Sunday night, at Place Bastille, where at least a hundred thousand jubilant people gathered under an overcast sky to welcome a new president, it all came down to two chants.
Sarkozy, c'est fini! (SAHR-ko-zee SAY-fee-nee)!
Hollande gagne! (OH-lan GAHN-yea)!
"Sarkozy is finished," and "Hollande won."
So ended the hard-fought and often nasty election campaign which saw France turn for the first time in sixteen years to the Socialists, making the center/right Nicolas Sarkozy a single-term president.
This was the scene a few seconds past eight p.m., when the TV station being broadcast on the stadium-sized screen at Place Bastille flashed François Hollande's photograph, over the percentage of votes (51.7%) that exit polls showed him receiving. The jubilation was reminiscent of Barack Obama's 2008 Grant Park rally on election night in Chicago:
In addition to our exclusive Paris Play video, here are faces of the evening captured in stills, with our impressions, and a word or two about what we think could come next.
In 2008, when Obama and his supporters celebrated in Grant Park, they did so under a growing economic cloud, the result of the Bush administration's mishandling of the American economy, which meant the celebrations had to be short, because the United States was in crisis. The economy cast a pall that Obama still labors under; as he runs for a second term, the Republicans work to foster the lie that the Great Recession is the Democratic president's fault.
Three-and-a-half years after Grant Park, incoming president Hollande labors under a similar cloud. The European economy is worse off than the United States' (though the entire world economy is yoked together), and France suffers from record high unemployment, as its citizens chafe at the austerity measures the European Union is demanding.
Hollande's victory flies in the face of that demand. He believes (as does American economist Paul Krugman) that austerity is a ridiculous policy in the face of a recession, and that economies must be nurtured with strong government measures to increase employment and strengthen social programs.
The UK newspaper, The Independent, which doesn't like Hollande, grumps that Sarkozy's defeat "...poses once again the question of whether any national leader, of any party, can impose the degree of austerity deemed necessary by the financial markets and remain electable." One of the messages that both left and right were united on this year was that "financial markets" were not governments; the French wanted French elected officials, not Brussels-based European Union bureaucrats, to make economic and political decisions for their country.
Whatever the next weeks, months, or years of a Hollande presidency have to offer, the basic question is, what kind of a world will this young will-be voter, carried by her mother to witness this critical historical moment, find herself in when she comes of age?