French President Nicholas Sarkozy presented himself as a world leader, working with German Chancellor Angela Merkel to keep the European economy functioning, and with President Barack Obama and British Prime Minister David Cameron to advance democracy on the world stage, especially in Libya.
Sunday, French voters said, Non. He was dumped in favor of Socialist Francois Hollande.
In elections in Greece, the winner Sunday was a word the Greeks gave us: chaos. Conservative Antonis Samaras came in first place. The second-place finisher, the Radical Left Coalition's Alexis Tsipras, spurned overtures from Samaras to form a coalition government. Tsipras was given until Thursday to form his own coalition, If he fails, new elections will be set for June.
Next was Italy. The Associated Press reported, "Several candidates opposed to austerity measures were making a strong showing Monday in early projections from Italy's local elections – the first nationwide test for Premier Mario Monti since he was named [in November] to save Italy from its debt crisis."
These European countries are facing more-dire versions of the economic crises facing the U.S. government: Years of wasteful government spending, budget deficits, record debt and high taxes have severely damaged economies. In response, governments are cutting social services while raising taxes.
Understandably, voters are upset and want to return to the good old days of a few years ago. So they're voting out the austerity candidates and voting in candidates who promise to once again let the good times roll, and stick the rich with the bill.
In France, Mr. Hollande won on promises of curbing austerity by nearly doubling the top income tax rate, to 75 percent from the current 40 percent. Not surprisingly, reported the Financial Times, "Wealthy French people are looking to London as a refuge from fresh taxes on high earners pledged by candidates in the country's presidential elections."
The United Kingdom sensibly is dropping its top tax rate from 50 percent to 45 percent in 2013.
The rhetoric in France is similar to that in the United States, where Mr. Obama has campaigned for a "Buffett Rule" that would raise tax rates on the wealthy. It's named after investor Warren Buffett, the billionaire Democrat and Obama supporter.
Mr. Obama should be worried that the global anti-incumbent mania could wash ashore here. After all, in 2006, voters ousted Republicans from control of Congress. Mr. Obama's 2008 victory occurred partly because of voter wrath at departing Republican President George W. Bush's poor performance during the economic meltdown that autumn. And after Mr. Obama and the Democratic Congress failed to make matters much better, in 2010 Republicans were given back the House and made great strides in the Senate.
The global economic crisis continues to boot failing governments from power. And it looks like we're a long way from the crisis ending.
Orange County Register, Santa Ana, Calif.