As European leaders gather today in Brussels to shape the fate of a continent, many eyes turn to Francois Hollande, the newly elected president of France and a world leader championing humane and rational economic policies at a time of great human and economic suffering.
Before Hollande's victory over conservative President Nicolas Sarkozy, I wrote on The Hill's Pundits Blog about what I called "Midnight in Paris" and the French Spring I hoped would begin with a Hollande presidency. The people of France made a fateful choice between two competing philosophies. They elected a president and legislature with a mandate for their belief that jobs can be increased, deficits reduced, and prosperity restored with policies that are both enlightened and rational.
As Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, told me for this column, "The future of Europe lies with its leadership and French President Hollande is central to that dynamic. He can expand the narrative over the future of Europe to one where stability and opportunity define the continent's future. I encourage him to seize the moment and make the difference."
Hollande faces challenges. He must work with Angela Merkel, the German chancellor who governs like a small-minded banker, always does too little too late, and fails to grasp that we (including Germany) are in this together. He must work with David Cameron, the British prime minister who governs like a merchant banker allied with the widely discredited Liberal Democratic party, which surrendered its soul and its heritage for a powerless seat at the table of power.
But Hollande is not alone. Recent local elections in Germany and Britain were won by opposition candidates who reject the policies of Merkel and Cameron that deepen the recession of the right that poisons the economy of Europe. Many voters throughout Europe prefer the balanced and enlightened views of Hollande to the destructive austerity of Merkel and Cameron. The great debate is joined on both sides of the Atlantic.
In the near term, my hope is that Hollande achieves compromise that restores balance by promoting short-term programs for growth while advancing medium programs for lowering debt. Punishing joblessness and crushing poverty do not lower deficits. As Christine Lagarde, the brilliant managing director of the International Monetary Fund, has said: The debate between growth and austerity presents a false choice. Balanced policies that promote growth, stability and fiscal realism must replace extreme austerity that repeats the catastrophic blunders of 1937.
Above all, my hope is that the Hollande presidency dramatically advances a profound discourse about the meaning of democracy and capitalism, inspiring brilliant minds to propose innovative ideas that can save Europe, America and the world from the perpetual pain of permanent crisis and the moral carnage of grotesque injustice that violates cardinal values of great religions throughout the world.
I rejoice that France stands at center stage. Like all great nations at their best, like politics itself at its best, public service should be a place where ideas flourish and people matter and we are all inspired, from the high and mighty in the seats of power to men and women in their daily lives, to be engaged protagonists in the epic dramas of our times.
America's Founding Fathers, one of the great assemblages of genius in the history of freedom, were allied with the French fleet, inspired by the valor of Lafayette and represented by Jefferson as ambassador to France.
It was Paris in the 1920s, one of the great assemblages of literary and artistic genius in the history of the world , that inspired Ernest Hemingway, who said Paris was a moveable feast that the young who visit will carry throughout their lives. And Hemingway inspired the man who accompanied Jacqueline to Paris, whose presidential library houses the Hemingway collection and whose legacy shines with luminous inspiration today.
A new spring for the world economy is a worthy aspiration indeed.
This column was originally published at The Hill.