French Public Ready to Crack Down on Criminals:

A pair of articles from the Sept. 30-Oct. 6 issue of France-Amerique (Le Figaro's American weekly) offer some cause for hope that France is getting ready to pull itself out of its downward spiral. Last November, Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy referred to the young rioters in the French housing projects as "racaille" ("scum" or "rabble"). At time, the chattering classes were outraged, in part because the racaille that Sarkozy was talking about were almost all immigrants (or children of immigrants) from North Africa or West Africa. But the racaille remark turned out not to be a mega-gaffe, as the intelligentsia had predicted. To the contrary, Sarkozy's tough talk about youthful criminals has proved to be enormously popular. A new poll shows that 77% of the French public (including 74% of persons aged 18-24) agree that the French system is too lenient on juvenile delinquents. The agreements cuts across all demographics and party lines.

Le Figaro suggests that the racaille comment was a brilliant, deliberate political move by Sarkozy: while many French citizens realize that France's statist economic system needs to liberalize, they are reluctant to confront the issue publicly. By proposing crack-downs on young criminals, Sarkozy has made himself the leader on a topic of national near-consensus, and thereby shifted the focus away from his economic ideas. Le Figaro credits Sarkozy for realizing that if the French want a their next president to be a mommy who will protect them from the outside world, Sarkozy will never be able to out-mommy Segolene Royal, the leading Socialist candidate (who, within the French Socialist Party context, leans to the right). Accordingly, Sarkozy is running as the daddy candidate, who will take control of the housing projects and suburbs which have been turned into criminal havens, beyond the reach of French law.

Sources: Alexis Brezet, "Sarkozy: le pari du peuple" & Judith Waintraub, "La justice n'est pas assez severe selon 77% des Francais."