Considering the atypical polarization of French politics since the last election, Sarkozy's road to being elected again is the same as the one George Bush took. Mobilizing conservatives and defending an abstract French way of life
Jean-Marie Le Pen is very old. How old you say? He is older than even John McCain and might not live to see the next election to make opinions about it. Le Pen's participation during the 2007 French elections allowed Sarkozy to capitalize in the second round on some anti-immigrant National Front single issue voters. It wasn't the deciding factor in his victory but gave a taste of a demographic that can be courted in the future. Sarkozy realizes that he won due to greater infighting within the center left opposition and his Rudy Giuliani-esque law and order posturing. He knows the center left will reorganize a bit further to the right to undermine his support in the center and make a sustained coordinated effort to dislodge him in 2012. Five year terms allow plenty of space and breathing room to lick the wounds and make new alliances.
French center-left has more than enough tools and time to capitalize on the economic downturn, prevent Sarkozy's various short and long term economic stimulus measures from being successful, and exploit the potential rift between Paris and the new American administration (with Obama trying to make inroads with Muslims, Sarkozy finds himself in a difficult position). Sarkozy sees that the only way to solve the issue of illegal residents is to socially integrate them by legalizing their status. That of course would add to the numerical strength of voting blocks for candidates like Royale. The process of recognition and proper assimilation itself is political suicide for coalition building with conservative factions in society. Since the political hyperpolarization of 2007 election, it is very difficult for the president to peal away those who voted for Royale from the center-left. People's hatred of him is not waning.
As such, Sarkozy's only real options are:
1) to move further to the socially conservative right by getting the disgruntled La Pen voters to the polls in larger numbers than in 2007
2) to tap into the potential conservative factions of those who don't vote (even for Le Pen) because they know their guy wont win. This can even include those in France who still engage in Christian mythology but never bothered to really participate in the strictly secular French politics
3) to split the youth vote by polarizing the youth along nationalist militarist lines and using his own youthful energies to that end
4) utilizing increased support of the wealthy for media manipulation and social relations cover to achieve the above 3.
Sounds familiar? Yes. The president of France is George Bush in 2002. The economic crisis and gains by nationalist anti-immigrant parties in European Parliament allows Sarkozy a cover of international fiscal emergency and worry to mobilize new supporters. This would include the elderly and disgruntled underemployed young whites and involve constant play on their insecurities and passions. Such a road to 2012 reelections would have to be walked right away to build cultural momentum through media repetition.
The statement concerning Burqas not being welcome in France appears to be the first salvo in that direction. Since Obama criticized France in his Cairo speech by making a point to describe how America does not push secularism on its Muslims, Sarkozy can now begin to move away from public perception that he is more pro-American candidate than Royale by distancing himself from Washington's policies. Surrounding European countries are too preoccupied (with making their annual GDP reversals smaller than projected) to expand too much energy on lifting an eyebrow towards harder nationalist secularist tone coming from Paris. Sarkozy might not have EU's rotating presidency anymore but 2009 allows his country to be in the driver's seat of EU policy more than ever. Germany's focus on the upcoming elections takes Berlin out of the international picture briefly. Angela Merkel will not side her center-right Christian Democrats with Muslim immigrants abroad as she runs for re-election amidst a deep recession.
We can expect President's Union for a Popular Movement to gradually increase the use of social wedge issues like the Burqa ban and even a possible outreach to France's remaining Christian communities. He has already shown a willingness to appeal to militarists by advocating a stronger EU defense force and intervening to broker peace between Russia and Georgia last summer. As former minister of the interior and manager of police structures, Sarkozy is comfortable with rigid hierarchical organizations as well as interdepartmental cooperation between such structures. He really is well positioned to pick up the torch of the war on terror by stressing continental security and defense.
Using Turkey and Iran as geopolitical threats to European way of life plays well to demographics in key EU member states. Unlike Bush, Sarkozy has more skill and intelligence to create a domestic impression that he is a popular, competent, and moderate internationally. Currently, Paris is capitalizing on Washington's strategic public non-commitment to ongoing protests in Iran. Sarkozy's statement on defending women from disrespect (by not welcoming the fundamentalist Muslim requirement of a face cover) comes at a strategically appropriate time. The issue of speaking out against fundamentalist modes of life is bound to grow with the background of Iranian unrest and generate even more debate than before. The elevation of dialogue itself allows the president to show both the leftist anti-American youth and the anti-immigrant conservatives that he is serious about defending the French way of life autonomously.
The wild card is the international crisis itself and the depths to which United States' retracting economic bubble will pull Western Europe after it. As things stand now, continuous recession without further deterioration allows Sarkozy to claim he stabilized the country, to increase scapegoating, and to try to get re-elected on notion that you can't change horses in midstream when restructuring the economy. Conditions paralleling America's current slide into a deep depression are historically unpredictable however.
THE FUTURE IS RUSHING UPON US
We're in for a wild ride. Exponentially accelerating technological, cultural, and socioeconomic evolution means that every year will see more developments than the previous one. More change will happen between now and 2050 than during all of humanity's past. Let's explore the 21st century and ride this historic wave of planetary transition with a confident open mind.