Saturday, March 13, 2010

Regional Elections

Perhaps this little essay should wait until the results are in, but what would be the fun of that? Official pundits are already interpreting. The most significant trends revealed by the polls are, in my opinion, the rise of Europe Écologie and the decline of MoDem and NPA as potential "third forces." I see two points of significance here. First, MoDem and NPA were essentially vehicles of their leaders, which were propelled by the perception that the best way to stop an hyperprésident was to find an hyperopposant: a strong personality with a potent media presence capable of giving voice to voter discontent. I'm not sure that either Bayrou or Besancenot ever really filled that role. Both emerged faute de mieux. Bayrou became the choice of desperate voters convinced at the last minute that Royal was not going to be able to stop Sarkozy. Besancenot expanded briefly into the vacuum left by the Socialist collapse and was further inflated by the media. Neither has proved persuasive in the longer run.

Europe Écologie may similarly be filling a void rather than developing an independent existence, but it is less dependent than the previous third forces on the cult of anti-Sarkozysme. It is, however, served by a cult of personality, or, rather, a cult of two personalities: Duflot and Cohn-Bendit, the good cop/bad cop routine of contemporary French politics. Duflot appeals to voters in some of the ways that Royal did (and I hope I don't incur a charge of sexism for saying this): she incarnates a softer approach to politics, speaks to the daily travails of voters' lives, and introduces a range of issues that elude other candidates. But she also articulates some comprehensive understanding of contemporary dilemmas in a way that Royal never made credible (Duflot seems sharper). Cohn-Bendit complements her maternal image with his unique mix of jolly aggressivity. If she's the mom, he's the favorite son: boisterous, disheveled, indulged, but loved (by some).

Of course neither is un présidentiable (though Duflot might become one), and that is the problem for Europe Écologie in the longer run. The Fifth Republic is, like it or not, a presidential system, and a third force means little at the national level unless it can contend in the presidential arena.

The big question marks for Sunday are the Parti de Gauche and the Front National. Either could do better than expected or worse than expected, and the performance of each will have implications for the strategies of all parties in the presidential race.