It wasn't exactly a landslide, and it wasn't unexpected, but Nicolas Sarkozy's victory in the second round of French elections was nevertheless a significant event, and not simply because he is a baby-boomer and the son of a Hungarian immigrant, as so many commentators are repeating.
Rather, his victory prompted several interesting questions:
* Are the French more misogynous than other western nations, where women have held high elected office? (Britain and Germany come quickly to mind.) Is this why Ségolène Royal was beaten?
* Is Socialism a dead issue in France? This is the third presidential election in a row which the Socialists have lost. It will mean altogether 17 years out of power -- an entire generation.
* Are the French really ready to work longer hours and give up some of their social welfare benefits? Will they approve a new European constitution, as Sarkozy hopes?
* Will Sarkozy, who now advocates a tough line on criminals and delinquents and immigration, soften his approach? Will he succeed in a rapprochement with the United States?
Answering in reverse order:
* Yes, he either will have to soften his approach or seriously beef up law enforcement. As for America, although he said "friends have the right to their own opinion", the only issue where he has openly challenged the U.S. is on global warming. He has called the Iraq war merely "a mistake". He seems to be licking someone's cowboy boots.
* The 35-hour work week and the generous social benefits are "choses acquises" -- secured rights -- and there certainly will be massive public demonstrations against any proposed changes. But a new, clearer European constitution is likely to pass the next time around; the last defeat was simply a vote against Chirac and his government. The French are not ready to back out of the European Union.
* French Socialism is not dead, but ailing. Dominique Strauss-Kahn, a former Socialist finance minister, is calling for an entire review and revision of the Socialist platform, which has been splintered in recent years and badly weakened. (Elsewhere in Europe, Socialism is still going strong.)
* No, the French are no more misogynous than the rest of us. But like the rest of us, they suspect that politics is no place for a lovely woman.
So much for the Q & A --
Sarkozy will officially take office on May 16. He is taking off several days to rest, and then will be throwing himself into the legislative campaign in June. He needs, and probably will get, a fair majority in the Assemblée Nationale.
Jean-Marie LePen, the defeated far-right candidate, is saying that Sarkozy has appropriated many of his reactionary ideas. But Sarkozy himself, unsmiling in his victory speech, actually seemed to be echoing Royal's sentiments about helping the poor, the underprivileged, the unemployed, the downtrodden. That is a far cry from his infamous remark about "the scum".
Maybe, while his supporters were singing the Marseillaise, he was humming the Hungarian Rhapsody.