Who cares about anyone else's president, you ask, when the future of the White House is still unknown? But months before our candidates started shitting out campaign slogans, right-of-center President Nicolas Sarkozy of France rode the theme of change to a victory over photogenic Socialist Ségolène Royal. In Sarkozy's sense, change didn't mean universal health care (France already has it) or ending the mess in Iraq (freedom fries, anyone?); it meant a harder stance on law and order, urging the French to work more, and telling them to stop hating on America. Change the French still believe in? Er, not according to Sarko's latest approval ratings.
The translation of Sarkozy's book, Testimony, contains some engaging passages that will incite appreciative murmurs of "merci" among readers who know France: His case for affirmative action (a much-loathed policy in "color-blind" France) is as intelligent as any I've heard; his ideas about simplifying his country's bureaucratic labyrinth and loosening up its labor laws come off as sensible. But despite the honesty of Sarkozy's diagnoses, his understanding of France's ills often seems superficial; the book reads like a series of bold solutions to underanalyzed problems. Sarkozy offers a stubbornly conservative reading of the riots in Parisian suburbs as the work of bloodthirsty delinquents (or "scum," as he controversially called them) without an ounce of real social outrage; how genuine, then, are his urgings to promote diversity and eliminate ethnic ghettos? Sarkozy aspires to give his country a makeover, but refuses to cast a critical eye on uglier patches of French history. He wants France to do better, but his tone veers toward scolding whenever he talks about his countrymen. The idealistic American in you turns the last page feeling grateful we have someone like Barack Obama calling for change, and not this jerk.