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Blog // Thoughts
June 13, 2007

Gingrich’s French Lesson For Republicans

It might sound amazing to consider, but I think Newt Gingrich is dead right in his Financial Times article from yesterday, A French lesson for America’s Grand Old Party It is time for some strong medicine for American conservatives and it does not get any stronger then this: if Republicans are going to have any […]

It might sound amazing to consider, but I think Newt Gingrich is dead right in his Financial Times article from yesterday, A French lesson for America’s Grand Old Party

It is time for some strong medicine for American conservatives and it does not get any stronger then this: if Republicans are going to have any chance of victory in 2008, they need to learn a thing or two from the French.

That’s right. The French.

For Republicans in Washington, the election of Nicolas Sarkozy is significant not because he is a conservative but because he was a part of a deeply unpopular incumbent government. For those who are willing to learn, Mr Sarkozy’s win shows that it is possible to produce a decisive national decision in favour of more conservative reform when voters are faced with a choice between ideological failure on the left and bold solutions and bold leadership from a newly redefined right.

Gingrich’s point is that with an unpopular President and the political pendulum swinging hard to the left, the Socialists (and in France they really are socialists) should have won easily. But Sarkozy argued for an almost unwinnable position.

]In the campaign, Mr Sarkozy not only argued that the French have to work longer hours, he called for an incentive for them to do so: no taxes on wages earned from working overtime. Critically, he said the people must obey the law. Finally, he insisted that you could come to France if you wanted to learn to be French.

This might not sound like much to the American political ear, but in a country that routinely accepts the burning of up to 15,000 cars a year by hooligans who, according to the elites, are simply “expressing their desire to disrupt society”, this was a jarring message. In a country that was very proud a few years back to have the first mandatory 35-hour work week in history, campaigning for tax breaks for overtime work was nothing less then transformational. The outcome of the contest proved that a majority of the French believe that without the kind of changes Mr Sarkozy was calling for, France’s stature and standard of living would disappear in a wave of lawlessness and economic decay.

I was initially skeptical about Sarkozy, but he ran an amazing rational and “hopeful” campaign; divisive, but far less so than many commentators had suggested it would be. The turn-out for the election was huge and his victory was decisive.

But what is even more interesting is the ministers he has appointed. Jean-Louis Borloo, a centrist was given Economy and Finance. Bernard Kouchner, a leftist, one of the founders of M?©d?©cins sans Fronti?®res, and a former UN administrator in Kosovo was appointed Foreign Minister. It seems Sarkozy isn’t just going to talk about bringing both sides together. Compare that with W’s acceptance speech in 2000,

The spirit of cooperation I have seen in this hall is what is needed in Washington, D.C. It is the challenge of our moment. After a difficult election, we must put politics behind us and work together to make the promise of America available for every one of our citizens.

I am optimistic that we can change the tone in Washington, D.C.

I believe things happen for a reason, and I hope the long wait of the last five weeks will heighten a desire to move beyond the bitterness and partisanship of the recent past.

Our nation must rise above a house divided. Americans share hopes and goals and values far more important than any political disagreements.

Republicans want the best for our nation, and so do Democrats. Our votes may differ, but not our hopes.

I know America wants reconciliation and unity. I know Americans want progress. And we must seize this moment and deliver.

Together, guided by a spirit of common sense, common courtesy and common goals, we can unite and inspire the American citizens.

Unity and reconcilliation? An end to bitterness and partisanship? Yeah, we know how that worked out.

Which brings us to the interesting twist in the tail of Gingrich’s piece,

Here is where American Republicans really need to pay attention. In France, voting for change meant voting for the party in office, but not the personality in office. And voting to keep the old order meant voting for the opposition, not for the incumbent party.

If Republicans in the US hope to win the presidency next year, they hadbetter find a candidate who, like Mr Sarkozy, is prepared to stand for very bold, very dramatic and very systematic change. Not only that, but they had better make the case that the leftwing Democrat likely to be nominated represents the failed status quo: the bureaucracies that are failing, the social policies that are failing, the high tax policies that are failing and the weakness around the world that has failed so badly in protecting the US.

You don’t have to read between the lines to see a damming judgement on the Bush Administration – why else would bold, dramatic and systematic change be needed unless the current government was a clear, dramatic and systematic failure? Not just a failure in terms of popularity, but in terms of substance; bureaucratically, socially, fiscally and geo-politically.

[tags] Newt Gingrich, Republican, Politics [/tags]

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