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Who of these Presidents is better off three months before the election year ends? Is it Sarkozy — not particularly popular, but featuring a reputation of a steady leader, navigating the country through the crisis? Or is it Obama, whose lifestyle and behavior cause no contempt among his compatriots, but whose authority in the matters of American economics and foreign policy is growing all the more dubious?

The New York Times and International Herald Tribune have recently published an article by John Vinocur, where he rather unexpectedly compared the re-election prospects for the incumbent Presidents of France and the USA. The New York Times is a traditional Democratic stronghold and the IHT is its European subsidiary. Author is a 71-year-old veteran of American journalism and a holder of the French Légion d’Honneur, decorated by Nicolas Sarkozy himself. He was also awarded with a prestigious George Polk Award.

This, his membership (and the one of newspapers publishing him) of what’s called the American and European establishment is beyond any doubts. This curious fact surely makes Vinocur’s reflections especially interesting for understanding of the processes that take place in the USA and France.

Both Presidents are united by an aggravating statistics of the labor markets, fading electoral support and, therefore, lack of confidence in the reelection. Add the risk of stagnating economy here along with wars in Libya and Afghanistan, and the assurance of an exceptional role of their respective countries in the global politics. Vinocur, though, points out the different grounds for this confidence — while Americans rather treat their exceptionality as a historical burden of responsibility, Frenchmen believe this to be their national right by birth. However, according to Vinocur, in a strictly economic sense Sarkozy is in a worse situation right now.

What do the numbers tell us?

The poll, recently carried out by IFOP (Institut francais d’opinion publique — French Institute of Public Opinion) indicates that in May of 2012 the main competitor of the incumbent French President François Hollande, representing the Socialist Party of France, would have won with a result of 59% versus 41%.

American Rasmussen Reports believes that if the elections took place today, Texas governor Rick Perry, leading the Republican ticket, would have gained 44% against 41% for Obama.

It turns out that the alarm indicator of electoral support for both candidates is flashing red. Yet, the comparison of these two politicians, who have faced similar problems, may not be confined with the public opinion poll results. Recently France has demonstrated a habit of squinting over the ocean, either looking for the answers to domestic questions, or hoping to find the support of allies.

The end of Obama-mania, isn’t it?

Alarming reports about the U. S. unemployment rate (by the way, it has never reached 10% since 1945) is a terrible shock for American. Usually this important macroeconomic index over the Atlantic Ocean was twice less than at the Old Continent. Describing the Obama’s August vacation at Martha’s Vineyard Island in Massachusetts, The Boston Globe (the newspaper of even greater significance for the Dems than the aforementioned The New York Times and International Herald Tribune) wrote that there’s not a hint of "Obama fever" that struck the island during the previous vacation of the President. It was replaced with irritation caused by the inter-partisan clinch and the fainting economy. Even worse, Obama is losing support among the key sectors of his electorate: Greens, who dub the President’s environmental policy an "insolent betrayal" and even the black-skinned voters, accusing Obama of indifference for the unemployed Afro-Americans. Chaotic American policy went through a transformation: definitions like "weak", "inefficient" and "passive", which were previously heard only during the "listeners’ calls", pouring out their pain to the popular radio stations now leaked into the analytical articles of major newspapers.

Green light for Sarkozy

In France the situation goes the other way round. Both the changes of electoral support statistics become all the more prominent and the key of media reports becomes all the more minor-sounding. Popular weekly Le Point no longer places caricature images of the French President to the front line. Instead, in one of the latest issues a photo of the President, confidently looking into camera, and a comment "And what if it was him again?" was found. Sociological center TNS Sofres gas recently published the new analysis of the public sentiments, claiming that the National Front, led by Marie Le Pen, lost 13% of its voters, who joined the supporters of the current President. French like the Sarkozy’s "triumphant role" in support of Libyan rebels. At that, even the socialists — his direct rivals — do not criticize Libyan intervention.

The situation’s quite different in the USA. Participation of the USAF in bombings of Libya is dubbed the "back-seat driving". One of the possible GOP candidates Mitt Romney has even dared to say the following: "Have we ever had a President, justifying the need for our actions and doubts in his heart?"

Sarkozy, though, constantly uses French participation in the Libyan invasion as a metaphor of his tough nature, which he’d also display, fighting with the unemployment rate, which has already reached 9%, although he fails to offer any other ways rather than subsidizing the creation of new jobs. Thus, the French President demonstrates his advantage in front of his trans-Atlantic counterpart, putting the USA on the same shelf with the wrecking Greece, Portugal and Ireland, constantly emphasizing French ability to deal with its economic problems by itself. At that, more than 90% of French actually consider the distress of the labor market to be the main state problem. Nobody voices up the exact numbers, while Obama has to constantly prove his efficiency to the public, which is perfectly aware of the fact that he entered the White House with an unemployment rate of 7.6%.

Everyone needs victories

So who of these Presidents is better off three months before the election year ends? Is it Sarkozy — not particularly popular, but featuring a reputation of a steady leader, navigating the country through the crisis? Or is it Obama, whose lifestyle and behavior cause no contempt among his compatriots, but whose authority in the matters of American economics and foreign policy is growing all the more dubious?

Pierre Lellouche, French Secretary of State for Foreign Trade, well-aware of American affairs, makes an optimistic prediction that "Both will win". Last year Obama’s partisan brother-in-arms, the ex-President Bill Clinton took liberties making a not entirely correct comment regarding Barack Obama’s actions during the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. "The U. S. President is hired by Americans to gain victories for them. If he fails to do that and Americans do not feel themselves winners, he cannot expect their acknowledgment either."

American exceptionality demands impressive victories. French are less demanding and victory is a more relative term for them. This may be the very participation in the game, respect of other participants and, if at all possible, the peculiar a la francaise style. The fact that the French elections concurred with the U. S. ones is merely a coincidence, of course. As for the fact that both Presidents fetched themselves in similar situations at the verge of reelection — it doesn’t look all that chancy at all. Similarity of economic problems gives an evidence of a severe illness of an entire global financial system, which — in case of France — is aggravated by the EU and euro-zone membership. The role of euro-donor, who’s destined to save Greece and other European outsiders from bankruptcy, substantially complicates the situation for France and its President. Obama has no problems with helping out other countries, but the U. S budget, burdened with the defense and social spending and falling apart at the seams, leaves him no chance to relax either.

It’s surely too early to predict anything. Anything may happen until the elections, which are still not so nigh in both countries. Yet, we have to foresee the changes of the U. S. and French internal and foreign policy, connected to the election expectations of French and Americans. As the saying goes, the more often elections take place — the closer governments descend to their fellow citizens.

By Gregory Tinsky




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