Well, the left in France did much better with Chirac in power (after 2 years of cohabitation between Mitterand and Balladur -same party as Chirac). But of course, the FSP is traditionaly the biggest party in France, so I suppose what they needed was only to have their butt kicked by the right, reorganize themselves (while Jospin was Secretary General and after Mitterad's death) and kind of pretend they supported the social movement that started in winter 95 to be succesfully re-elected in 97 after Chirac's political blunder of dissolving the parliement. The way i see it (but I can't really pretend i see anything though) is that people were tired of 14 years of Mitterand's rule. They don't seem to be tired of Clinton so much, and it lasted only 8 years. And Chirac was a real political magnet, what Bush obviously is not. So the polarization that took place at this time was somthing that is not likely to happen in the US. How many people will vote for Bush hoping for a _real_ change ? I mean how many people will be _so_ disapointed whith the promises he will not keep that they will want to take the (political) arms ?
For 14 years, the 'left' had been keep off the so called 'progressive' political field _because_ Mitterand controled it. It took them 2 years to organize under Chirac and propose an alternative that could only put the FSP back into power. Do you have the feeling you have this kind of tension in the US ?