Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Cohn-Bendit

Today I attended a lunch at Brandeis University in honor of Daniel Cohn-Bendit. For those of us in the room of roughly the same age, it was still possible to recognize, behind the pouched eyes of the sexagenarian, Danny the Red of May '68, and the moment he opened his mouth, any lingering doubt was removed. He enlivens any subject he touches with a passion that is never merely histrionic but always tinged around the edges with a melancholy awareness that passion probably isn't going to be enough. He gave two talks, one after lunch about global warming and the European Union, the other a more formal colloquium entitled "Forget '68."

To the question of global warming he brings the concern with participation that has always animated him. He views the issue as one that admits of no local or hegemonic solution: any answer must be global, multilateral, and cooperative if it is not to be meaningless. He understands the EU as a model of the kind of international cooperation, of participatory governance, that needs to be replicated on a global scale. There is a redemptive dimension to his European vision of green politics: Europe in the 20th century gave the world two totalitarianisms, he said, yet he retains hope that Europe in the 21st century might give the world a new cooperative model for approaching global problems.

After delivering this little speech, he initiated a discussion of American presidential politics, asking particularly whether we thought any of the candidates likely to move the United States away from its unilateralism of recent years and towards a more multilateral approach to international relations. I had just listened to Obama's fantastic speech on race while driving to lunch, so I offered a few reflections on what he had said by way of introduction of my argument that Obama was the most likely of the three candidates to achieve what Danny would like to see.

The talk entitled "Forget '68" was of course all about remembering it, but in the right way, shorn of mythologization and restored to its full complexity. He told an anecdote about his first meeting with Sartre, who called him about two weeks into the May events and asked to see him. Never in his life had he been more nervous before an encounter, he said, except with two or three women, but to his surprise he found that Sartre was even more wound up. He told this story not to drop a famous name or to amuse his listeners but to give full context to his comment that what Sartre wrote in his preface to Fanon's "The Wretched of the Earth" must be at once included as part of any genuine remembrance of '68 and yet firmly and unequivocally rejected as a glorification of violence that was an inextricable aspect of the time.

Tinkering

So Sarko has chosen to tinker with his cabinet rather than rework it, perhaps so as not to give the impression of panic or regret in the face of the setback in the municipals. Six new secretaries of state, and Eric Besson becomes "digital economy" czar while keeping his existing function as official grader and martinet. Nobody was fired: not Lagarde, not Albanel, not Kouchner--these being the three most prominently discussed as on the outs with Sarko. Nor was Rachida Dati shifted from justice to another ministry, as had also been rumored. If this is Sarko's way of saying "je vous ai compris," he evidently believes what his proxies were saying on TV on election night, that the election was a mandate for more of the same, faster. But as previously reported here, his communications operation has been shaken up, and Catherine Pégard has been promoted to official stroker of UMP deputies. If she does her job well, they may even nurse the illusion that their complaints are being heard in high places. But the changes made today will not spread that impression anywhere else.

Peillon Backs Ségo for Party Leader

Vincent Peillon, who was one of the founders of the Nouveau Parti Socialiste, says, alluding to Kant, that he thinks that Ségolène Royal "ought to" and therefore "can" lead the Socialist Party in its renovation and that other Socialists ought to help her do so rather than attempt to ambush her with tart comments to the press. To my ear, which may be a bit hypersensitive in this regard, it sounds as though Peillon has concluded that resistance is futile, it is too soon for the younger generation to make its move, there is no other potential candidate who can rally as much support as Royal, and he wants to place himself as close to the center of the action as possible.

Meanwhile, Jean-Christophe Cambadélis, a Strauss-Kahnian, is pushing Delanoë for a national role (and not his fellow Strauss-Kahnian Pierre Moscovici, who would also like to become premier secrétaire). The state of play in this corner of the field is complex. The DSK lieutenants have to pretend that their holding a place for DSK, but my hunch is that they're not at all certain he'll be a candidate in 2012, so they also have to think of themselves. A temporary alliance with Delanoë in order to fend off Royal, who has a much stronger national presence than any of them, would leave future options open. Delanoë could be pushed aside when the time comes in favor of DSK, one of the lieutenants, or a new alliance with another current. For the time being, it's a question of shoring up defenses against Royal while attempting to shift the balance of power within the DSK contingent.

Meanwhile, Martine Aubry has let it be known that she did not favor the systematic alliance with MoDem advocated by Royal--an indirect way of throwing her hat in the ring.

The race for the Socialist leadership is now under way in earnest.

Labor Market Improvement

Over the course of 2007, the number of recipients of the Revenu Minimum d'Insertion (RMI) decreased by 8 percent. This is said to be due to two factors: an improvement in the overall employment picture and a change in the law permitting individuals who accept jobs to combine income from work with a reduced RMI allocation. This provision applies to some 78,000 workers. The proposed Revenu de Solidarité Active (RSA), currently being tried out in pilot programs in several départements, would similarly combine wages with welfare.

The Euro as Potential Reserve Currency

According to Jeff Frankel, it could happen within ten years.

La Grogne

The knives are out in the UMP. The silence that had prevailed during the state of grace but for a few exceptional cries and whispers--a Villepin lashing out against his persecution, a Copé inconsolable for want of un maroquin, a Lellouche bemoaning the need for vaseline to ease the pain--has given way to a more general grumbling, led by the normally avuncular Jean-Pierre Raffarin. "When I see the number of cities we lost with 49 percent, I say that the Attali Report was one of the reasons why we lost." How fitting that Raffarin, whose name adorns the Raffarin Law, which, along with the Galland and Royer Laws, is among the principal targets of the report, should be the one to remind his colleagues that while a "modernized right" may please the MEDEF, the economists, and the OECD, it doesn't win the votes of Main Street merchants, cab drivers, or hairdressers. The corporatist right may be limping, but it can still kick. Meanwhile, in Paris, Lellouche, the perpetual malcontent, is refusing to sit with colleagues who backed his rival in the 8th, Philippe Lebel, while Claude Goasguen, one of Lellouche's enemies, is threatening to cut himself off from the national party leadership. Victory, they say, has a thousand fathers, while defeat ...