Sunday, March 14, 2010

Staying Home

Abstention seems to be the winner in the regional elections: a record 52% stayed home and sat on their hands. Europe Écologie didn't do quite as well as predicted, and the Front National did slightly better. The two parties are about equal in strength. Nationally, the Socialists topped the UMP by enough to comfort Aubry in her leadership, but I think it would be a serious mistake to think that this relative success indicates that the party's internal problems have been resolved.

Sarkozy is now faced with a thorny political problem, however. His electorate is demobilized and apparently disappointed with what he has achieved. Some voters that he had peeled away from the FN have apparently drifted back again. His management of the press no longer seems to yield results, and the periodic announcements of renewed reform elicit only yawns. The bloom is off the rose, and even off the romance with Madame. His has been the fate predicted for Obama in the United States, even though Sarko controls his legislature and has been able to do what he wanted to do, albeit within the limits imposed by the crisis. He has ruled out a remaniement, which is the usual response to rebukes of this sort. But will he stick to this decision? The loss is clearly his, no matter how much the UMP will point to abstention, local issues, etc.

Bernard Girard, in a response to my post yesterday on the elections, argues that I'm wrong to see the lack of "presidentialism" in Europe Écologie as a problem. In Bernard's view, it's rather an opportunity, because the French are irritated by the devastating effects of presidential politicking on the leadership of the major parties. Indeed, this is one explanation for the high abstention rate. I accept this criticism. Bernard nevertheless concedes that EE will have to find a presidential standard-bearer between now and 2012. He also points out that it will need to add some intellectual heft, develop new ideas, and answer criticisms that have begun to emerge of the ecological platform. Indeed, it will, and it will be interesting to see what develops in the regions such as Ile-de-France, where the PS and EE will have to merge their lists. Will EE try to use its leverage to influence the internal politics of the PS? If there is to be any hope of a victory for the Left in 2012, it will have to come out of this nexus. This is where the renovation of the Left will happen, if it happens at all.

Eyewitness

My son is in Paris for a few weeks, and he's been to a couple of MoDem rallies in the suburbs, because his host is active in the party. The younger Goldhammer was a little taken aback at one of these rallies when Isaac Hayes' "Theme from Shaft" was played to herald the appearance of candidate Alain Dolium. As my son observed to his host, it's disconcerting for an American, used to the sensitivities of our racial politics, to hear the words "Who's the black private dick/that's a sex machine to all the chicks" greeting a black candidate, whose nomination to head the list in Ile-de-France triggered a certain controversy inside the party. Of course foreignness dulls the sting of certain words and images, but still, one wonders ...