By MARC McDONALD
I've really enjoyed following the recent French elections. I must admit, I feel envious of the French in many ways. One thing I greatly admire is their election system. There, voters have a choice of numerous candidates, from the far left to the far right. (I should note that, in France, the "far right" refers to a candidate that is in many ways far to the left of most U.S. Democratic politicians---a fact that is rarely mentioned in the mainstream media). I also like the run-off aspect of the French election system. There, one would never see a debacle like "Bush v. Gore," which made a mockery of democracy in the U.S.
On Sunday, Socialist Francois Hollande won the French presidency. And unlike America's wimpy Dems, Hollande doesn't shy away from his strong Progressive convictions. He has pledged a 75 percent tax on those making over $1 million a year.
I notice that the U.S. and U.K. corporate media have tried to portray this as an extremist stance that will harm France's economy. Strangely enough, the same articles usually go on to claim that this tax policy won't raise much money anyway. But if that's the case, then why the fierce opposition to it by the corporate media?
In any case, claims that Hollande is an "extremist" are wildly off the mark. He is, after all, popular with most of the French people. And, in fact, his popularity really started to soar after he announced the 75 percent tax on the rich. Publications like "The Economist" and "The Wall Street Journal," which have tried to portray Hollande as a dangerous extremist and as bad for French democracy are laughable. The fact is, it's the corporate media itself that is contemptuous of democracy. The People, after all, have spoken. And to ridicule the will of The People is to show how the corporate media really despises democracy.
I see a lot of misinformation and outright lies about France in the U.S. corporate media. Generally, the image portrayed of France is that of a nation that is suffering from a horrible economy, where the people are gloomy and miserable and, if France would only "see the light" and deregulate its economy, U.S.-style, it'd prosper.
This, of course, is all a crock. I know this, because I've been to France and I've seen it first-hand. OK, the economy does have its problems. But in France, I saw none of the extreme, bottom-of-the barrel poverty that is increasingly common in the U.S.
France, of course, is not a utopia. But it is a nation that where the gap between rich and poor is much less extreme than the U.S. In France, even the poor have a substantial social safety net. And the French health-care system is one of the best in the world (in fact, it was ranked No. 2, after Italy, in a recent World Health Organization ranking).
I mentioned this fact to a few right-wing friends of mine and they disputed it, claiming that the World Health Organization is a "Liberal" group. When I asked them if they had any evidence that contradicts the WHO, one of them said, "I sure do!" We continued debating for a few minutes and then finally he named his source: Rush Limbaugh. I pointed out to this person that even the "Wall Street Journal" recently did an in-depth investigation into the French health-care system and praised it as one of the best in the world. "Well, that must be a Liberal publication, too," my right-wing friend said. Somewhere, Rupert Murdoch's ears must have been burning.
Anyway, during my visit, the French people I saw seemed happy and content with their lives. I visited during August and I found that during that month, virtually the entire nation takes the whole month off. (In France, every worker gets a minimum of 5 weeks paid vacation, as well as loads of holidays and sick days).
The latter was something that really impressed me. After all, I've worked jobs in the past that offered zero sick days. I once tried to call in sick when I had the full-blown flu and was told that I'd be fired if I didn't come into work. I tried to explain that, if I came in, not only would I not be productive, but I'd wind up spreading the virus all over the workplace. "I don't care," my boss said. "You need to come in anyway." (Note that in my five years with this company, I had never even tried to take a single sick day).
I've tried to explain this to my European friends and, without exception, they're stunned that American workers put up with this sort of crap. "People would take to the streets if employers tried to do that here," one French acquaintance told me.
Besides blasting France and making up lies about what its like to live there, I notice a lot of my right-wing acquaintances are constantly mocking and ridiculing the French as "surrender monkeys" and "weaklings."
I recall the "surrender monkey" insults that were flying around before the U.S. invaded Iraq in 2003. But frankly, to continue to mock and insult the French even today, in the aftermath of that disastrous war, is just frankly bizarre. I recall telling one right-winger, "But the French look pretty smart to have not participated in that godawful war---after all, no WMDs were ever found!" My right-wing acquaintance looked at me and then said, "Have you Libs already forgotten 9/11?" I then stopped the debate, realizing it was pointless.
As far as the other charge the wingnuts level against the French---that they're weaklings and cowards---well, who are the real weaklings these days? French workers, after all, don't take any sh*t from the rich and powerful. If workers there see their rights under threat, they'll immediately take to the streets and fight for their rights.
Here, in America, workers are timid and scared to stand up for their rights. Very rarely do workers here take to the streets. Instead we politely bend over and spread our ass cheeks so we can get f*cked by the Rich and Powerful, again and again. This is why we have zero government-mandated vacation days or sick days (which makes America unique in this regard among First World nations). Even the likes of India and China require some vacation days and holidays for workers these days.
So who are the real cowards? It sure as hell ain't the French.