Political fallout of the world financial crisis rocked France this week. Another French executive, this the head of Caterpillar, was held hostage by his workers, and billionaire François-Henri Pinault, chief executive of luxury-goods PPR, was trapped in his car by a group of his own employees. Word was the billionaire was shaken. Why wouldn't he be? People are mad as hell, and they're not going to take it anymore. Not lying down. Not going down without a fight. Not to be screwed by the high and mighty while the band plays on.
That was then, and this is now. The French Old World Everyman is demonstrating how he's going to deal with his personal interests in this financial crisis. He's taking it to the grassroots. Vive La Marseillaise! This army of Everymen have become their own heroes, and they're not waiting for Superman to come down and save them. After all, it was the SuperMen of banking who said, "Let them eat cake," and I mean this worldwide.
So as G20 was starting in London, "some 4,000 anarchists, anti-capitalists, environmentalists and others clogged London's financial district for what demonstrators branded "Financial Fool's Day."
The Obamas arrived in London with their usual 21st Century panache, elegance, and energy. Even the queen was so moved by Michelle Obama that she put her arm around our First Lady. Did the Earth stand still? The royal watchers did. Ohmygod, Michelle touched the queen, and in an instant, our First Lady brought Queen Elizabeth into the 21st Century. Not to mention that the Obamas gave her an iPod full of photos, music, and video of her 2007 United States visit to Richmond, Jamestown and Williamsburg, Virginia. Cool. Next time maybe an iPhone with Buckingham Palace apps.
The G20 was a resounding success. Barack Obama again proved his leadership skills with his partners in world governance and with their global audience. Our president was the center of attention, of course. But how can the leaders of 20 nations all look happy, relaxed, and some even like they're goofing around after dealing with the heavy issues on which they actually made progress?
Can you imagine this under the dark cloud/the evil empire of George W. Bush? Not at all. And this must be the first time in Carla Bruni Sarkozy's life that she hasn't been the female center of attention anywhere she went. Mrs. Bruni Sarkozy was lovely, of course, and she has donned a more diplomatic and gracious personae than Rock and Roll model/maneater, who left her panties in Mick Jagger's bathroom so Jerry Hall would find them. (That was the rumor.) Not that Ms. Bruni Sarkozy didn't get her own limelight, but Michelle Obama towers over everyone, and I don't mean just because she's tall.
In this first big foreign outing of President Obama, he has shown Europe that he is delivering what he promised. He's working hard to get the U.S. back on track. Obama reached out his hand to the other nations. He told them the United States wants to work with them instead of sticking his thumbs in his ears and waving and taunting, nah-nah-nah-nah-nah, like our last administration. The world is sighing with relief that the USA is back in town.
Then onto Strasbourg where Obama again dazzled the masses as well as international politicos. I twittered the Obama/Sarkozy press conference. Well, let's call it what it was, the Obama/Sarkozy Lovefest. These world leaders genuinely like each other, which was apparent when Senator Obama was in Paris last summer before his election. President Sarkozy couldn't hide his delight at the thought of the senator getting elected. They have double whammy charisma together.
Among the topics the men discussed:
1. The great history of French and American relations. Obama reminded the press that France was our first ally as a new nation, and our two nations have been strong allies ever since.
2. Support of NATO. "NATO is the most successful alliance in modern history," said Obama. Afghanistan was a big topic. Sarkozy hinted France may take Gitmo detainees once the prison is closed.
At the Town Hall meeting, Obama connected with the 3500 German and French students who had been invited. The energy was electric as our president admitted some American blame for the current world crisis and our arrogance, but he also spoke of anti-Americanism and how it wasn't right to blame the U.S. for everything. It was a new era of responsibility, and that is something we should be proud of. Our president told them that America is changing but it can't be America alone that changes. The G20 summit was a success, and all nations have made agreements to move forward.
As usual, he inspired with advising the students that it was better to jump in and get involved. He told them that sometimes they would get criticized. Sometimes they would fail, but that they would lead a full life. It will be an adventure. The question to ask is, What Can I Do For Others? The world has so many challenges now, and there are so many ways to make a difference.
The thing is Obama lifts people up instead of whipping them down. It's a lesson for all of us, whether personally or in our relationships with others.
Obama nailed it in France.
Beth Arnold lives and works in Paris. To see more of her Letter From Paris, go to www.betharnold.com.