How do you say "Ronald Reagan" in French? Many in Europe's establishment fear it might be "Nicolas Sarkozy."
Mr. Sarkozy was elected president of France Sunday by a comfortable margin (53-47 percent) over the Socialist candidate, Segolene Royale. Voter turnout was an eye-popping 85 percent.
Mr. Sarkozy is not your typical French politician. He had a picture taken of himself shaking hands with President Bush, something some of the GOP candidates for president are leery of doing.
In his victory speech, Mr. Sarkozy said: "I want to make an appeal to our American friends: to say to them they can count on our friendship, which has been reinforced by the historical tragedies we have encountered together. I want to say to them that France will always be at their side when they need her help."
That would be a welcome change from recent, and not so recent, history. There would have been no United States of America were it not for the French. When Lord Cornwallis marched his troops out of Yorktown on Oct. 19, 1781 to surrender to General Washington, he did so because a French fleet prevented the evacuation of the British. The army to which Cornwallis surrendered had nearly as many French soldiers in it as Americans.
Things have gone downhill since then. We fought an undeclared naval war with France in 1798. Abraham Lincoln almost sent troops against the French when they seized Mexico during our Civil War.
We were on the same side in World Wars I and II. In both those wars, though, our role was to rescue the French from the Germans. We also protected the French from the Soviets during the Cold War.
The response of French governments to these repeated rescues was stunning ingratitude. Charles DeGaulle pulled France out of NATO and delighted in sticking his finger in our eye. No Western nation has done more than the France of retiring President Jacques Chirac to undermine our foreign policy.
But anti-Americanism in France, like anti-Americanism in America, largely is confined to a privileged elite. The large crowd at Mr. Sarkozy's victory party broke out in spontaneous cheering and applause when he said America could count on France's friendship.
What does this mean, other than that I should put a lid on jokes about "cheese eating surrender monkeys?"
The solid Sarkozy win put an exclamation point on a trend little remarked upon by our news media. When the war on terror began, most of our traditional allies had governments that were opposed to American foreign policy, or at least to President Bush's policies.
The first domino fell in Germany in September, 2005, when Angela Merkel nudged out Socialist Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder.
Then on Jan 23, 2006, Conservative Stephan Harper evicted a Liberal government that had held power in Canada since 1993.
And now Sarko. His win is the most significant because it was the most decisive; it came in the country where official anti-American sentiment was greatest, and because France has a seat on the UN Security Council.
What this could mean is that the diplomatic cooperation we didn't get from Europe with regard to Iraq may be forthcoming in confrontations with Iran and Syria. The (long) odds that their rogue behavior can be reined in without war have gone up.
However heartened we are by the warm applause Mr. Sarkozy's pro American sentiments received, we must assume he was elected more in spite of them than because of them.
Sarko won because a solid majority of Frenchmen are disgusted with the sclerotic economy French socialism has produced, and are frightened and angered by a rising crime rate, especially in the Muslim-dominated suburbs. He will succeed or fail depending on how he does domestically.
Can Sarko turn things around? Those, like JWR columnist Mark Steyn, who fear France and Europe are lost causes, think not. In the 2005 German election, "the electorate was irritated with the incumbents but recoiled against any meaningful change," he wrote. Mr. Steyn thinks the same is true about the French.
But my friend Jack Wheeler, in the best short history of France ever written (for his newsletter, To the Point News), notes that often before France has appeared to be in irreversible decline, only to turn itself around. Jack thinks Sarko will be more like Clovis or Henry IV than like Jacques Chirac.
We'll find out how serious the French are about reform in the parliamentary elections in June. In the meantime, we have a friend in the Elysee Palace for the first time in a very, very long time. That's something to toast with French champagne.