The Bonus Book of the Week is “My Life in Politics” by Jacques Chirac With Jean-Luc Barre, translated by Catherine Spencer, originally published in 2009.
Born in 1932 in France, Chirac learned Russian from a private tutor. Defying his father, who was a corporate banker and wounded WWI soldier, he did a short stint in the merchant marine and then attended a school of government. In 1953, he got the chance to visit the United States, where the American dream was alive and well. He was thrilled to experience Sidney Bechet, Hemingway and Brando.
Chirac passed the oral and written exams for the civil service in France. Even so, he thought he could have a great military career, having done two tours of Algeria in the 1950’s. His wife and the French government thought otherwise. In 1967, Chirac was pushed to run for Republican town councilor in the French countryside, constituency of Ussel, in Correze. Thus, elective politics became his career.
In May 1974, French president Valery Giscard d’Estaing appointed Chirac prime minister. As such, he handled foreign policy, meeting with world leaders like Saddam Hussein and Deng Xiaoping. In August 1976, he co-founded a new political party, the Rassemblement pour la Republique (RPR) to run against the Union for French Democracy (UDF). Then he was elected mayor of Paris.
In March 1986, Chirac again became prime minister, under president Francois Mitterrand, of the National Front party. The RPR had sufficient seats in Parliament to require power-sharing between the parties. However, the president’s ultimate authority meant that Chirac’s economic and national-security proposals were rejected. Chirac was able to push through tax cuts and a youth employment program, though.
Chirac felt that unemployment was the primary cause of financial struggles. He advocated for job programs; plus social and educational opportunities for people living in poor neighborhoods.
In late 1993, mayor Chirac– a socialist at heart– agreed to start a (no-charge) ambulance service for the homeless in Paris. By 1995, via the city council, against the wishes of the socialist (federal) government, he provided free medical care to 150,000 homeless people.
In May 1995, Chirac was elected president of France. He complained that he inherited a government in financial ruin, about which the previous administration had lied (!) The national deficit and the debt of the national healthcare system were both sky-high. Unsurprisingly.
Even so, Chirac felt he was forced to impose austerity measures, like lengthening the working life of French citizens from 37 and a 1/2 to 40 years, before they could collect a pension. But, due to violent, widespread strikes, that action had to be postponed until 2003 (for civil servants) and 2008 (private sector). Politicians. In the future, anything could happen. And, in 1998, all of France’s homeless– about five million people– got free access to medical care.
Chirac also increased minimum wage, and launched programs in connection with “… requisitioning of empty buildings and properties belonging to banks or insurance companies, public housing was on the agenda… The zero-interest loans introduced to help with homeownership (sic) very quickly achieved the lasting success that I hoped for…” Chirac did admit that political surveys showed that the French people didn’t like what he was doing. He also wrote on more than one occasion in the book that French youths were rebelling against the establishment.
Read the book to learn what Chirac did in response to criticism; of his reaction to the violence in Kosovo; his views and actions with regard to Bush’s Iraq war; of three issues on which he focused during reelection time; of France’s foreign policy in the next few years; of what his love of art history prompted him to do; and more.