Not only is the French president standing tough against Iran’s nuclear ambitions and the powerful unions aiming to preserve his country’s corrosive welfare state, but he also took on Lesley Stahl of “60 Minutes” when she asked him a gossipy question about his relationship with his then-wife during taped interviews.
True, the displeasure he displayed was no big deal, but how utterly refreshing that instead of submitting to this voyeuristic superficiality, he said he wasn’t about to discuss the matter, wished Stahl “bon courage,” shook her hand and departed from what he had earlier complained was an exercise in wasting time.
What is a big deal is that Sarkozy is reversing decades of French chest-thumping at American expense. Instead of strutting about as our cultural superior, bashing our foreign policy at every opportunity and smirking at our free-enterprise successes as his predecessors have done, Sarkozy keeps saying how much he likes America, how wowed he is by our work ethic and even how much he likes our music. All this underlines crucial policies.
Internationally, it points to a hugely important friendship that seems to recognize that Europe and America must pull together in the interests of both as perils mount around the world.
No single issue sums up the dangers better at the moment than Iran’s efforts to build nuclear weaponry. Despite French financial interests in Iran, Sarkozy says it is “unacceptable” that Iran will fulfill this goal. He wants tough sanctions, and will discuss the issue when addressing Congress and meeting with President Bush during a Washington visit Nov. 6 and 7.
Sarkozy’s praise for America may also be aimed at convincing the French that there is another economic model that can deliver the good life besides the one they long ago adopted.
He gets it that if he doesn’t dismantle the welfare state, the welfare state will dismantle France, just as it might dismantle the United States if we keep veering in that direction ourselves.
Sadly, unions are standing by to hammer him and the nation as he goes about the necessary work, such as restructuring a taxpayer-subsidized pension system that allows energy and transportation workers to retire at 50 years of age.
As analysts have noted, this retirement plan will collapse if something isn’t done, but as Sarkozy began the effort, the transportation unions launched a 24-hour strike, making it impossible for many to get where they needed to go and costing theequivalent of millions of dollars.
Before she tread where others may now fear to go, asking about his wife two weeks before she and Sarkozy announced divorce plans, Stahl did ask Sarkozy some interesting questions, eliciting interesting answers.
Had his Hungarian last name posed problems for him in French politics? He said his father’s fears that it would had not turned out to be the case, and he then talked about American opportunities. “You can be called Schwarzenegger and be governor of California,” he said.
And what, he was asked, should Americans know about him.
“I want the Americans to know they can count on us,” he responded. “But at the same time, we want to be free to disagree.”
Of course. As I said, what’s not to like about this guy?
Examiner columnist Jay Ambrose is a former editor of two daily newspapers. He may be reached at SpeaktoJay@aol.com