Sunday, June 17, 2012

A Political Renewal

It was more than a victory that the Socialist Party scored today; it was a political cleansing. A whole new generation of Socialists has come to office, as Bernard Girard notes. Of the 291 Socialist deputies, moreover, 108 are women. Two elephants were eliminated: Jack Lang and Ségolène Royal. All the ministers were elected, however. On the right, the older generation suffered defeats as well: Bayrou and Alliot-Marie are gone. Arun Kapil has a full rundown.

Two things trouble me. First, I'm not sure what the Socialist Party did to deserve such a victory. Its program remains vague, its leadership untested, its commitments confused. Its victory might be seen as an expression of revulsion against the Sarkozy years--except Sarkozy himself did better than expected in the presidential. The new leadership of the UMP is hardly inspiring, and this crushing defeat opens the way for a challenge to Copé by Fillon and/or Juppé. With the Socialists now in control at every level of government, they would benefit from a renewal on the right; otherwise all the blame for failure is theirs.u

Second, the party system seems out of kilter. The FN enjoys strong support but has only 2 seats. Similarly, the extreme left is underrepresented in the Assembly. The Greens, by contrast, are overrepresented. And the center, alas, has all but disappeared. Ayrault has spoken of the need for a more balanced exercise of power between legislature and presidency. Such a change will require a lot of work on the Assembly internally. The imbalance is institutionalized and reflected in budgets, office space, and staffing. It won't be easy to change.

Finally, a word about Bayrou and Royal. Both deserved better than they got. To be sure, Royal's bitter speech was graceless, and she probably sealed her own fate by making a poor tactical choice, but I find it hard to believe that Falorni couldn't have been dissuaded from his challenge if the will had been there at the national level. And clearly Bayrou could have been saved as a gesture of gratitude and respect, which he deserves. But politics, as they say, is not beanbag.

Hollande's "Growth" Package

Hollande is proposing to France's European partners a growth package consisting of 3 parts: EU structural funds of 55 billion, European Investment Bank loans of 60 billion, and project bonds of 5 billion, for a total of 120 billion euros, or less than 1% of EU GDP. This is not likely to make much of an impression, even if it is approved, but with New Democracy's apparent victory in Greece and a reinforcement of Socialist power in France, Germany may be inclined to reward the Greeks for good behavior and the French for making such a modest proposal.

Le Pen Loses in Hénin-Beaumont

Hallelujah!

Absolute Majority for the Left, Royal, Bayrou Lose

The Socialists will have 291 seats. Ségolène Royal lost her seat, as did François Bayrou. François Hollande now has all the support he needs to enact a program of the left. It remains to be seen what that program is.

"Où sont les intellectuels?" Bouvet vs. Fassin

After the victory of Mitterrand in 1981, as problems started to accumulate for the new socialist government, Le Monde published an article entitled "Où sont les intellectuels?" The import of this piece was that intellectuals of the left, who had been vociferous in their critiques of government when the right was in power, had fallen silent when the left arrived, as if it had nothing to say about governing.

What about now? Where are the intellectuals? Are they silent, or have they simply become "organic," to use Gramsci's term, parts of the apparatus of government itself, specialized in technical activities such as fiscal and monetary policy, environmental regulation, labor law, etc., and therefore not suitable for discussion in public forums? Marianne, for its part, believes that there is a vital intellectual debate raging on the left but that it hasn't attained the visibility it deserves, so it arranged a face-off between Laurent Bouvet, representing what it calls "une gauche d'inspriation conservatrice, parfois souverainiste, affichant un ton nouveau sur les questions de sécurité et d'immigration," and Éric Fassin, representing a left more open to the inclusion of minority communities but no longer calling itself "multiculturalist." And this Marianne sees fit to call "the war of the lefts."

Neither side in this war has many divisions, but the generals are intent on enlisting imaginary armies. For Bouvet, his troops consist of nothing less than les classes populaires, while Fassin counters that "visible minorities" such as female workers, shop clerks, and homosexuals are not all "bourgeois bohemians" and are in fact the heart of Bouvet's imaginary army. Has "la gauche populaire," the name sometimes applied to the vague school of thought associated with Bouvet and geographer Christophe Guilluy, really emulated la droite populaire of Thierry Mariani et cie. and the Dutch "new realists," as Fassin alleges? Or have the "neo-Tocquevilleans" and "anti-racists" of old morphed into the think tank Terra Nova, which according to Bouvet would transform the Socialist Party into a third-way mishmash designed to ensconce a well-to-do socially liberal elite in power at the head of a rainbow coalition of voiceless but symbolically visible minorities?

I'm afraid I fall into the squishy marais between these two would-be montagnes. There's too much rhetorical heightening of differences for my taste and too little in the way of strategic or policy implications. La gauche populaire is right to stress the importance of solidarity, while its opponents are right to insist that protection of minority rights is essential, and that differences can be discussed without being enshrined. Et après? Les chiens aboient, les caravanes passent. But others may find more to chew on in this debate, so I bring it your attention just in case.