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June 2012
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NAUGHTY When it comes to scandals, you can't beat the French

Ah, the French. What would we do without them?

As history buffs know, every time there's a big war, and the United States needs a country to rescue, the French oblige.

And when it comes to politics and political scandals, no one can hold a candle to the French.

So if you are bored to distraction with such pedestrian Washington scandals as the White House siccing the IRS on conservative groups or government agents perusing AP reporters' phone records, cast your eyes across the pond, where French President Francois Hollande is putting on a good show.

The spectacle is helped greatly by the French media. Reliably liberal, they can at times make the New York Times look moderate. Yes, they love their liberal politicians, but unlike the liberal lapdogs who populate much of the Washington press corps, French reporters retain that iconoclastic streak that delights in taking a politician - any politician - apart.

Such is the case with Hollande, who rode to power in May of 2012 on a populist wave that makes Barack Obama look like a rank amateur. Hollande, a socialist, ousted conservative President Nicolas Sarkozy and promptly made good on his promise to impose a 75 percent tax on millionaires. He drove overall taxes in France to 45 percent of GDP, tied with Belgium for the highest in the Eurozone.

The honeymoon didn't last long however. The impact of Hollande's policies on the economy of France has made him, less than two years later, the most unpopular French president in post-war history. So duly unimpressed, and perhaps bored, the French media decided to launch an investigation of Hollande's love life.

France's First Lady, you see, is not Hollande's spouse. She's his partner. But in France that's good enough to qualify her to live in the Elysee Palace and benefit from the $22,000 a week that goes to support the revered title.

Hollande, however, now finds himself accused of some naughtiness by the French press. Specifically, he's accused of having an "affair" with a woman not his wife, er, we mean girlfriend. Whatever.

Anyway, a French magazine called Closer published photos of Hollande and an actress paying overnight visits to a flat near the palace. Better yet, the magazine published photos of a presidential bodyguard arriving at the flat one morning to deliver a bag of croissants.

Bad as that sounds, a story last week in the Financial Times says the scandal is not likely to do significant political damage to Hollande because, well he's already the most unpopular French president in modern history.

What surely is a bigger scandal to committed French socialists is Hollande's sudden conversion to a tax-cutter. This week, in an effort to try to reverse his political fortunes, he proposed a 30-billion euro ($40.8 billion) cut in business payroll taxes. He also vowed to cut government spending, by 15-billion euros ($20.4 billion) this year, and another 50 billion euros ($68 billion) in the three years thereafter. "It is imperative that France restores the power of its economy. There's no time to lose," Hollande exclaimed.

This is a socialist? It sounds more like Ronald Reagan.

Post-Bill Clinton, we suspect most Americans are content to leave political sex scandals to the French. But were President Obama to have the same sort of economic policy conversion Hollande has displayed, that's a scandal we all could live with.

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