Tags: France | chirac | viguerie | reagan | thatcher | lepen

France's Chirac Was 'Absolute Disappointment' to U.S. Conservatives, Says Viguerie

jaques chirac addresses an audience during a ceremony in 2010
Former French President Jaques Chirac in 2010. ( AP Photo/Ibrahim Usta)

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Sunday, 29 September 2019 08:12 AM Current | Bio | Archive

As the world mourned Jacques Chirac following his death Thursday at age 86, the former French President was remembered for several things:  his championship of the European Union, his vigorous opposition to the U.S. strike in Iraq in 2003, and his high-octane charisma that made him one of the best campaigners in modern French politics.

Little discussed was the complete let-down Chirac proved to be for American conservatives in the 1980’s who saw in the then-mayor of Paris as the French version Britain’s Margaret Thatcher, Germany’s Franz Josef Strauss (the conservative leader who ran unsuccessfully for chancellor in 1980), and their own Ronald Reagan.

“He was like a Rorschach test—we saw in him what we wanted and that was a populist conservative,” recalled Richard Viguerie, the father of the direct mail technique that fueled the modern conservative movement in the U.S.

Invited to Paris in 1984 to debate a prominent liberal by the venerable publication “Paris Match,” Viguerie and wife Elaine flew on the Concorde.  They also got to spend an hour with then-Mayor Chirac.

“I told him about the conservative movement in the U.S., and about the single-issue groups that were so important,” Viguerie told us, “Chirac seemed very interested and struck me as a populist conservative.”

He added that Chirac also spoke to him “in flawless English.” (Chirac had studied at Harvard for a semester in the mid-1950’s).

So impressed was Viguerie with the Frenchmen that for several years, he kept a signed photograph of Chirac in his office.  

Elected president in 1995 on this third try, Chirac quickly launched a program to roll back privileges for public sector employees—in effect, attempting something that Republican governors such as Wisconsin’s Scott Walker would successfully pursue in the early 21st century.

But when trade unions launched a general strike in the winter of 1995-96, Chirac retreated from his agenda.  Even after he was re-elected in 2002 and rolled up nearly 80 percent of the vote over controversial nationalist Jean Marie LePen (as well as hefty majorities in the National Assembly for his center-right party), Chirac never attempted to revive the conservative reform agenda he had initially backed.

“He was more a political survivor than a statesman,” eulogized the “Financial Times,” “A dealmaker, not a strategist.”

“When I met Chirac, he looked pretty good next to who was in charge at the time, Francois Mitterand [France’s first Socialist president],” said Viguerie, “And he was impressive.  But it was all image.  For conservatives, he proved to be an absolute disappointment.”

John Gizzi is chief political columnist and White House correspondent for Newsmax. For more of his reports, Go Here Now.

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As the world mourned Jacques Chirac following his death Thursday at age 86, the former French President was remembered for several things: his championship of the European Union, his vigorous opposition to the U.S. strike in Iraq in 2003...
chirac, viguerie, reagan, thatcher, lepen
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2019-12-29
Sunday, 29 September 2019 08:12 AM
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