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May 29, 2005

Posted by Heather Hurlburt

A resounding "non" from the French for the EU Constitution today.  We will have days of commentary about how much this was "an opportunity to say up yours to the government" (as a European diplomat said to me), "about the economy" (a German scholar of organizational behavior), about immigration and Turkey, the EU's democratic deficit, and so on.

I'll say "all of the above" and stay out of that discussion, because I think there's a larger lesson here for progressives.  In a democracy, when governing elites let themselves get too separated from the people they represent -- or allow the perception of separation to go unrepaired -- the people will eventually figure out a way to bite back in a tender place.

In a funny way, the EU Constitution seems to have become for the French and the Dutch (and the Brits and perhaps some others as well) the same bogeyman that the Republicans have managed to make the dread multilateralism here at home -- representative of all that larger forces are trying to cram down your throat in the name of modernity, globalization, the 21st century.

Why do the French think that the Constitution would threaten their social policy with dread Anglo-Saxon liberalism while the British think it would bring on too much Continental socialism? (This wonderful insight came from the Brookings discussion that Derek referenced a few days ago.)  Because those are the external bogeys each fears.  If the EU Constitution didn't exist, it would have had to be invented to express the angst of the moment.

What are we afraid of here?  Globalized terrorism, a changing economy where whole categories of job and the secure lives that went with them are vanishing, a future which is fast-moving and cosmopolitan, where jobs and diseases and the new neighbors next door come from places you can hardly spell.

All reasonable fears.  But progressives are stuck in the "there's no easy answers" stage, ceding the field to conservatives who have easy answers, if not good ones:  close the borders, cut off debate,  subpoena your library books and test our kids silly on a few skills while choking off funding for the rest.

Question is, will the Europeans figure out a better response?  The early indications don't look good -- all the considerable creative energy is likely to go toward figuring out clever treaty fixes.

So whatever this vote ends up meaning for the European project, and US-EU relations, and big issues we care about, etc. etc. -- and even if you think, as I do, that few tears need be shed over the constitution itself -- it should serve as another wakeup call, as if more were needed, that this new century is unsettling to people everywhere, and people are responding by refusing to buy in to new constructs policymakers come up with, however manifestly sensible they may seem to their creators.  Think about it as a disconnect between technology and end-user.


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Well, everyone here hashad some interesting comments. I am surprised, however, that none of you ever-so-well-educated, ever-so-internationalist, ever-so-well-connected folks couldn't get a comment on what the hell happened from a French friend.

I have four friends in France, who span the political spectrum from Socialist to Gaullist - and interestingly not one of them ever lived up to the negative stereotypes of French people so many of we Americans suffer from - and they do all say that they voted "Non" for the reasons put forward here. Even the Gaullist.

The fact is, Chirac is going to have to do more than reshuffle a cabinet of what my French Socialist friend said "qualify so well as what you call 'pinstriped pimps'" (0ne of my favorite terms to describe Amreican captains of industry and their bought-and-paid-for Republican majority). Even a solid bloc of his own party wish he would depart, according to what I am told by those with their "boots on the ground."

In truth, why would any rational human being who wasn't a multi-bazillionaire want to convert over to "Anglo-Saxon capitalism", which more and more looks like the capitalism described by Dickens 150 years ago??? When my French friends describe the system they live under, I think to myself "lucky dogs."

We have the "Best Congress Money Can Buy" voting for trade agreements that sell out the interests of everyone below the rank of CEO, ratifying the hollowing-out of the American industrial economy in the name of "efficiency" and this is supposed to be "progress"?????

God, if I could only vote to take us out of the WTO and NAFTA...

A whole lot less "globalism" will benefit everyone who isn't an Ivy-League graduate and a Washington insider.

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