François Bayrou, whose campaign has been struggling, held a major meeting today at the Zénith. Bayrou invariably makes me think of the Mugwumps. For those who don't know American political history, Mugwumps were Republicans who supported the Democratic presidential candidate, Grover Cleveland, in 1884 against the Republican James G. Blaine, whom they considered corrupt, repellent in character, and morally deficient. Bayrou and his MoDem haven't quite crossed over to the left, but it's not out of the question that they would join a left government after the election.
They share with the Mugwumps a certain sanctimoniousness, especially when it comes to fiscal stringency. So, for example, Bayrou proposes to reduce the deficit by €100 billion, with €50 billion to come from spending cut and another €50 billion from increased taxes. There is already something suspect about the neat symmetry of cuts and taxes, and the lack of specificity about which cuts and which taxes is also characteristic.
At the moment, Bayrou is drawing around 12-13% in first-round polling. At this stage in 2007 he was at 18% . In that year he benefited from anti-Ségolène feeling on the left. Hollande seems to be more acceptable to the left Mugwumps, then, but one might have expected the left of the UMP, social liberals of the right, to flee Sarkozy for a candidate deemed to be less mercurial and "abnormal." Apparently there aren't enough of these to make up for the desertion of the left component of Mugwumpery.
Increasingly, European politics, and not just in France, has become a politics of the marais, as one used to say during the French Revolution. The left and right extremes reject the broad central consensus in favor of the EU and globalization and go their separate ways. In the center there is a substantial majority of voters, roughly 60-65% of the electorate, divided between a party which, for historical reasons, is nominally of the left and another party which, for similar historical reasons, is nominally of the right. These parties divide sociologically along a number of dimensions (private/public sector employment, age, work/non-work status [retirees favor the right], wealth [richer is righter], urban/rural residence, etc.), but these differences lack the deep identity component of the past. A great deal of emotion therefore settles on personalities: Who is tougher? Who is steadier? Who is more predictable? Who is more tolerant/intolerant of differences? Who is more honest or corrupt?
These are Mugwumpish choices. The grand differences regarding projets de société are a thing of the past. The French language needs a translation of Mugwump. Maraîchers?