Which way is 'Left'? Spain, France, the U.S.

Now isn't this a curious image? A weary, desperately hopeful Bush, nearly friendless in the world and with no support from either the American people or even his party, seems to be leaning on Sarkozy, who is much shorter but at the moment much sturdier. Sarkozy has announced that France will always be "a friend of the United States" and, while making no commitment to Bush's lost war in Iraq, promises to maintain troops in Afghanistan "as long as necessary."

Contrast this with a March 2003 photo of a healthier, much more confident Bush with Spain's then-president José María Aznar, who had just committed Spanish lives to Bush's Iraq adventure in exchange for a little petting. Aznar reveled in that caress in his "best friend" role in Bush's western; Sarkozy knows that this show is not John Ford but Molière, where he plays the clever scamp who happily relieves the pretentious nincompoop of a good part of his fortune.

On Wednesday we flew back from Paris to Madrid, and then on Thursday took the train to Almería, an occasion to catch up on the papers and reflect on the contrasting "Rights" and "Lefts" of Spain and France.

In Spain, the Right can't agree on what direction to take, the major party riven by in-fighting while its supposed leaders take disastrously extreme positions that even many of its usual voters find ridiculous (claiming against all evidence that Atocha train station bombings were really a Socialist plot to take power, for example). In France, it's the Left that doesn't know where it's going, or to say the same thing another way, is trying to go in all directions at once. In both cases, disorganization is both cause and consequence of being out of power.

Aznar's phony nationalism (claiming to promote the ancient values of Spain while surrendering its sovereignty to the U.S. neo-cons) turned into an electoral disaster for his Popular Party in 2003, as many Spanish conservatives now realize, but the PP leadership has been reluctant openly to disavow Aznar's odd mix of neo-liberal economics and medieval social policies. The PP factions are at war with one another (notably in Madrid, with PP Madrid Community president Esperanza Aguirre v. PP Madrid mayor Ruiz-Gallardón, and in Valencia, with former Generalitat president and now PP spokesman Eduardo Zaplana in open conflict with current Generalitat president, also PP, Camps), and has alienated its some-time allies in the other nationalist parties. In contrast, the Socialists (PSOE) now in government have been able to establish the direction of the Left, holding together (mostly) its own internal factions and keeping the support of the other parties that define themselves as Left.

Sarkozy, who is as far right as Aznar economically but not as medieval -- he doesn't openly voice nostalgia for the Reconquista (i.e., expulsion of Muslims) or the Inquisition -- is seeking to impose his vision on France's fractious Right while exploiting the notorious divisions on the Left, seducing some of the Socialist Party's best-known figures to join his government. His successes reveal the utter confusion of the Left, that famous socialists such as Kouchner et al. could think that Sarkozy's echo of Louis-Phillipe's 1840 cry "Enrichissez-vous" could be a left slogan today. Sarkozy's gestures (mostly mediatic) so far have been possible because he faces no concerted, united opposition. The big strikes scheduled for next week will be a major test.

I haven't yet got to what I wanted to talk about here, the parallel and divergent histories of the two countries' Socialist and Communist Parties, which explain a lot of what is going on now and, I think, will help us predict where and in what form the new European Left will take. But this note is already too long and it's late. Those thoughts for a future note.