May 7th, 2012
08:41 PM ET

Letters to the President #1204: 'The French choose a socialist'

Reporter's Note: I write to President Obama every day. He does not respond. I have never called, but perhaps I should give that a try.

Dear Mr. President,

It was nice to hear late today of this foiled plot to send yet another underwear bomber to our shores. No matter how secure we may feel at times, I realize that we have enemies who are always busy trying to find a new way to bring their violence our way, and it is reassuring to know that somehow, so far, we keep keeping up.

That said, I want to talk about something very different: The French election.

As always, it is not my place to pass any judgment on who won or who loss, but instead to merely report the results. Nor am I going to rattle on here about how Francois Hollande is a Socialist. Zut! I am intrigued, however, by the widespread belief that this was a vote against austerity. In a few words: Some voters appear very concerned about the idea that stabilizing the Euro and the European economy writ large means sacrifice.

Now, I say that I am intrigued, but I can hardly say I am surprised. I remember reading a study some years ago which said if you give anyone a choice between an immediate inconvenience, and a potentially worse one…tomorrow…the vast majority of folks will choose the delay. To wit: Most people would rather risk heart surgery in the hazy, faraway future, than eat their vegetables today.

Why is this? Personally, I think there are several reasons. First, many of us like to live in denial. We want to believe that somehow if we never fully accept the seriousness of our situation, it will somehow not be so dire. This is why people who are already in bad debt with their credit cards wind up in horrendous debt.

Second, we often believe that a miracle is just around the corner. “Why sure, honey, I realize we can’t really afford the new car, but I think I’ll get a raise, and you are due for a promotion, and who knows, maybe old Aunt Sally will finally kick the bucket and give us some cash in her will. Then we can afford it!”

And third…look, almost everyone likes anyone who says “party on,” few like the person who says, “Ok, turn off the music, it’s time to clean up this place.”

I don’t know that austerity if the key to rescuing the teetering economies of Europe. But I suspect whether it is nor not, the reasons most people voted against it were not based on a careful analysis of what till help France in the long run, but rather based on what those voters want right now. And it may well be that a lot of votes in Europe are shaping up that way, raising many questions about what results they will bring in the long run.

I’m sure you know more about all this than I do. Give a call if you can. I’d love your thoughts.


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