Socialist Nostalgia

Letter From Paris

Since May 1981, when they won a sweeping electoral victory in the parliamentary elections, France's Socialists have suffered two sobering shocks which, while they have brought many of their soaring dreams plummeting to earth, have made many malcontents. The first shock was administered in 1983 when, after two years of ideological debauch, which resulted in (among other things) the nationalization of 38 banks and three successive devaluations of the franc, the finance minister, Jacques Delors, put an end to the splurge by imposing a strict "austerity" program. The second shock was administered in 1986 when a majority of French electors voted the Socialists out of office, thereby forcing a clearly nettled President Mitterrand to choose a new non-Socialist prime minister—in the person of the neo-Gaullist mayor of Paris, Jacques Chirac.

In the United States, where we have an essentially presidential system of government, we have long since grown accustomed to seeing, for example, a Republican president having to share power with a Democratic Congress. But in France, which now has a hybrid presidential-parliamentary system, nothing comparable had been seen since the start of the Fifth Republic in 1958.

This period of forcible cohabitation proved to be relatively brief For in May 1988 François Mitterrand, who is with little doubt the cleverest (though by no means the most sagacious) politician in France,...

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