PARIS – “Britain and France had to choose between war and dishonor. They chose dishonor. They will have war.” Winston Churchill’s famous denunciation of the delaying tactics of the British and French on the eve of World War II should be a warning to French President Nicolas Sarkozy. In fanning vicious anti-immigrant passions for short-term political gain, he will have dishonor first and then defeat. For, although a majority of French today may be inclined to sympathize with Sarkozy’s immigrant-bashing rhetoric, there is no guarantee that they will re-elect him in 2012.
It is not so much Sarkozy’s performance as president that most Frenchmen reject; it is his essence. At a time of rising unemployment, with France dominated by fears about the future, the French need a reassuring father or mother figure, not a jittery and manipulative leaderready to compromise ethics and France’s proud tradition that every citizen is entitled to equal treatment under the law.
Former Prime Minister Michel Rocard did not mince words about Sarkozy’s recent proposals to strip foreign-born French nationals of their citizenship if convicted of threatening the life of a police officer, practicing polygamy, or female “circumcision.” “One has not seen such measures since the Vichy regime or since the Nazis,” Rocard declared. Equating Sarkozy with Marshal Pétain’s collaborationist Vichy regime is, of course, an exaggeration, but Rocard’s concerns are shared by many French – and not only intellectuals and pundits.
Even among traditional conservatives, there is a whiff of ethical disgust at Sarkozy. Can the French really violate their values to such an extent? Will re-introduction of the death penalty be the next step on this populist downward spiral?