Conservatives love to hate France.
When France rightly refused to send troops to Iraq, outraged Republican congressmen struck back the only way they knew how. With total ignorance. They renamed the french fries in the House dining room freedom fries, even though french fries have actually nothing to do with France.
U.S. presidential candidates who dare to openly speak French are virtually branded as traitors, as the Bush camp did to John Kerry, and Newt Gingrich did to Mitt Romney.
And the most frightening thought to a conservative economist is that "we're going to become just like France." Which to me, sounds pretty good. As does a government-mandated five weeks' vacation a year, which when public holidays are added, stretches to eight weeks. And universal health care that requires virtually no out of pocket expenses. And free college education.
But the French model we need to emulate most is their presidential election campaign. While the individual contribution limit in France is more than twice as high as the U.S., there are no PACs or Super PACs, and French companies, unions and special interests are not allowed to make political contributions.
And instead of the never-ending U.S. presidential campaign that starts the day after the previous election, in France official campaigning starts two weeks before the election. Rallies, interviews and debates start four or five months before the election, but this year, Sarkozy only announced his candidacy in February, two months before the first round of voting.
And most importantly, candidates cannot buy time for political commercials. This year, the ten French presidential candidates were each given 43 minutes of free airtime, or 18 spots, to make a positive case for their candidacy, since, in France, all negative campaigning is banned. If that same standard had been applied to the Republican primary campaign, no commercials would have been aired at all.
Imagine. No paid political commercials. No negative ads. A campaign that lasts only a few months, not years.
When it comes to presidential elections, we can learn a lot from France.