Tuesday, April 1, 2014

A Defense of the Valls Nomination from Contreligne

President Hollande's nomination of Manuel Valls to be the next prime minister has provoked loud howls in many quarters of the Left. Here is a contrarian view, which sees Valls as a combination of Clemenceau and Rocard.

3 comments:

Mitch Guthman said...

Always bearing in mind that the shakiness of my French can very easily lead me to error, I don't think the article is entirely as described. To me, this really looks like classic concern trolling. Serge Soudray seems to be arguing not that the left shouldn't be worried because the selection of Valls is (counterintuitively) actually a good thing for the left and its policies but rather he applauds it because it means that the PS is becoming a “centrist” party that rejects the policies of the center-left.

He likens Valls to Clemenceau and Rocard not because, in his view, those gentlemen were brilliant closet lefties who were just misunderstood. No, he applauds them and Valls because the thing they have in common is that all three men were entirely against the left. Basically, if you like a "socialist of the right," then Valls is right up with these other guys because he hates the left, too.

Soudray also seems to have be on some other planet from the moment that Hollande took office. The tired old solutions for which he feels such distaste were those of the center and never those of the left. The solutions of the left were never tried.

What he seems to be calling for is a redoubling of Clinton/Obama style triangulating and "hippie punching” to appeal to centrists and elites. The problem, however, is that unlike the base of the American Democratic Party, the base of the PS isn't willing to be a punching bag and the French people want results, not entertainment. The people want a better life for themselves and (Bayrou notwithstanding) they do not think that their needless suffering is morally uplifting.

It seems to me that this article reflects totally different understandings of what the French people are looking for at this moment. If one thinks that Hollande should stay the course but needs someone a bit more energetic to go on television, then, yes, the appointment of Valls (a socialist of the right) was a brilliant move.

If, on the other hand, the French people are legitimately unhappy with imposing murderous austerity in a depression, destroying the social security and turning the country into a German protectorate then the left will be doing the best thing to withdraw its support from the Valls government and go into opposition.

ledocs said...

"He likens Valls to Clemenceau and Rocard not because, in his view, those gentlemen were brilliant closet lefties who were just misunderstood. No, he applauds them and Valls because the thing they have in common is that all three men were entirely against the left."

I don't see how you are getting this out of the article. It has to be you who is saying that Rocard was "entirely against the left," the author neither says this nor implies it. He says that Rocard was sceptical of [some] government interventions in the economy. It's a big leap from there to saying that Rocard was "entirely against the left."

If the Socialists and UMP are going to be fighting for the French equivalents of the "Reagan Democrats," i.e. embattled and fearful working-class voters now voting FN, and Valls is, for biographical reasons, well suited to spearhead this fight, how is this consistent with his being "entirely against the left?"

I barely follow French politics, but your post is a rant in your own behalf, it's got little to do with the citation. I understand your general line: Hollande did not stand up to Germany and bowed to austerity, which has been counterproductive for the French economy. And Valls does nothing to change this dynamic, he only reinforces it.

"What he seems to be calling for is a redoubling of Clinton/Obama style triangulating and "hippie punching” to appeal to centrists and elites."

This is just wrong. I think it's pretty clear that what interests him most is winning back some working-class voters who are voting FN for the "left," however defined. It's not about centrists and elites. I think our host here, Mr. Goldhammer, had a post not too long ago about how these FN voters were the defining battleground of French politics in the current period. w

Mitch Guthman said...

@ ledocs,

I admit that I do tend towards ranting, for which I offer my apologies. Equally, I admit it’s possible that my dislike of Valls caused me to misinterpret the arguments made by Serge Soudray. I don’t think I did but I do admit the possibility.

I also think you’re right that I was a bit too harsh in my condemnation of Rocard as a man who is now entirely against the left. Rocard is a very controversial figure who certainly began his political life as a man of the left but has been on a very strange, meandering and ever more rightward voyage of self-discovery for quite some time. I believe he is more closely aligned with Bayrou, who is indeed entirely against the left.

But the context of Soudray’s argument seems to be unmistakable to me—like Rocard, Vallis and now Hollande, he is saying that the left would be better off by abandoning the misguided policies of the social welfare state and embracing neoliberalism and centrism. That’s not a “counterintuitive” argument that the left needn’t worry but rather a claim that the left should embrace its own liquidation.

As to what Soudray wants, who knows? If he wants to appeal to the middle class, it’s difficult to see how the embrace of austerity will help, particularly since the FN’s arguments in favor of standing up to Europe and Germany and so forth are largely fueling their rise. And, as I’ve said before, there’s been a slew of stories about how the FN is drawing new voters from disaffected PS and even FdG voters

Similarly, the working class and middle class PS voters who stayed home in droves are not likely to embrace their own destruction, either. Nobody joins the PS to vote for Bayrou. There’s already a centrist party, lead by a self-proclaimed man of the center and it’s dying on the vine. There’s no “silent majority” of French centrists waiting for a prophet to lead them to the free market Valhalla.

Remaking the PS in the image of the MoDem is a sure ticket to political oblivion, as the recent election has amply demonstrated.