As most readers of this blog know, I'm fairly moderate politically. I'm more liberal on issues of our society and international issues, more conservative with respect to fiscal matters. Side note: I find it amusing that mainline protestant Christians (Lutherans, Methodists, Episcopaleans, - of which I am one - Presbyterians, etc.) are considered theologically liberal amongst American Christian. Somehow, I find it easier to praise liberals than Conservatives, but probably only because the offenses committed on the right seem more egregious than those I see on the left. But I hope I'm relatively even handed in my critical analysis of both left and right.
Toward that end, let me offer modest praise to two decidedly conservative world leaders: U.S. President George Bush and newly elected French President Nicolas Sarkozy.
Now, I have been heard to utter the phrase "Somewhere in Texas, a village is missing its idiot" on more than one occasion. That's probably not fair, since the President is not an idiot. Its the neo-con agenda and rationalization of the same that offend me, but the President is a fairly smart man and certainly one that understands how power is utilized. I've been consistently disappointed and often angered by his diplomatic record but it is specifically a diplomatic choice of his that I want to praise: the awarding of the Congressional Gold Medal to His Holiness the Dalai Lama. To be clear, Congress awards the medal, not the President, and this was a bi-partisan sponsored bill in both the Senate and the House (I'm happy my congressman and one of my senators were the Democratic sponsors in each of the houses of Congress). But it was the President who took the public lead on dealing with China's denouncements and threats in the wake of the decision to honor the spiritual and cultural leader of the once soveriegn nation, now subjugated province of China, who the People's Republic denounces as a separatist and traitor.
Diplomacy with China is international politics in the Big Leagues. The delicate balance between trade and human rights is a tough one, and holding China publicly accountable for its Human Rights record has not been a triumph for any western leader in memory. But by honoring His Holiness the Dalai Lama, the issue of Tibet as well as China's handling of human rights is more effectively kept part of the global public debate than denouncements over Falun Gong, et al. With the amount of trade we give China, we have diplomatic power. This is how a lame duck president with strong ties to China should spend this is political capital.
And Sarkozy? There's a lot to love about this guy. If there's a nation that needs a little butt kicking by conservative leadership, it would be France. Not only is the French president standing tough against Iran's nuclear ambitions but he's taking on the powerful French unions who are bound to preserve his country's corrosive welfare state. Republicans in the American Congress think we have high taxes? Geesh.
What caught my eye, though, was President Sarkozy's much publicized decision to walk out on CBS reporter Lesley Stahl of "60 Minutes" when she asked him a gossipy question about his relationship with his then-wife during taped interviews. President Sarkozy's behavior was no issue - he firmly but politely ended the interview, shaking Stahl's hand and wishing her "Bon Courage" with his departure. What I found refreshing was that he refused to give in to the voyeuristic intrusion and refused to speak of matters of personal concern with no political import. Bravo. This is a French leader, the first in history that I can name, who is endeavoring to reverse the decades (centuries?) of French chest-thumping and public lambasting of America. He publicly attests to wishing to cease the assertion of French cultural superiority and snarky mudslinging about American policy (deserved or not). Rather, he professes a partnership on issue of congruence (Iran's nuclear ambitions) and respectful disagreement on issues about which we disagree (the war in Iraq). Sounds right. Time will tell - Sarkozy may not be what he appears, but I like the first impression. Hopefully, Jean-Marc or Pierre will repost with their ground's-eye view of their new leader.