Help! The Left Is Returning

The echoes of the Indignatos' protests can be heard all over Europe.

Don't worry, it's happening in France, not here. The most recent polls show clearly that the French public is leaning toward supporting the Socialist candidate Francois Hollande, not President Nicolas Sarkozy. And while this poll must be treated with caution, it indeed seems as if the French have had enough of the president.

The caution is fueled by two factors - low voter turnout, and the fact that the electoral method of choosing a president is largely personal and not party-based.

Basically it's a process of elimination. Several candidates go into the first round, most of whom have no chance of being elected. These candidates use the presidential race to strengthen their political position in advance of the parliamentary elections, and try to gain some influence with the two candidates who advance to the next round. But in the second, decisive round the French are asked to decide between two options that often (too often ) represent a choice between the bad and the less bad.

One can assume that at least some of the current support for Hollande, who isn't particularly charismatic (even though he's a nice, intelligent man with a sense of humor ), has nothing to do with his political positions, but stems from the anger many Frenchmen feel toward Sarkozy. Even so, there's no doubt that the French are not seeking merely a personnel change, but a substantive one.

In the shadow of the financial crisis, whose threats to France are more serious than they've been in the past; rising unemployment; increasing tensions between migrant workers and "veteran" Frenchmen, and between the veterans and immigrants from Muslim countries; and deep changes that the secular republic is undergoing due to the increasing religiosity of numerous communities, the French are seeking new answers. The right, which has been sitting confidently in the Elysee Palace for 17 years, is not providing them. For years the collapsed left offered no alternative. But now the picture is starting to change.

It's hard to say that Hollande is a typical socialist. His platform is cautious, polite and, in a few places, even vague. Still, the backbone of his platform contains some significant emphases that are substantially different from those of the right - increased government involvement in the labor market; wider investment in the public sector; taxes on wealth, and more. The platform is not exactly in the spirit of the traditional socialism promulgated by Martine Aubry, the previous Socialist Party leader who essentially rehabilitated the party, but it's definitely left of Sarkozy.

The right's hysterical response to the polls echoes exactly like right-wing hysteria in other countries, and particularly like the kind we in Israel are familiar with. "Hollande will bring France to its knees," we hear. "The left is proposing dangerous policies."

"Seven years the left has ruled in Spain, and we see the result!" Sarkozy shouted this week. Any link between that implication and reality is purely coincidental, but who needs facts when you can scare people?

"In 1981 the left collapsed the economy in two years - now it would destroy it in two days," said Sarkozy, and of course ended with the most frightening question of all: "Do you want to end up like Greece?"

But what scares both the right and the left is the surprise that has popped up from even further left than the left - Jean-Luc Melenchon, who heads the Left Front. After more than a decade in which the "right front," headed by Jean-Marie Le Pen and his daughter after him, represented an ideological alternative to the French political wasteland, there suddenly arose a sharp and militant left that's been bringing hundreds of thousands of enthusiastic supporters onto the streets.

Melenchon, intelligent and charismatic, a former minister and his party's representative in the European Parliament, scares Hollande and his party as well, and justifiably so. He suggests replacing hatred and separatism with brotherhood; austerity with a fairer division of resources; the monarchy of the Fifth Republic with an egalitarian democracy; and fear with hope.

At first he drew support from hordes of laborers, who had previously voted Le Pen, and immigrants who believe that Melenchon, who was born in Morocco to Spanish parents, understands their distress. Now he is getting support from intellectuals as well.

Help! The left is really returning, and the echoes of the Indignatos' protests can be heard all over Europe.