The Washington Post's John Ward Anderson and Molly Moore have the best piece on the French election. Here is your French voter:
Guillaume Beaucheron did not become a train engineer because he loved toy trains as a boy. He did it for the good pay, short work hours and early retirement offered by France's state-owned railway company. And now, he says, that is all under threat.
"In the past 20 or 30 years, the government has failed at everything," Beaucheron complained. It has buckled under to European Union rules that jeopardize and delay his retirement, while the Internet and automation have eliminated railway jobs by the day.
And so when he goes to vote in Sunday's French presidential election, said Beaucheron, 36, he'll back a candidate who will fight globalization, protect jobs from encroaching technology and defend his retirement plan, which allows him to quit working at age 56. He declined to specify his candidate choice, citing his powerful labor union's neutral position in the campaign.
"We need change," Beaucheron said, his thinning brown hair tied in a skinny ponytail. "We need to get the country moving -- more jobs, pay raises for everyone."
Beaucheron's demand for change on the one hand, and his absolute fear of it on the other, reflect the country's core ambivalence going into Sunday's election. The three front-running candidates embody this paradox, too. While each campaigns as an agent of change, few people here believe that whoever wins a five-year term in the Elysee Palace will tackle the country's serious ills.
Monsieur Beaucheron is in the position of a man who knows he needs to lose weight, but doesn't want to diet or exercise. Which is to say he is like all voters in every modern democracy, only more so. You can include me in that mix. I'm all for making the economy more efficient except when that means cutting into my paycheck or making me work more. Fortunately, I live in a republic which is reasonably efficient to begin with, well, except for that baby boomer/social security thing. France is going belly-up a lot faster.
My friend Chad at CCK recently said that the "Conservative Movement" has no ideas left. He may be right about that. I reply that the "liberal movement" has exactly one idea: to make the United States more like France.