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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Long Haul Lessons from the French Left

It’s a safe bet that many American progressives are swooning with envy at the French left, which just secured a no-nonsense parliamentary majority in Sunday’s elections, giving President Francois Hollande the leverage he needs (314 of 577 seats, +27 votes from smaller parties he can count on much of the time) to enact sweeping economic reforms. Time Magazine’s Paris Bureau Chief Bruce Crumley does a good job of putting the election in perspective:

The leftist romp in France’s June 17 legislative elections gave the Socialist Party of French President François Hollande a commanding parliamentary majority — and with it a free hand with which to usher in policy reversal. The Élysée now can push for more domestic spending to stimulate a sluggish French economy that, Hollande says, has been hurt by the austerity measures of France’s previous conservative leaders. It also provides Hollande a sturdy French base from which he’ll rally like-minded European partners to adopt similar Keynesian policies across the recessionary euro zone. That’s an ambitious — and risky — program that can now begin in earnest.
Compare that with France’s new conservative minority, which suddenly finds itself in a drastically altered and emphatically defensive posture. Not only are the allies of former President Nicolas Sarkozy powerless to block leftist spending plans — they now also have to reckon with their loss of influence on pan-European policy and the end of an active partnership with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in defending austerity measures. Instead, Sarkozy’s camp turn inward to deal with the deep existential questions confronting the French right.

Crumley calls Hollande’s program “risky.” But austerity has flunked all over Europe. What else is a progressive party supposed to do, emulate their failed opposition? The U.S.experience with Keynesian policies light has produced limited success. Yet, the only thing that hasn’t been tried by a major industrial nation to recover from the Bush meltdown is robust Keynesian reforms. France will likely provide the object lesson.
No doubt American conservatives who follow European politics are as dismayed as American progressives are encouraged by Hollande’s working majority. Republicans will snarl at the mention of Hollande’s Socialist Party, which is now running the show. But ‘Socialist Party’ is a bit of a misnomer in that the party’s leaders have historically nurtured a vigorous private sector, which may end up even stronger when Hollande’s program kicks in and strengthens demand. France ranks 4th among Fortune Global 500 nations, ahead of Germany and the UK. Don’t bet that will change much as a result of France’s new parliamentary majority.
At the heart of France’s social contract is a health care system that is ranked #1 of 191 nations by the World Health Organization (and is nicely spotlighted in this clip from Michael Moore’s “Sicko”). French health care has been weakened from time to time with modest out-of-pocket hikes, but will likely be restored to full strength under Hollande.
In France, unlike the U.S., all citizens know that they will not lose their home or retirement nest egg because of medical expenses. They know also that this security was achieved as a direct result of their support of leadership provided by the Socialist party and many years of campaigning and protest. It’s a foundational principle of the solidarity of the French left.
No matter what the U.S. Supreme Court does regarding the Affordable Care Act in the days ahead, American progressives should affirm their resolve that health care reform with universal coverage is a must-do. It’s not only a central element of a decent society, but must also be a core principle to promote long-haul solidarity among all Democrats.

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