Christmas goose. Alas, it’s far worse than that: They’re rioting in the streets for the right to retire early from jobs they don’t have. The rioters, led by the Socialists, want to continue to retire at 60 and start drawing generous government welfare benefits, despite the fact that workers are living longer and the pension system is creaking and cracking under the financial strain. The government wants to raise the minimum retirement age to 62 and the full retirement age to 67.

“We have a prime minister who thinks he is a Churchill,” complains the deputy leader of the Socialists, “but he is only Thatcher.” (This was probably not intended as a compliment to the Iron Lady, who turned things around in Britain in that other century.) “He is trying to make us think he is carrying out great reforms to save our economy, but in fact he is smashing our social model.”

It’s the social model that’s the problem, of course, and the Socialists want to fix it by raising taxes and punishing capital. President Nicolas Sarkozy vows that the reform of the retirement scheme will be enacted, strikes and riots or not. But the French, addicted to the narcotic of government largesse, react to reform with the mindless rage of a crackhead.

This is the social model beloved by Barack Obama, who speaks wistfully of turning America into a little Europe, only more so. The president is looking to Europe for a model, just when bills are coming due in Paris and Berlin, and the Europeans can’t figure out how to pay them. Mr. Obama wants to improve things by spending more money he doesn’t have just when Europe is realizing that it has been there, done that.

The fundamental belief that Mr. Obama neither shares nor understands is that Americans from the founding have understood that economic prosperity is fundamentally the responsibility of the individual. This goes sharply against the mishmash multicultural collectivist tax and tax, spend and spend European worldview from which the president sprang. Most Americans, as this congressional campaign eloquently demonstrates, are terrified at the prospect of losing this pact of head and heart that has bound us together as a nation. Once we lose that, and become just like Europe, we’ll have to learn to mix a Molotov cocktail and start burning cars.

Wesley Pruden is editor emeritus of The Washington Times.

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