Saturday, February 25, 2017

Macronism at Ground Level

Emmanuel Macron the candidate has tried to emulate de Gaulle, floating above the parties, or even Jesus, walking on water (he did not reject the label "Christic" as a description of his campaign style). It has worked well for him so far.

But others have taken his campaign into the villages and hamlets of France, and according to this report, they have fared less well. "He's like all the others." "Tous pourris." "A good-looking scoundrel." Etc.

Now, one might say that these responses reflect the naiveté of the canvassers: three young people who took time off from their studies or jobs in the US to return to France and take Macron's message, which seems to inspire them, to "the people." Or one might say that it's the sort of anecdotal evidence that proves nothing: if, as the polls say, Macron is supported by 20% of likely general election voters, you have 4 chances out of 5 of running into a stream of vitriol if you tap at random into various places on the French electoral map.

But one does have to wonder how deep Macron's support is, what reserves he can mobilize if momentum starts to shift in his direction, and whether his strong early support reflects mainly high-information voters in the larger cities who read newspapers and tune in early to presidential politics. There are many people who doubt Macron's staying power. He has not been tested in face-to-face debate. The FN, judging him to be the most likely second-round opponent at this point, has begun to train its fire on him. Half of Florian Philippot's speech the other day was aimed at Macron, who epitomizes everything the FN is running against: Europe, globalization, cosmopolitanism, and loss of sovereignty. His charge that colonialism was a crime against humanity will be cited again and again by the far right as evidence of his lack of "patriotism," a capital offense in their Manichean view of a world divided between "patriots" and "cosmopolitans."

De Gaulle did not need to develop a common touch. He was a figure of myth. Macron, however much he wishes he were, is not de Gaulle. He may be able to continue his campaign à distance, but for all its modern trappings, it retains a strangely archaic feeling. It is a campaign of mass meetings rather than mass media, coupled with small, exclusive gatherings out of the limelight with influential representatives of what is politely called "civil society" and impolitely called, even by Macron's new "ally" Bayrou, "moneyed interests." Occasionally he will don a hard hat and tour a factory. But even Giscard sought to soften his technocratic image by playing the accordion and breaking bread with peasants. Macron, who is said to be an excellent pianist, needs to set up his piano in some village square and boogie with local burgers.

Friday, February 24, 2017

Penelopegate Referred to Juge d'Instruction

That's all for now.

Macron Details Economic Plan; Hamon and Mélenchon to Meet

In the wake of the "alliance" between Macron and Bayrou, the former today released details of his economic plan. Economists for the most part greeted the plan enthusiastically, but perhaps the most eloquent reaction came from the Financial Times: "Mr Macron’s economic measures do not herald a big break from policies he inspired and helped implement as economy minister under Socialist president François Hollande."

Indeed, Macron promises to maintain tight control over the budget but will increase public investment nevertheless. How will he accomplish this miracle of fishes and loaves? In the time-honored manner: by promising to "negotiate a eurozone budget and EU-wide investment programme with Germany." There is perhaps a somewhat greater likelihood of success in this direction than there was when Hollande tried the same tack in 2012. The German surplus has grown larger in the meantime, and Macron will try to persuade the Germans that this is unsustainable, as many across the Rhine actually recognize, even if they are reluctant to say so. If Martin Schulz should come to power in Germany, Macron might have a decent shot at success. But "the German question" remains the major uncertainty in Macron's program as in the future of Europe. On the other hand, Macron's program, for all its dependence on the German imponderable, is more likely to succeed, in my view, than the programs of any of his rivals, both for reviving the French economy and for giving Europe a new lease on life.

Meanwhile, the Greens are out of the race, Jadot having thrown in his lot with Hamon, who, thus fortified, has agreed to meet with Mélenchon. Fierce noises continue to emanate from the Mélenchon corner, but it's not out of the question that Mélenchon will knuckle under to reality and opt for an "alliance" with the Socialist Devil. If it comes to pass, such an alliance would undoubtedly be a less tranquil affair than the Cartel of the Centers represented by Macron and Bayrou.

My blogging confrère Arun Kapil, whose instincts are usually right about these things, rates the chance of a Mélenchon capitulation to realism as infinitesimal. I'll hedge a bit, however, and say I think there's a small chance (the difference between "small" and "infinitesimal" is left as an exercise for the reader to work out), especially if the weekend polls show a sharp uptick for Macron.

As Arun points out, Mélenchon's real goal is to destroy the hated Socialist Party, and that is more or a less done deal with Hamon as the candidate of total rejection of the Hollande bilan. Mélenchon is still blustering about the need to repudiate all the deputies and ministers who abetted the depredations of the pedal boat captain, but in the end the main thing he cares about is ensuring a platform for himself.

If he becomes Hamon's Passionaria, he could go on speechifying to even larger crowds and plunge the entire presidential race into real chaos by threatening to upend Macron and make plausible the prospect of an extreme right vs. extreme left second round. If he really wants to flanquer la trouille à la classse politique, that's his best shot right there.

You heard it here first.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Le Sacre de Macron

"Emmanuel Macron, c'est moi," President Hollande, echoing Flaubert, told the journalists Davet and Lhomme back when he thought his young protégé had no political ambitions of his own (as he also told the incredulous pair of reporters). The separation must have been painful, but the hatchet seems to have been buried, to judge by this photo taken tonight at the CRIF annual dinner:


No doubt the president would like to see his legacy honored by Macron, who shares his view of what needs to be done to reform the French economy. And he surely feels no warmth toward Hamon, whose vote to censure the Valls government shocked him (as Davet and Lhomme also tell us).

The problem is that Jean-Claude Cambadélis has warned that any Socialist supporting Macron rather than the party's official candidate Hamon will be expelled. Since a substantial majority of deputies and other party officials prefer Macron, this will be a difficult order to enforce. The embrace pictured above thus represents the inevitable disintegration of the party formerly known as Socialist, now en marche for destinations unknown.

Another fine mess the PS has gotten itself into.

Bayrou Will Back Macron If Conditions Are Met

François Bayrou, recognizing that the "dispersion" of political programs would increase the risk of a Le Pen victory, proposes an "alliance" with Emmanuel Macron. He also laid out a series of "exigences" that Macron would have to meet.

The Cost of Frexit

Marine Le Pen is advocating an end to the euro and withdrawal from the EU if she wins. How much would this cost the French economy. The Institut Montaigne estimates a loss of 500,000 jobs and numerous other dire consequences.

Le Pen Improves Her Position With Women

According to Bloomberg:

In 2012 Le Pen lagged behind with female voters, winning 17 percent compared with 20 percent of men’s ballots. Now she’s closed that gender gap, attracting 26 percent of voters of both sexes, according of pollster Ifop. That makes her the favored candidate among women for the first round.

"Plus rien à foutre"

Brice Teinturier, the head of the polling firm IPSOS, was interviewed on France Inter this morning about his new book Plus rien à faire, plus rien à foutre. As he tells it, large numbers of French people--32% of the electorate, according to his most recent estimate--are completely turned off of politics (and skeptical of democracy). These are not angry voters of the sort who support Le Pen and Mélenchon. They're rather turned-off voters, who believe that the decisions of politicians make no difference in their lives and that political talk is all hot air. The increase in their number is, according to Teinturier, one of the reasons underlying the diminished capacity of political parties to organize the electorate.

Underlying Teinturier's observations is a theory. It goes like this. The period 2007-2017 has been unprecedented in the history of the Fifth Republic, in that it offered an alternation between a pure right-wing quinquennat and a pure left-wing one. In short, both the center-left and the center-right had a chance, undiluted by cohabitation, to show what they could do, and neither provided a solution to the problems perceived by the PRAF (plus rien à foutre ... avec la politique) group to be the major difficulties of the moment. Hence they turned off, drawing the conclusion that the choice between right and left no longer determined their fate. Their disillusionment was exacerbated by the fact that it followed a moment of renewed hope for each camp, Sarkozy briefly reinvigorating the right after years of the fainéant Chirac and Hollande briefly reinvigorating the left.

If these voters are drawn back in, Teinturier believes, it will be by one of the extremes, Mélenchon or Le Pen, and most likely the latter. Macron does not fit the profile: his voters are not turned off by politics but are highly tuned in, identify with the decision-making class, and believe that their choice will matter.

I would not have guessed that the turned-off portion of the population was as large as Teinturier says it is, but I do think he's on to something.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Hamon's Upside Potential?

In a discussion on Facebook yesterday, the question of Hamon's potential to improve his current position arose. He has shown himself to be an able campaigner with an attractive personality, so why should he be counted out at this stage of the race? Even if, as now seems certain, Mélenchon will refuse to join forces with him if Hamon is the candidate, won't some of JLM's voters desert him for Hamon?

The answer, in my view, is that, yes, in fact, some voters who now support la France insoumise will desert to Hamon, who will soon emerge as the stronger of the two candidates. But it won't be enough to put him on a par with Macron, and there will be a stronger dynamic of voters deserting Hamon for the latter. This is a highly speculative analysis, however, and I'm open to counter-arguments.

My reasoning is that Hamon is the candidate of the Socialist frondeurs, who were over-represented in the primary. The frondeurs represented at most 1/3 of the PS deputies and in my view an even smaller proportion of the PS electorate. But most Socialist voters were so dispirited by the failure of the Hollande presidency and the judgment that they had already lost the presidential race, no matter which candidate they chose and before any votes were cast, that they sat out the primary.

Then the Fillon scandal erupted, changing the complexion of the race. Suddenly there was a chance for the left to win, but the PS had already chosen as its candidate someone whom most of its voters would not have chosen to represent them. Macron, even if they don't fully trust him, is closer to their views as well as more likely to win. Even if Hamon succeeds in attracting Mélenchon votes, it won't be enough. So my prediction is that over the next few weeks, JLM declines in the polls, Hamon improves his position slightly, but Macron emerges as the clear favorite of the "left," which I put in scare quotes to indicate that this will be a highly "centrized" left.

Of course this is all assuming that Bayrou decides not to run. We'll know tomorrow at 4:30 Paris time. I think he will say no, but le coeur a ses raisons que la raison ne connaît pas, so I don't rule anything out.

Meanwhile, Fillon has watered his wine on health insurance, moving from the significant pare-back he advocated in the primary to a position that borrows a lot from Macron's platform (higher payments for dental work, eyeglasses, etc.), the opposite of his full-on austerity message of a few months ago. This shift was apparently urged on him by Juppéistes in his post-primary entourage. He's also cutting back on the number of civil service jobs he proposes to eliminate. It's a smart move, of course, assuming that his candidacy is still viable--and the Parquet National Financier may have something to say about that.

Meanwhile, Le Pen has visited Lebanon, trying to beef up her international stature. A recent poll shows her with 44% in round 2 if Fillon is her opponent, but this poll was taken with Fillon in the throes of scandal. Should we regard this as a worst-case scenario? Not necessarily. I don't place a lot of faith in French polling, and polls everywhere have been mistaken this year. We know that Trump attracted many people who had not voted in previous elections and were therefore undersampled by pollsters. This could prove to be the case with Le Pen as well. So any poll that shows Le Pen at 45 or above in the second round is grounds for serious worry. We're almost there.

Of course my previous analysis suggests that Macron, not Fillon, will be the opponent in round 2, and against Macron Le Pen scores "only" 42%. A slightly more comfortable margin. But not comfortable enough. Le Pen has broken the 40% ceiling now, so we're in uncharted territory.


Sunday, February 19, 2017

Crime and Humanity

Why did Emmanuel Macron choose to attack colonialism (or, more precisely, "la colonisation") as a "crime against humanity?" Does this represent a deep personal conviction, a shrewd electoral calculus, or perhaps a combination of the two?

As a historian, I would have been happier with a more precise indictment, given the seriousness of the charge. After all, who hasn't been guilty of "colonialism?" All the great powers and many of the small ones at the very least. If everyone is guilty of "crimes against humanity," one has to wonder first of all about the victim "humanity." The charge is so broad that it amounts to indicting humanity itself for all its debilitating and disqualifying sins--a religious rather than a political condemnation, and as such perhaps not altogether alien to Macron's vision of politics as comporting a "Christic" dimension. Had he been more specific in his allegations, condemning France's crimes (enfumades, massacres, torture, famines) in the context of colonialism, he would have performed a more useful pedagogic service. As it is, he offers instant expiation along with his confession: Yes, we are guilty, so were they all, so has every descendant of Adam been, say 15 Hail Marys, my son, and be on time for work Monday morning.

Still, politically, Macron enthusiasts will say, he did a bold thing, and it will have cost him some votes, so this proves he is a politician of conviction rather than calculation. Well, perhaps. Most of those incensed by the condemnation of colonialism will have been on the other side anyway. What Macron offers to the electorate is rather an alternative version of French history to that already injected into the campaign by Fillon, for whom History is a highlight reel of Great Men and Moments from Vercingetorix at Alésia to de Gaulle in London and Algiers (Macron even borrowed "je vous ai compris" from the General in response to his critics). Macron knows that anyone likely to vote for him will be a person for whom the words mission civilisatrice must be placed between scare quotes. Hence for whom the condemnation of colonialism will come as salve rather than shock.

With Fillon's candidacy disintegrating, it makes sense to reach out to those who would have been among the softer of his supporters, many of whom will have harbored doubts about the right-wing effort to shore up the national identity by resurrecting an heroic ideal of the national past. Just as Chirac judged that the moment was right to own up to France's complicity in the Holocaust well after it was safe to do so, Macron has made the same judgment about colonialism. But I don't want to be too cynical about it. It was the right thing to say, or nearly right (allowing for the caveats outlined above), and it would be churlish to criticize a politician for saying the right thing.

One can criticize him, however, for saying the wrong thing, which he arguably did by extending his "understanding" to those who marched against the legalization of gay marriage in the Manif pour Tous. Of course, he may have had good reasons for that too: Among the voters deserting Fillon are surely some who were attracted to his warm defense of "traditional moral values," meaning immemorial prejudices against certain violations of social norms. Marine Le Pen's FN being notably gay friendly and as "untraditional" as her own family values, some who might otherwise have leaned toward her leaned back toward Fillon, who comforted their uneasiness on that score. Macron's "comprehension" might not be enough to win their votes, but it might remind them why they resisted Le Pen's siren call in the first place and prevent them from deserting to the FN.

I apologize in advance for this analysis of Macron's motives, which places more importance on his apparent self-interest than on his possible convictions. Cynicism is unbecoming, it's the first refuge of a scoundrel, and I'm guilty here of more than a little cynicism.