France's Political and Economic Woes Evoke Pre-War Instability

The more things change ...


Ten months ago, the Socialist government of François Hollande swept into office on the promise "Le changement, c'est maintenant" (Change is now). Given this week's opinion polls, however, the only change French voters now wish to see is Hollande and Co. swept back out of office. According to the weekly magazine Le Nouvel Observateur, just 27 percent of respondents are "satisfied" with the president's performance. Never has public confidence in the president of the French Fifth Republic fallen so far, so fast. For even the most blasé of observers, it is shocking that Hollande beats the political figure the French love to hate, Nicolas Sarkozy, in this race to the bottom: the former president hovered at a 40 percent approval rating at the same point in his term of office.

Hollande's reputation, along with his government's, is unraveling on the 75th anniversary of an earlier great Socialist unraveling in France, the Popular Front. What's more, the political, economic and social contexts between early 1938, when this first Socialist exercise in power collapsed, and now are remarkably similar. So similar that one can imagine Hollande in the role of Bill Murray in "Groundhog Day," waking up to find that today is yesterday. The question is whether he will manage to shift both his government and country into tomorrow.