Sunday, November 30, 2008
Saturday, November 29, 2008
It should be noted, however, that French household debt is relatively low compared with other European countries, although it has risen sharply in recent years, owing mainly to rising housing prices.
ADDENDUM: Both the PS and the UMP have expressed indignation over the affair.
The NPA might seem to be an exception, but the party is still in the organizing stage, and the tension between the postmodern media savvy evident in the crafting of the Besancenot image that is the party's only public face and the paleo-soviet earnestness of its decentralized rank-and-file has yet to be tested.
Meanwhile, Besancenot told L'Express that Mélenchon is headed in the right direction but that differences remain between his effort to rally a new left and the NPA's: "Our objective is not to remake the left but to build a different left." Clear?
Friday, November 28, 2008
La presse germanique loue le dynamisme du président français, Nicolas Sarkozy, qui «agit» alors que Mme Merkel «attend», comme le souligne la FAZ. «On dirait qu'Angela Merkel veut combattre le monstre de la crise économique avec une tapette à mouches», brocarde le quotidien de centre gauche Süddeutsche Zeitung en ridiculisant les «mesurettes» annoncées jusqu'ici.
The Financial Times is rather less inclined to praise Sarkozy:
But privately, a UK official suggested Mr Sarkozy had fallen victim to needless grandstanding on the issue.
To be sure, Tibet and dealing with the financial crisis are different issues, but "needless grandstanding" has been a theme running through much British and American comment on Sarkozy in recent weeks. Le Figaro doesn't seem to have noticed.
Thursday, November 27, 2008
Wednesday, November 26, 2008
So European coordination, which had been touted a week ago as Sarkozy's great achievement in the unfolding crisis, seems to reside chiefly in the coordination of "every man for himself" announcements. Once again EU governance looks like the zebra that it is (Definition: zebra--a horse designed by a committee).
Ceteris Paribus calls our attention to UK deficit projections for the years ahead, which rise above 8% of GDP in 2009-10. The interesting point is that 80% of this will be due to the operation of automatic stabilizers and only 20% to Brown's stimulus package. In particular, tax receipts from the financial and housing sectors will be way down. Since finance accounted until recently for an astonishing 1 in 5 British jobs, this sharp decrease is not altogether unexpected.
Tuesday, November 25, 2008
Monday, November 24, 2008
Oh, and don't forget Kazakhstan's stimulus package of $21 billion, or 20% of GDP. Now that's volontarisme, M. Sarkozy!
Hier, ses qualités étaient louées par le grand patronat comme celle d’un Strauss-Kahn en jupons ; on la retrouve aujourd’hui dans la peau d’une Arlette Laguillier de rechange.
But things may already have gone too far for a compromise. Tempers are running high. Still, we haven't heard much from the less mediagenic party bosses: the Collombs, Guérinis, Rebsamens, Frêches, etc. These "good ol' boys" are not going to let a national-level grudge match tear up the well-tended lawns in their cozy fiefs. Without them and their gros bataillons, Ségo has only her 20-euro adherents, Manuel Valls (who has stuck his neck way out by going so quickly to the courts), Vincent Peillon, and her pretorian guard. I suspect that the southern barons are already hard at work behind the scenes on a compromise candidate. Might Collomb himself step forward, or Rebsamen? Might they turn to Delanoë as a front man? Anything is possible, but I would give odds at this point that neither Aubry nor Royal will become party leader.
ADDENDUM: Rumor has it that there will be an announcement of a European stimulus plan of 130 billion euros, or about 1% of EU GDP, on Wednesday.
Sunday, November 23, 2008
A revote might produce a somewhat more decisive outcome, but clearly the message of the vote is that the party cannot unite when the only real issue is defined as it is now: whether or not to put Ségolène Royal before the public as the leader and probable candidate of the party.
To my mind, therefore, there is only one way out that will not split the party irrevocably: choose someone else. Both candidates could agree on a compromise choice, perhaps with an agreement to hold another special congress in a year to reconsider and to choose not only a permanent leader but a presidential candidate. In the meantime, the compromise choice as leader would commit him or herself to a process of internal reform acceptable to both candidates.
Who could the third party be? Hamon might seem to be a logical choice, but he clearly endorsed Aubry in the final round, so he probably wouldn't be acceptable to Royal. The only prominent leader I can think of who did not publicly choose sides in the end is Moscovici. He backed Delanoë in the first round but gave no consigne de vote in the second. He has been courted by both sides. Perhaps they can agree to let him have the helm for a year.
Short of such an agreement, I think the party will collapse.
French cafés are closing in record numbers. This Times article proposes two culprits: the economic crisis and the smoking ban, along with a third and more ominous one:
“The way of life has changed,” he said. “The French are no longer eating and drinking like the French. They are eating and drinking like the Anglo-Saxons,” the British and the Americans. “They eat less and spend less time at it,” Mr. Picolet said.
Saturday, November 22, 2008
Daniel Vaillant, secrétaire national du PS, a indiqué samedi en début de soirée qu'une "commission de récolement" (vérification contradictoire) du parti se réunira lundi matin pour examiner les résultats du vote.
(h/t Boz) The word récolement is one I'd never encountered before:
Opération consistant à dénombrer un ensemble d'objets répertoriés dans un inventaire, ou à vérifier la conformité d'une opération, d'un objet à un ensemble de règlements ou de prescriptions contractuelles; p. méton., procès-verbal de cette opération. Récolement d'inventaire; récolement des meubles saisis, d'une coupe de bois; procès-verbal de récolement. Une commission est chargée de l'examen de la comptabilité des fonds administratifs (...). Elle fait un récolement général du mobilier appartenant à l'assemblée (Règlement Ass. nat., 1849, p. 36). La principale originalité de cette organisation consiste dans le classement des livres par ordre d'entrée (...) dans un registre qui sert à la fois de registre d'entrée, d'inventaire, de classement, et de récolement (Civilis. écr., 1939, p. 48-5).
But my third comment gets at a deeper reason for this failure. Rocard's compassion does him credit, as does his candor in recognizing that compassion has to be paid for, and paying for it is, politically, the tough part, which rarely commands consensus. What is puzzling, however, is that while he recognizes that the need for a compassionate measure like the RMI stemmed from the persistence of a high-level of unemployment, and in particular of long-term unemployment, the question of what caused that condition never comes up. It's as though Rocard simply accepted as an unalterable fact a structural unemployment rate above 10 percent, although he governed at a time when other economies were doing much better.
To be sure, the economic meltdown now has everyone questioning how much of this past divergence in economic performance was real and how much a product of unnoticed systemic flaws. But however illusory neoliberal gains will turn out to have been, the fact remains that the high-unemployment equilibrium of the French social model should have been attacked more vigorously than it was and not merely palliated with innovative welfare measures such as the RMI and its doppelgänger, the CSG. It is troubling that the deep economic issue does not even come up in Rocard's retrospective. True, the focus of the interview was the RMI, and this may have turned his thoughts in a certain direction, but still I would have thought that a man as attuned to economic thinking as Rocard would have been led naturally to a question that looms so large behind the entire discussion, especially since the reason for the RMI's replacement by the RSA is that the latter is supposed to eliminate a "structural rigidity" that has tended to turn the former into a poverty trap. Rocard cannot be unaware of all this, but his success with the RMI seems to have become a "screen memory" that shields him from the repressed horror of intolerable levels of long-term unemployment, which destroyed lives just as surely as the death by starvation that he evokes in his discussion.
I'm not sure whether the intention here is to inflate or deflate Besancenot. Are we supposed to infer that unhappy voters simply searched for the gauchiste with the best poll numbers in order to send the loudest possible message to Solférino? There was no dearth of options for expressing a protest vote in 2002. Or perhaps the book is simply a reminder that the PS had best take seriously the exit option that was exercised by so many of its potential supporters in 2002 and 2007. Besancenot is there to pick up the chips that the PS seems determined to leave on the table. Last night's debacle makes the warning all the more timely.
Of course it may also be that increasing numbers of Socialists are turning to Besancenot not simply as a protest or coup de semonce but as a genuine option: Sire, ce n'est pas une révolte, c'est une révolution. The times may well lend themselves to such a radicalization. Or then again--ultimate possibility--it may be that the vice-president of an allegedly right-wing polling firm sees an opportunity to deepen division on the left by magnifying le phénomène Besancenot that he himself argues polling and publicity helped to create. It has often been suggested that Sarkozy has an interest in building up Besancenot and has encouraged his sympathizers in the media to do just that. It's Mitterrand and the Front National in reverse--so goes the theory.
Yes, a conspiracy theory, some will scoff -- but what would politics be without a little conspiracy? Pingaud's book is reviewed, however, by Thierry Germain, the editor of Esprit critique, the journal of the Fondation Jean Jaurès, which can hardly be suspected of either Trotskyite or Sarkozyste sympathies, and the review is published as well by nonfiction.fr, of which the same can be said. Germain sees Pingaud's book as rather a plea addressed to the leaders of the PS: the "Besancenot effect" is real and must be seriously addressed or the party will suffer another defeat in 2012.
A timely warning indeed, although at the moment the PS seems well on the way to defeating itself in 2012 without any help from Besancenot.
Friday, November 21, 2008
Against this motley crew, which threw everything it had at her, Ségo still got 50% + or - epsilon of the vote, a pretty remarkable showing for a supposed political incompetent against a determined TSS front. Say what you will about Ségo, she cut deals where she had to and showed pretty good gut political instincts. If it turns out that she's come up short for now, I wouldn't count her out just yet for 2012. The party will still have to deal with her -- if it remains a party. I wouldn't be surprised if she struck out on her own, consummating the divorce.
For Bernard's interpretation of Ségo's good showing in round one, see here. I concur.
As so often in the past, we have an announcement, great fanfare, vague promises of imminent action, and a dearth of details. Patience was permissible in normal times, but the crisis demands more decisive commitment.
My guess? Royal 51.5, Aubry 48.5.
Thursday, November 20, 2008
Fadela Amara, another woman of Algerian parentage whom Sarkozy appointed as a junior minister, says an Obama would have got nowhere in France. "It couldn't happen in France unless Sarkozy turned emperor and appointed a black president himself," she says.
Hat tip to Vertigo.
Singh sees a certain European "paranoia" about SWFs. This is probably a bit harsh. As with other forms of "economic patriotism," the European SWF idea is simply the expression, or exploitation, of generalized fears about decline and failure. Sarkozy's gift as a politician is an ability to repackage fear as optimism. He takes a fashionable buzz word--"sovereign wealth funds" were all the rage in the financial press earlier this year--and puts it to a new and characteristically voluntarist purpose: Europe will not stand idly by as foreign money pours in, it will emulate with its own money (the source of which is left mysteriously shrouded) what the frightening foreigner is doing with his. De l'audace, encore de l'audace, toujours de l'audace. Well, why not? It worked for Danton -- for a while.
* Whoops: spoke too soon. Here are the first details.
ADDENDUM: Dani Rodrik offers a possible defense of the French SWF and economic patriotism as a reasonable response to a stock-market overshoot on the down side, the opposite of irrational exuberance: irrational cafardisme, perhaps?
Wednesday, November 19, 2008
“We are not like France, where [President Nicolas] Sarkozy can decide whatever he likes and it goes through parliament the next day,” says one senior civil servant.
Meanwhile, eyebrows are being raised at Sarkozy's headline-hogging in the wake of the G20.
Well, sure. But the implicit image here is the tired one of naive Americans lunging in and spoiling things where the wily and sophisticated methods of the Europeans have brought them to the brink of success. I'm not as confident that old-world subtleties have achieved that much, but if there has been progress, surely the next step can only be helped by the comprehensive change in the American approach to the region that everyone expects. The emphasis on talks with Iran was an artifact of the primary season, when Hillary Clinton seized on a remark of Obama's to highlight, or manufacture, a difference between them. But the real change, one hopes, is that the United States will now be willing to talk to everyone: Palestinians, Syrians, Lebanese, non-state actors, etc. Too little noticed as well is a change in the Israeli attitude, clues to which can be gleaned from the comments of former prime minister Ehud Olmert in this interview:
Iran is a major power that constitutes a serious threat to the international community. And it is the international community that is most responsible for dealing with the Iranian situation. One senses a megalomania and a loss of proportion in the things said here about Iran. We are a country that has lost a sense of scale.
The assumption that if America, Russia, China, England, and Germany don't know how to deal with the Iranians, but we, the Israelis, will know, and that we'll do something, we'll act, is an example of this loss of proportions.
This all but concedes that the Iranian nuclear problem will not be "solved" by an Israeli attack. Hence the only "stick" that European negotiators can now couple with their "carrots" is the prospect of movement toward a settlement in Palestine and an accommodation with the Syrians that will deprive Iran of its influence. For that, American engagement is indispensable. The French could well have a major role to play in such negotiations, but it will be first and foremost in Syria and Lebanon, not in Iran.
Tuesday, November 18, 2008
Laurent Bouvet more plausibly ascribes Delanoë's failure to his own errors rather than to the machinations of others, however.
Monday, November 17, 2008
Dernière minute, lundi 17 novembre 2008
Direction du Parti socialiste : Bertrand Delanoë appelle à voter Martine Aubry
Le maire PS de Paris, Bertrand Delanoë, a finalement appelé à voter pour Martine Aubry lors du vote interne des socialistes jeudi 20 novembre pour le poste de premier secrétaire, dans une lettre aux militants rendue publique lundi. (AFP)
Christine Lagarde: support for the auto industry must "be prescribed first of all from the European level. ... I believe that the European Investment Bank will mobilize in support of the sector."
Peer Steinbrück: "A short-term fix for the auto industry as a whole makes no sense. ... The state cannot compensate for the loss of private purchasing power and is not responsible for the errors of the manufacturers." And his "alter ego," the conservative Michael Glos, also opposed an auto industry rescue plan.
Meanwhile, in the US, it seems increasingly likely that the Obama administration will favor an auto industry bailout.
So everyone praises cooperation and opposes protectionism and beggar-thy-neighbor, go-it-alone solutions, but it seems that the US will bail (protectionism by another name), Germany will not, and France -- ever the maverick -- will punt to the European level and hope that rain falls on its side of the border.
Parmi les participants : l'architecte Jean Nouvel, le designer Philippe Stark, les réalisateurs Luc Besson, Claude Lelouch, Souleymane Cisse, l'écrivain Paulo Coelho, Laurent Dassault (vice-président du groupe Marcel Dassault), Louis Schweitzer (président de la Halde), l'écrivain Erik Orsenna, Mathias Döpfner (président du groupe Springer), Jean-Bernard Lévy (pdg de Vivendi), Klaus Wowereit (maire de Berlin), Iris Knobloch (pdg de Warner Bros France), Mats Carduner (responsable de Google France et Europe du Sud), l'éditeur Antoine Gallimard, Guillaume Cerruti (pdg de Sotheby's France)...
Sunday, November 16, 2008
C'est une carte postale déposée dans la salle de presse du congrès par un anonyme qui susurrait: "C'est le sourire de l'ange de Reims". Au verso, une photo en noir et blanc de l'ex-candidate à l'Elysée. Un témoignage parmi d'autres du culte que suscite celle que les médias ont surnommée "la Madone", ou "la Dame en blanc".
But Ségo didn't appear in white at Reims. She wore a simple gray sweater over a white blouse and could have been a schoolteacher or a secretary. Her apotheosis was in the eye of the beholder. When she went "folksy" at Le Zénith, she was derided not as a madonna but rather as a would-be adolescent or over-the-hill rock star. Nor was there anything particularly religious about her Reims speech. Her rhetoric involved a call for "healing" of a party wounded by months of division and still bleeding, an extended though unremarkable metaphor under the circumstances:
"Il nous faut prendre soin de notre parti. Il va falloir nous guérir, il faut nous soigner de toutes ces petites et grandes blessures que nous nous sommes infligées, de tous ces chagrins, parfois de ces offenses. Il va falloir les oublier, les effacer, un jour nous les pardonner", a-t-elle déclaré.
Of course it's her ability to tap the register of emotions that upsets some Socialists. Her core competences are education and family policy, and this led some observers to dismiss her for her lack of experience with the "regalian powers." Her expertise lay in what some were pleased to describe as "women's issues." Economics, foreign policy, the military: no place for a woman, those battlefields, except perhaps as a nurse prepared to "heal" -- hence the quickness to seize on the passage quoted above with its expressions of solace and empathy (guérir, soigner, chagrins, offenses, oublier, pardonner).
Aubry, also a woman, brings a very different image to the contest. "Madame les 35 heures" hails from the heartland of social democracy: the wage bargain. Unlike her German counterparts, she represents not an exchange of wage restraint for a share of future profits and the benefits of growth but rather a new dispensation in the reckoning of the social wage, a trade between work and leisure. If Ségo represents a leap into the political unknown, into the post-modern politics of caring for the damage inflicted by the post-modern world, Aubry offers a politics more familiar to an older generation of party members. So we may well see a generational divide in the vote. I followed Reims only on television from 3,000 miles away, but still I saw remarkably few young faces in the crowd or among those interviewed by the media. I suspect that younger members of the party are the more enthusiastic Ségolènistes. They're responding not to Madonna (old or new) or Joan of Arc but rather to a woman who recognizes that left-wing politics in 2008 is about more than just the workplace.
*Tuition fees reflect the income of parents (or of the student if recognized independent).
Is it a face-off between the party's right and its left? It's hard to read that way, since the left is really behind Hamon rather than either of the front-runners. Is it pro-Europe vs. anti-Europe? Not clearly so. North vs. South? More plausible, perhaps, since Aubry's big battalions are in the Nord, whereas Royal's primary strength is in the Bouches-du-Rhône and Lyon. But are there any deep reasons for that geographical divide, or is it simply a matter of the location of powerful party leaders: Aubry in the Nord, Collomb in Lyon, Guérini in Marseille? Or is it just TSS, Tout Sauf Ségo?
In any case, it's a mess, and no synthesis emerged from last night's negotiations, characterized by Marianne as la nuit des petits canifs (as opposed to la nuit des longs couteaux). Could this be the end of the Socialist Party? It seems unlikely, since a split would not resolve anything. No faction has a clear enough line or identity to form the nucleus of a new party, and there are plenty of ego rivalries within each camp, so nothing would be gained in that respect either. The story seems to be that les élus locaux are content enough to muddle on through at the local level as they have been doing, and whether or not their party wins the presidency doesn't terribly affect them in their bastions. So there isn't enough incentive to compromise in order to win the big prize. Each therefore clings to his or her preferences based on the likes and dislikes, the balms and bruises, of a generation of party infighting. Unlike Sarkozy, they don't want the presidency badly enough to impose discipline or swallow the compromises necessary to get it.
Sarkozy's independence on this issue was to me a healthy sign of a vigorous multilateralism. He correctly perceived the way in which Washington's provocation was empowering hard-liners in Russia. He therefore offered Russian soft-liners support: withdraw your countermove against the American threat, do not redeploy your offensive weapons systems, and I will do what I can to persuade the Americans that this is a bad idea. If I fail, you can resume your symbolic gesture (and that's all it is, really: moving truck- and rail-mounted offensive missiles closer to a NATO border is hardly a serious military move, since such systems can always be deployed on short notice if tensions rise; to move them now rather than later is a political quid pro quo for the anticipated construction of American radar sites and antimissile launch pads, which, by contrast, is a serious move, since it involves new fixed bases).
Of course Sarkozy can still be playing this game behind the scenes, but by seeming to fall in with today's American line, he weakens his hand and heightens Russian suspicions, since he reneges on a position he took only days ago after meeting Medvedev in Nice.
The really worrisome thing is that he has backtracked because he heard from someone in Washington that Obama would be sticking to Bush's line on the missiles. Now, who might that have been? Madeline Albright was one of Obama's two representatives at the G20, and Albright, with her well-known anti-Russian views, would likely be on board with Bush's thinking. But is this really Obama's position? The Poles indeed said that it was after a five-minute phone call between Obama and the Polish premier last week, but the Obama transition team rapidly denied that the subject had been discussed. Still, when you add up the various maneuvers, and credit Sarkozy with a certain savvy in this kind of game, it certainly looks as though he's been tipped that there will be no change in American policy on the missiles in the near term despite the change of administration.
I don't like the signs, although it may be that the "defensive" missiles are merely a ploy to persuade the Russians to join in sanctions against Iran, as Dennis Ross has suggested according to this article in the Times of London (h/t Boz). But is such a threat really necessary to move the Russians? Wouldn't a withdrawal of the threat coupled with a promise to undertake a comprehensive review of US and European policy toward Russia once a new American administration is in place be a better ploy?
Saturday, November 15, 2008
"Bertrand, je t'ai entendu tout à l'heure, je ne doute pas de ta sincérité. J'aimerai te répondre devant tous.
Voilà la proposition que nous ferons: il y aurait une consultation directe des militants sur la question des alliances. Dès lors, cette question ne pourra plus servir de prétexte."
Better still, she'll make herself over into a new Popular Front: "un nouveau front populaire, ça ne vous tente pas?"A rhetorical surenchère worthy of Mitterrand. Do you want to "choose a political line," as Fabius says, or win an election? That is the question.
Bayrou must be pleased, though. This magical magnification of his meager figure makes him loom almost as large in the Socialist imagination as he does in his own.
Friday, November 14, 2008
This gesture was first gently, then roundly criticized by a clear majority of the 30 or so members of NPA 14e for two reasons: 1) they want a much more flexible and open system of alliances within the far-left, rather than the old sectarianism of the LCR, and 2) (most interestingly) they don't know on what authority Besancenot can make NPA policy on this sensitive issue: no one has elected him to any NPA office, there are no mechanisms to do so, and in short he seems to have spoken out of turn. A motion to this effect was deferred, for lack of time, to the next meeting, but in a week's time the NPA 14e will almost surely send what amounts to a motion of censure to the CAN (temporary central committee), enjoining Besancenot from making unilateral pronouncements.I draw three conclusions from this:1) the media perception that NPA is a vehicle for Besancenot and/or a continuation of the LCR's highly centralized structure are completely at variance with NPA 14e's view of its role;2) the local or 'federal' basis of power in the NPA is already a fact for this local group; and3) both of the preceding ideas will be put to the test if and when CAN responds to NPA 14e's motion.
But ask her about Mr. Sarkozy’s proposal to establish a French “sovereign wealth fund” to protect companies in France from “foreign predators,” and she seems uncomfortable.Governments have been protecting industry in other countries, she said, adding: “It’s been going on everywhere.”
There is also a memorable quote:
Ms. Lagarde prefers to make light of any attacks on her, reciting one of her favorite quotes, from Eleanor Roosevelt.“A woman is like a tea bag: You never know how strong she is until she gets in hot water.”
Of course the move will coincide with the end of France's presidency of the EU council. Does this personnel change signify decreased French interest in the EU? Not that there aren't other EU experts in France, but Jouyet has been closely associated with EU policy for decades.
The president wants to impose a global budget plan when nothing has been done at the national level. Furthermore, he wants to coordinate budget policies globally, although he hasn't succeeded in coordinating them at the European level.
Laurent's criticism isn't reserved for Sarkozy. Elsewhere he chastises Jean-Claude Trichet for his tardiness in cutting interest rates. But he gives good marks to the IMF for "being one of the rare institutions to clearly recognize the gravity of the crisis as early as last spring."
Thursday, November 13, 2008
Whatever is going on on the American side, the outcome may well prove to be an embarrassment for Sarkozy. Addicted to the adrenaline rush of the effet d'annonce and basking in his newfound glory (and domestic popularity) as an international power broker, he risks becoming the fall guy if the talks prove to be an embarrassment or, worse, fizzle in such a way as to send global markets reeling in yet another downward spiral. At home it's possible to dangle reforms in front of the public with impunity, but messing with the guts of international finance might well turn out to be a more dangerous game.
Wednesday, November 12, 2008
lorsque les partis auront changé de nature, lorsqu’ils ne se contenteront plus d’être des clubs d’élus cumulards qui cooptent au compte-goutte leurs successeurs pour devenir de larges mouvements en prise avec la société qu’ils prétendent représenter.
There is some truth to this and to other points that Bouvet makes in developing his argument. I think, nevertheless, that he underestimates the magnitude of Obama's achievement. It's true, as he argues, that American political parties are decentralized and that local and state parties are relatively open to newcomers and serve to nurture political talent. It's also true that the national party created an important opening for Obama when it made him the keynote speaker at its 2004 convention. But party leaders were not intentionally creating an African-American présidentiable for the next election. They were pursuing politics as usual in a multiethnic society, showcasing a black man of talent as one way of honing their appeal to important constituencies. It was the man himself who recognized the opportunity when the odds against success were still very long.
Bouvet's analysis to my way of reading smacks of a wish, common among Socialists, that some tinkering at the grass roots might somehow galvanize a moribund party of élus cumulards into a movement party united by a new face. I think that's a misreading of what happened in the United States. There was no change in the nature of the Democratic Party that made Obama possible. After the 2004 elections, there were many opinions about what the party needed to do in order to become competitive again: it needed a network of think tanks to compete with the conservative think tanks, talk shows to compete with right-wing talk radio, links to evangelical churches to mobilize values voters, a better system of voter identification to turn out the vote on election day, etc. Obama did mount a good ground game, but in the end none of the other factors was essential. In the media age, a candidate with the right talents can compensate for a host of party deficiencies.
Tuesday, November 11, 2008
The real question, though, is how Gérard Collomb, the mayor of Lyon and champion of municipal socialism, feels about the decision. It was his support that really carried the day for Ségo, and he told her at the outset that he preferred a leader who was not also a candidate for the presidency. That was why she initially put her quest for the leadership in "le frigidaire." Will the thaw leave the proponents of a less centralized leadership feeling betrayed? The marriage of municipal socialism with a presidentializer of the party was always an awkward fit. If la présidente de Poitou-Charentes becomes une cumularde occupying rue Solférino as well, there could be grumbling in the ranks.
Monday, November 10, 2008
A propos Sarkozy's eagerness to switch his notoriously eager affections from Bush to Obama, see this cartoon, signaled by Boz.
This analysis is fine as far as it goes, I think, but it avoids the question of what kind of party is to emerge from this congress. This, in turn, is a function of a decision about how the eventual presidential candidate will be chosen--a decision that need not be taken now but ought to be taken soon. What Royal wants at bottom is a broad-based presidential party à la Sarko's UMP. She would like its candidate to be chosen in a national primary with broad eligibility for voting. But to make this a condition now of coalition with motion E would be divisive. It seems to me that this calculation is guiding her choices at the moment. If she is to become a candidate in an eventual party primary, it's better if she isn't designated the party leader now. The party leader will have to organize the primary and negotiate the conditions under which it is held. It would be better to have a neutral, or at any rate a less partial, figure in that role. Hence Peillon or Dray (though I'm not sure how credible Dray would be as a neutral arbiter). Although Grunberg presents the "Epinay" option as the more probable, I think--and I suspect he thinks--that the other option is the one Royal has chosen and that its consequences are being played out at this moment in the discussions of which surrogate will become party leader. That is why Mélenchon has quit the party and why other diehard supporters of the Epinay option, such as Emmanuelli, are desperately trying to organize an "anyone but Ségo" blocking force.
It's tough to be a politician in a democracy. Folks are so fickle.
Sunday, November 9, 2008
My views on these achievements are probably already known to readers of this blog, but perhaps it's worth rehearsing them here. The Russia-Georgia War ended because Russia knew that it could not oust Saakashvili without damaging its long-term interest in a cooperative economic relationship with the West. It ended when the Russians were good and ready to end it, and the limits to their incursion were self-imposed. Sarkozy merely showed up with a piece of paper on which he had hastily scrawled some conditions that ratified the situation on the ground and were consistent with intentions Russia had already formed.
Sarkozy's leadership in the financial crisis has been erratic. Gordon Brown's has been quieter but more consistent. As I explained the other day, I think Brown will become the primary European interlocutor after the G20. He understands the technicalities of finance; Sarkozy doesn't, and Sarkozy doesn't have the confidence of central bankers.
Boz's evidence for Sarkozy's "access" to Obama is the fact that the French president's telephone call with the newly elected president is said to have lasted 30 minutes, compared with at most 15 for other foreign heads of state. Sarkozy may well have struck up a close relationship with Obama, for all I know, but I am not persuaded that these extra fifteen minutes of fame catapult Sarko into the role he aspires to play. More important, Sarkozy had sought with Bush to position France as a privileged intermediary, with Europe, especially Eastern Europe, and with parts of North Africa and the Middle East to which France has historical ties. He pushed for talks with Syria. This strategy, which Obama might well find congenial in his quest for renewed multilateralism, could serve France well, but I doubt that Obama would want to invest too heavily in any privileged interlocutor. It makes sense to welcome France's support but not to tie US policy too closely to French mediation. Furthermore, it is not at all clear that Sarkozy's supposed relationship with Bush served French or European interests. We still do not know whether the Bush administration encouraged or tacitly approved Georgia's provocation of Russia, which France certainly did not want. And Sarkozy was unable to prevent Bush from pushing ahead with missiles in Poland, provoking another Russian response, which France cannot welcome.
In short: Sarkozy seems to have wanted France to replace the UK as the US's partner in a "special relationship." There are benefits to such a strategy but also clear limits.
Would Ségo have fared any better or worse in these situations? I don't know. In Georgia the outcome would have been the same, however. She might have antagonized China over the Tibet situation, something that Sarko avoided. Boz omits the Lisbon treaty from his list of Sarko-accomplishments. Would she have pushed it through? No, that wouldn't have been her style, but pending a reversal of the Irish vote, I'm not sure that Europe would have been any the worse.
On domestic issues, I disagree with Boz. Ségo would have attempted university reforms along the lines suggested by her advisors Philippe Aghion and Sauvons la Recherche. She would have promoted retirement reforms, perhaps along the lines suggested by her advisor Thomas Piketty (in conjunction with Antoine Bozio). She would not, it is true, have instituted the minimum service requirement, and what difference would that have made? Nor would she have promoted the paquet fiscal, and France might have been better off for that.
I would agree with Boz that Ségolène's campaign was erratic, that she lurched from idea to idea. I said as much yesterday. I still don't think that that accounts for the unprecedented scorn of her candidacy by so many prominent Socialists. Michel Rocard said that he asked her to step aside in his favor in the midst of the campaign. Lionel Jospin has similarly disobliging things to say. My question is why she arouses such hostility, and that is quite separate from asking whether she would have launched initiatives equivalent in ambition to, even if different in substance from, Sarkozy's. Still, I see nothing in Sarkozy's record to justify Boz's title, "Thank God for Sarkozy," as though he were somehow the providential leader that France needed in 2007 and still needs today. He is a politician, with his qualities, some of which have surprised me, and his defects, most of which have not.
As for Ségolène, she, too, has her defects, as does her party (I've abundantly commented on the latter in recent days). But she doesn't seem to me unique in that regard. Some of her critics speak as though her presence on a national ticket were an affront to decency. I would reserve that honor for Sarah Palin. Ségolène Royal is a politician of average skills who was certainly less well prepared than her opponent for the presidential campaign of 2007. But with more time to prepare, a more unified party, and more carefully thought out platform, she might prove more impressive in a rematch. I reserve judgment.