Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Socialist Shmocialist

All of this asinine talk about Obama being a socialist (no wait! he's a Nazi! a Fascist! an Extremist on the left or right but we don't even know our political ideology!) has really got me down. Strangely, its put him in a situation where he needs to defend himself against something he is not, and in so doing gives credence to the notion that, in this case, being a Socialist is necessarily a bad thing. (In the same way he had to 'defend' himself as not being Muslim).

The truth is, since moving to France, I found that I'm much less left than I thought I was, especially as it relates to free enterprise. That's because the political spectrum in the states has narrowed so much, that to be on the left means you are centrist, and to be on the right now means you are a deeply socially conservative yahoo. And while I abhor extremism of most any kind, its refreshing to live in a place where radically different ideas for governing can have some foothold. During elections here, one can readily find candidates from the left and the right, and party names include (as translated) the Revolutionary Communist party, Green Party, Workers Party, Socialist Party, Democratic Movement Party, and UMP (Union for the People's Movement). Francois Mitterand, most famous in the States for having both his widow and his mistress attend his state funeral, was a Socialist who was in power for 14 years- that's two terms- and has had some major lasting effects, some good, some not so much. With some serious exception (say the National Front Party), many of these party's ideas have (at least) some merit.

In the last French election, while chatting with a friend about Nicolas Sarkozy vs. Ségolène Royal and expressing my preference (of the two) for Sarko, my friend (who himself is 1/2 French) had an immediate and almost prophetic response, "...but I think that citizens should be entitled to healthcare" (the implication being that only a Socialist candidate would support a national healthcare system). "Yes," I said, "but nobody is even talking about that." "True," he says. End of conversation. The French health system is by all accounts the best in the world, and what's more, it's socialist and is barely disputed.

While kicking around the 1st arrondissement the other day, I stumbled across a Socialist Party office. It looks a little like a hippie hangout, with its logo and color flags. Two thoughts came to mind: One, no way-no how could I imagine a place like that existing in any meaningful way in the USA. Two, despite the mid-afternoon hour, it was closed. ;)

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