He served a President with historically low approval ratings. His opponent was an attractive, intelligent history-making leader--Ségolène Royal would have been France's first female President. The country was struggling economically, and Sarkozy had been, among other things, the Finance Minister under the unpopular President Chirac.
Nonetheless, Nicolas Sarkozy had brandished a reputation of something of a maverick. Although a protégé of Jacques Chirac, he broke with him and had supported a rival for the French Presidency. He was decidedly pro-American in a country that generally distrusted US foreign policy and especially George W Bush.
Sarkozy won, with nearly 54% of the vote. And, Chirac had endorsed him.
Now, no two situations are identical, and one could point to many distinctions, and the relatively poor campaign waged by Ségolène Royal whose Socialist Party was not completely united.
But, in a deteriorating economy, 54% of French voters chose the laissez-faire candidate. [All such characterizations are relative--Sarkozy is still to the left of the US Democrats, although he was considered rightwing and conservative in France]. In a political climate in which the incumbent was held in very low esteem, a member of his party won the election despite being endorsed by him. In a country that disparaged the US approach to terrorism and foreign policy, the pro-American, law-and-order candidate won.
McCain has embarked on a Sarkozy campaign strategy, employing the tactics of Karl Rove.
And, thusfar, the Obama campaign is letting him get away with it. Joe Biden has proclaimed that he does not deal in personalities, while "his friend whom he honors" John McCain rips into the very soul of Barack Obama's character.
John McCain has declared himself a maverick, and a person who puts country first. At the end of his convention, he told people he was doing this all for them.
Really? Then why did he write that he was running for President purely for personal ambition? Let us emphasize, he WROTE that in a book, and he read it for tape in his own voice. It was no mistake, no slip-of-the-tongue, not taken out of context. It is what he said.
Is opposing the minimum wage, or flip-flopping on taxcuts for the wealthy, or promoting the war in Iraq, or telling the American people we would be greeted as liberators, or voting against veterans' benefits, or kowtowing to the religious leaders he once called "agents of intolerance", or hiring the Bush-Rove team that so cruelly savaged him in 2000...is that for "us"?
Because Sarkozy had served in several cabinet positions in Chirac's government, arguably he was more closely tied to Chirac than McCain is to Bush.
That close link between Sarkozy to Chirac did not work for Royal. Necessary, to be sure, but insufficient.
The Obama campaign should take note....if they allow McCain's narrative about himself to go unanswered, by McCain's own words, and believe tying McCain to Bush will be a sufficient riposte, Barack may find himself spending November 5th commiserating with Ségolène instead of forming a government.
If you accuse me of trying to make us paranoid...you're right. It's the only way to win.