He's as tough-talking as Charles de Gaulle and, like the cantankerous general
who ruled France four decades ago, Nicolas Sarkozy is determined to save France
from its single biggest enemy: the French.
And this is just the man who can pull it off.
Currently minister of the interior under President Jacques Chirac, the
51-year-old Sarkozy is already considered the centrist UMP party's leading
presidential candidate in April's French national elections.
He is no favorite of incumbent Chirac (their relations are often as frosty as
frozen foie gras). Yet while Chirac's popularity steadily plummets, Sarkozy's is
on the rise.
Here's why: Sarkozy comes bearing a tough-love message for his people that's
long overdue: Arrogant France has fallen behind. Between lack of economic
initiative, ravenous welfare costs and immigration woes, this once powerful
nation has become a European sick man.
If the country wants to drag itself out of those doldrums, Sarkozy says, it's going
to have to stop
resting on its aging laurels. It must radically reform its perverse handout
economy - where people work only 35 hours a week - and start to puts its nose to
What's more, in order to win the war on global terrorism, he insists, France has
to join hands with its allies - not throw diplomatic tacks in their path.
And how's this for a breath of fresh air? Unlike all other French leaders of the
last 50 years, Sarkozy genuinely admires America and Americans. He made that
loud and clear when he visited the U.S. last week. Sarkozy told a Washington
gathering. "I'm not a coward. I'm proud of this friendship, and I proclaim it
That political courage would be especially valuable in confronting what may be
France's biggest internal woe: thousands of angry, unemployed North African
Muslims who feel excluded from mainstream French society. Sarkozy envisages new
opportunities for everyone, but he hasn't hesitated to tighten national immigration
controls and clamp down on crime.
When mobs of disaffected, mostly Muslim youths rampaged through the
poverty-gripped immigrant housing projects of France's city suburbs last year,
attacking police and burning thousands of cars and buildings, Sarkozy denounced
them as "a gang of scum." France's left-wing press seethed with rage. But the
comments connected with most of the French people, who knew the rioters couldn't
His message also resonates among French youth, who suffer from double-digit
unemployment. At a recent party youth conference in Marseilles, "Sarko" was
greeted by the kind of reception reserved for rock stars.
His race is far from won. Chirac hasn't ruled out running again. And Sarkozy's
most powerful opponent, Socialist leader Sgolne Royal, is a formidable woman
who will have the left-wing establishment - and media - on her side.
"How can you govern a country that has 246 kinds of cheese?" De Gaulle once
asked. Sarkozy's answer: with clarity, candor and courage. Let's all hope he gets