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Jewish World Review
May 8, 2007
/ 20 Iyar, 5767
The Frenchman and the right royal
Rarely has a Monday dawned so bright and beautiful in Washington. Everything suddenly looked possible again, if only for the day.
Nicolas Sarkozy, an unapologetic champion of hard work, free markets and the United States, wins a smashing victory in France, and Queen Elizabeth II, the sovereign of America's traditional best friend abroad, arrives in Washington and the town goes ga-ga.
Mr. Sarkozy sounds almost too good to be true, an echo of Maggie Thatcher, pledging to cut taxes, shrink a bloated government, reduce the welfare state, shut down useless parts of the government and make France competitive again. Even relevant, you might say.
He's looking across the Channel for an English model, as well he might. Thousands of his countrymen are settled in Old Blighty, eager to escape the stifling French economy and find a place where dreams lubricated by hard work can come true. Tony Blair is no Maggie Thatcher, but Mr. Blair was able to suppress the troglodyte left in the Labor Party enough to keep most of Maggie's free-market reforms in place.
The conventional wisdom is that he will have a hard time of it, but the 53 percent of the French voters who elected him know what they're getting. His Socialist rival, Segolene Royal, accused him of using "warlike language" to describe the young men who looted stores and firebombed cars in the Paris suburbs as "scum" that ought to be "cleaned out with a power hose." He never caved to partisan pressure (there may be a lesson in manly fortitude here for certain quick-to-quail Republicans in Washington), never tried to "splain" himself to his tutors in the French journals. He took pride in what he said and did during the nightly riots of two autumns ago.
When a desperate Madame Royal predicted blood in the streets if France didn't elect her, Mr. Sarkozy turned the threat against her: "To say that if people don't vote for one candidate, there will be violence is quite simply to refuse the democratic expression of our republic," he said. "We've never seen this before, never. It's a worrying form of intolerance."
Mr. Sarkozy promises to be a friend of America, replacing Jacques Chirac's venomous anti-American spleen with the sober and reflective support of a friend with true grit. "France's friendship with the United States is an important part of its history. I stand by this friendship, I'm proud of it, and I have no intention of apologizing for feeling an affinity with the greatest democracy in the world." That will require extensive attitude adjustment on both sides of the Atlantic.
There will be frequent differences, even sharp ones, but maybe attitudes can be adjusted. Only 231 years ago, the British and the Americans had to adjust their attitudes, and now the U.S. and the UK are the closest thing to permanent friends as two nations are likely to get. If official Washington goes limp in the knees in the presence of Hollywood royalty, the Queen inspires grown men to push little children out of the way to get close enough to touch her though everyone understands to touch her is to die, almost, unless she extends her hand for a shake. She frequently will.
The British, who do these things better than anyone, threw their annual garden party at their embassy yesterday to celebrate the Queen's birthday, and Her Majesty herself showed up for the champagne and strawberries. Once her aides, equerries and liege men divided the crowd assembled in a tent on the lawn, making an aisle, she moved slowly down the line, stopping to smile and make small talk. Some of the talk, as custom dictates, was exceedingly small.
But when she got to where Joe Lieberman, the senator from Connecticut, stood talking to his glamorous wife, Hadassah, the Queen stopped and extended her hand. The senator, aware that royal guests speak only when spoken to, risked a respectful remark: "You've done wonders for the ladies' hat industry in America, Your Majesty." Indeed she had; the embassy lawn looked like the grandstand at Churchill Downs on Derby Day, with nearly every woman smiling under the brim of a milliner's vision.
The Queen chuckled, smiled at me, only 13 generations removed from a Northumberland pig farm, and moved on toward the end of a very fine day in Washington.
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