Wednesday, March 9, 2011

"Un Sondage Bidonné"

For Jean-Luc Mélenchon, the Harris polls that have everyone talking are worthless. He explains his reasoning at length here. If you pare away the bluster, he even makes a few valid points. But he neglects to say that he has an interest in discrediting the poll, because one effect of a strong FN is to persuade defectors from the PS, tempted to cast a first-round vote for the PG as a protest against the fecklessness of the PS, that they had better return to the fold lest the Left find itself left out of the second round as in 2002. Indeed, one of the complexities of a two-round system for pollsters is that each poll multiplies the opportunities for voters to register "expressive" rather than "instrumental" preferences. That is, it's perfectly possible to intend to vote PS but to say that you're going to vote PG or NPA in order to "send a message" of discontentment to the PS. And the greater the fragmentation of the sample group, the larger the margin of error.

I'd like to comment on one other point that Mélenchon mentions in his blog: Radio J has canceled an invitation to Marine Le Pen at the behest of the CRIF. This is a very bad business. Like it or not, the Front National is now a mainstream political party. Marine Le Pen is not her father and cannot be taxed with the sins of her father. One may suspect all the continuities one wants, but one also has to acknowledge the change in the surface. Jean-Marie mocked les fours crématoires; Marine denounces rather than denies the Holocaust. She has to be confronted head on and debated straight up, not excluded, and certainly not excluded from the airwaves by a Jewish organization. For a religious group to exclude a presidential candidate from the airwaves on the grounds that she is her father's daughter and therefore prima facie guilty of an anti-Semitism she explicitly denies simply cannot be tolerated. Free speech is free speech, and Marine Le Pen has to be faced squarely. On this point, I agree entirely with Mélenchon: the president of the CRIF is "juste quelqu’un qui veut exercer un pouvoir normatif communautaire sur la liberté de parole des autres." This is unacceptable.

Sarkosetbacks

The man formerly known as the "hyperprésident" is looking more and more anemic every day. His security bill has just been shredded by centrist deputies, and now they, along with others from the UMP, look like they're going to block another signature proposal, the abolition of the ISF, or tax on wealth. Sarkozy's idea was to get rid of the ISF and replace with a tax on unrealized capital gains. If this idea sounds loufoque, farfelue, and époustouflante, well, that's because it is, and the Sarkobluff has now been called:

" Ubuesque et intenable " : à l'image de Jean Arthuis, président (Union centriste) de la commission des finances du Sénat, ce scénario de taxation des plus-values latentes est quasi unanimement rejeté par les élus de la majorité. " Quand on se rendra compte de ce que l'on veut faire, on reculera, car on sera effrayé. Cela ne tient pas debout ", appuie Philippe Marini, rapporteur général (UMP) du budget au Sénat.
At this rate, Sarkozy's final year and a half will be as hypoprésidentielle as his first year and a half were hyper. He will propose and the majority in the Assembly will dispose as it sees fit. Before long the Right will look as incoherent as the Left. Indeed, it already does.

Chirac

If I were a betting man, I'd say his case will proceed no further. His lawyers are too clever. He has aged into a national monument. His accomplices in crime have expiated his sins for him and are now back in power themselves, as if nothing had ever happened. And then, he holds a trump card: whatever happened in Karachi involves both the past president, who allegedly put an end to the rétrocommissions, and the present one, who was treasurer of the campaign of Balladur, who allegedly established them in the first place. They have each other by the throat. And Sarkozy needs to bind up all the old wounds with the Chiraquiens if he wants to make it to Round 2 in 2012. Who better to pressure Villepin than Chirac? So the watchword in the Chirac affair will surely be, Surtout pas de zèle.

The History Museum Debate

Noticed in the US.

Acceleration

I suggested yesterday that the Socialists advance the date of their primary. I see today that my proposal suits the Hollande faction. No doubt the Hollandais (Hollandistes?) feel that they have an interest in pushing for an earlier primary, perhaps thinking that this will make it less likely that DSK will quit the IMF. But if they think this, they're probably wrong. Either DSK wants to run for president or he doesn't. I'm sure that by now he's made up his own mind, and, if he's decided to run, all his calculations are tactical. So the question is whether it's in his interest to get in early or late.

Some commenters have made it clear that they believe he prefers to get in late, either to avoid being dragged down from the empyrean of international policymaking into the "stinking quagmire" (as one commenter put it) of French domestic politics. Another pointed out that if he quits now, the Right will charge him with "dereliction of duty," as though he had been sent to the IMF to represent French interests.

These are both good points, but the Right will charge him with dereliction whatever he does. His best defense, of course, is to take a page from Sarkozy, who modestly takes full credit for having lifted France out of the crisis. DSK can declare an even larger victory--"I saved the global economy from collapse!"--and say that it's time to move on to his next challenge, saving France from itself. His claim will be no less plausible than Sarkozy's, i.e., meaningless, but still useful for drowning out the right-wing taunts of "quitter."

In any case, his years at the IMF will be a liability with parts of the electorate--parts whose votes he will need in the second round and perhaps even in the first--so his first order of business has to be to defend his record and differentiate it from Sarkozy's. After all, on one key issue--raising the retirement age--there was broad agreement, as the Right will be quick to point out. But Strauss-Kahn could turn this issue to his advantage by pointing out that raising the retirement age could be done in more than one way and detailing an alternative to the Right's method, particularly highlighting the areas in which its provisions are unfair. He could also tackle the issue of tax reform, where the panicky Right is in full retreat on the bouclier fiscal. Finally, he could point out the bankruptcy of Sarkozy's security policy: opposition from the center has killed the proposal to strip citizenship from naturalized citizens convicted of murdering police (a ridiculous proposal guaranteed to have no real effect other than to create a distinction between naturalized citizens and the rest).

These would be useful ways to spend the next 3 months if DSK intends to run. And even if the calendar does not change, he has to declare his intentions by June 28, so there is really nothing to be gained by delaying. Another 3 months in Washington would add nothing to his stature, not protect him from the foolish yapping of critics on the right, and leave the field open to his rivals. So I think the Hollandais are wrong: DSK has every interest in declaring now and entering the fray at a moment when the Left has been made ever more conscious of the need for unity by the rapid rise of Marine Le Pen. If ever there were a moment for a Man on a White Horse, this is it. Cross the Potomac, M. Strauss-Kahn, and return to the banks of the Seine.