Americans generally hate French

France doesn't like America

By Dominique Moisi The mixture of amazement, glee, and serenity with which France viewed the mess of the American elections revealed much of how the French see America and even more of how they see themselves. France, centralized through and through, is far from understanding the guiding principles of the US federal system. The fear of "mob rule" that dominated eighteenth-century French philosophers may have influenced the indirect method of determining the American president. Nonetheless, the cultural divide between the two democratic constitutions is large. How can a majority of 300,000 votes, like the one Gore won, not automatically and instantly mean victory? How can a political civil war between two equally determined camps remain so peaceful and diverse? And how could the Supreme Judges decide so powerfully and so unilaterally in a political process? The way out of the impasse in which the election was stuck was complex to the point of absurdity, archaic in the technical aspects and everything, if not without it Hypocrisy, legal. In a Latin country like France, this American combination of direct democracy, practical reason and mild cynicism stands in the greatest possible contradiction to its own philosophy. Beyond all astonishment, people in France were also undeniably amused. From the Parisian point of view, this election can only encourage Americans to be humble: after this debacle, read the great democratic mass and teach other nations lessons in democracy? French humorists have been making derogatory comparisons between Florida and Corsica or the Fifth Arondissement of Paris, where electoral fraud is the rule rather than the exception, as France is now entering a presumably bumpy and dirty presidential election amid new revelations of financial and political scandals one finds solace in the woes of the world's most powerful democracy. Nevertheless, the French attitude can be classified as relaxed. Nobody seriously fears that the American election farce could turn the world off its hinges. Alan Greenspan, Steven Spielberg or Bill Gates occupy a more prominent place in the public imagination than the President of the USA, and one of this year's candidates. If it is only about the rank of personality, the contrast between Clinton and Gore, or between Clinton and Bush, is far greater than that between Bush and Gore. Clinton outshines both: he will be missed. This serenity also stems from the fact that, in European eyes, the differences between the two candidates were large enough to justify the preference for one or the other. Both turned to Central America during the election campaign. Bush is likely to be forced into a middle-class policy. The election saga and the divided Congress underscore this assumption. Bush's room for maneuver will be limited. Of course, even in Paris, one suspects that there are differences in the worldview of Republicans and Democrats and that they are important. The internationalism of the Bush team is determined more by self-interest, realism and a critical view of the European continent than the Wilson-inspired internationalism of the Gore team. With Bush in the White House, there can be a temptation to protect America from the world instead of protecting the world from itself. But there are also French who prefer Bush as president. Some conservatives do this out of content-related and moral affection. Some left socialists are for Bush precisely because he looks like the incarnation of the ugly American. The more presumptuous and hostile the next administration appears, the more - so the theory goes - Europeans will rely on each other. After Nice, such a calculation sounds more like wishful thinking than a realistic assessment of the situation. The idea that Europe can be brought together against America is not an illusion, it is dangerous. Translated into politics, it would divide Europeans even more. France's relations with the United States have always been contradictory and confused. For the first time since the Vietnam War, there is now deep-seated, popular anti-Americanism. The criticism of American imperialism has only been replaced by equating America with globalization. Yesterday America was condemned to bomb Vietnam. Today America is being rejected for what it is: a country where the death penalty is more the norm than the exception, and a civilization whose materialism seeks to serve as a shining example to the world, and yet the French should secret admiration for it show how such a confusing and ultimately unfair election ended so peaceful and civilized. Would France, with its revolutionary tradition, have been able to do such good behavior? The challenge that France is about to face is not just the election of a new president. No, the question is who in the discredited political class can still be trusted. An elementary question. Does America smile condescendingly?

The author is Deputy Director of the Institut Fran├žais des Relations Internationales in Paris