Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Will Hollande Drop Out?

Speculation has been rampant these last few days that François Hollande will not be a candidate to succeed himself in 2017. A TNS/Sofres poll released 2 days ago shows him running just ahead of Jean-Luc Mélenchon and losing badly to Marine Le Pen. With such numbers, as humiliating as they are disastrous, it is hard to see how he could decide to run again, either as a candidate in a primary or a presidential contender.

Everyone agrees that Hollande is no fool and, if nothing else, an authentic political professional. Hence if nothing happens between now and some date in the future (probably no later than September) when a decision becomes inevitable, he will read the handwriting on the wall and step aside. I agree with this conventional wisdom. But what then?

The poll cited above suggests that Juppé is by far the most likely candidate to succeed the current president. I also agree with this analysis. He is the safe choice for people on the right and acceptable to many on the left. But there will be a real scramble to redefine the left in general and the Socialist Party in particular.

The "social-democratic" Socialist Party has never really managed to coalesce. The post-Epinay party that Mitterrand created was not really social-democratic: it was rather an equivocal war machine that combined venerable Marxist rhetoric with Florentine suppleness in order to devour the Communist Party with its amoebic embrace. After destroying the Communists, Mitterrand went on to destroy the Rocardians, who might have defined social democracy with a French accent if they hadn't been displaced into the European arena, where, under the influence of the social Catholic Jacques Delors, they became something else. Hollande himself is an unstable amalgam of Delorian and Mitterrandian elements.

Valls and Macron would both like to jettison the last vestiges of social democracy à la française and become full-throated social liberals, with a more authoritarian tinge in the case of Valls and a kinder, gentler face in the case of Macron: the scowl versus the smile. It's hard to predict how either one would fare electorally if finally cut loose from the legacy of the old PS. Both men represent a giant step away from the French tradition of the ideological party and toward the politics of personality, American-style, where the fading Sarkozy has also pitched his tent. At the moment, Macron's popularity is rising while Valls's is sinking with Hollande's, though not quite to the same depth. In a multiway contest, however, neither man enjoys a secure electoral base, and la nébuleuse gauchiste of greens, Mélenchoniens, communists, Trotskyists, etc., still has life in it. The nascent but rudderless Nuit debout! movement might yet find its Bernie Sanders, Pablo Iglesias, or Yanis Varoufakis despite its avowed distaste for leaders or direction. Thomas Piketty anyone? (The suggestion has been made and batted aside by l'intéressé, but in such matters one never knows where history will turn next.)

In short, a Hollande withdrawal will precipitate a free-for-all and a likely victory for the staid but tested center-rightist Alain Juppé--in a best-case scenario. The worst is too horrible to contemplate.


Mitch Guthman said...

It seems to me that if Hollande genuinely cared about the fate of the Parti socialiste, he wouldn’t have waited until his party’s hopes for the next election were irretrievably damaged before stepping aside. If you think, as I do, that Hollande is for himself first and nobody else second then he has nothing win by going and everything to gain by staying and playing out the hand.

Hollande will not go gentle into that good night because whether he goes now or waits to be given the boot, the end result would be that he must give up the Elysée and that is the thing I believe he most wants to avoid. It is probably in his mind that miracles can happen. My prediction is that he stays and rolls the dice.

bernard said...

Interesting post. I don't think that the Rocardians could ever have defined some social democracy à la française because, from my point of view, Rocard was always going to be a political dwarf and a failure, Mitterrand or not. I've thought so since the mid 1970s and never saw cause to revise my view.

As for the movement "la nuit debout", I am strongly inclined at this stage to equate quite exactly with la nébuleuse (your word play is too arcane for me, I presume) gauchiste of greens, Mélenchoniens, communists, Trotskyists, etc...It strongly reminds me of la Sorbonne in the late 1960s and in fact I had an ironical flashback to Alain F...t on his Solex carrying dozens of copies of la cause du peuple (and not beating anyone)...But of course today, intolerance seems quite politically correct as an object of discussion for our learned "citizen movement": should we beat up this guy, let's vote democratically. I just doubt that stuff like that ever happened with Podemos or the other Spanish movement. Perhaps because they know in their bones what true violence is and we do not.

Incidentally, Mélenchon's number one preoccupation in life has been to shoot Hollande for a long time (much longer than the past 4 years) in the same way that Montebourd's only preoccupation for 15 years was to shoot down Chirac, and look where Montebourd is now that Chirac is (hopefully) enjoying his retirement.

Now, I read the polls like everyone and still I cannot for the world of me picture Juppé winning a popular election. It's just not him, for instance I cannot see him being brutally debated and not going ballistic, and, remember the 2012 debate, even with staid Hollande, it was extremely brutal as these debates have always been in France.

As well, it appears obvious to me that recent weeks have seen a major shift coming from the Elysée and that serious money is about to be spent on the youth and the poor. And money talks. The hardening of the CNPF stance is also a very propitious political development in some ways. Call me the last optimist. Or maybe the last realist vis a vis all these would be alternatives.

Art Goldhammer said...

Not too arcane, Bernard, just an error that someone else had already pointed out, but I was away from my computer and couldn't correct it. nébuleuse it is.

Jackson Lien said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
GK said...

Art, could you please expand a bit on this analysis?

"[T]he Rocardians...might have defined social democracy with a French accent if they hadn't been displaced into the European arena, where, under the influence of the social Catholic Jacques Delors, they became something else."

Art Goldhammer said...

To GK: briefly, social democracy requires a base in society. Under Delors the social-democratic impulse, deprived of electoral roots, sought refuge in technocracy. The Delorian commission hoped to tame global capitalism through the European Commission, treaties, intergovernmental bargaining, etc. The "democratic" element of the social-democratic impulse withered for lack of roots in French or European society. This was a pis aller, since its roots were already withering. Delors, when he had the chance to run for president of France in 95, concluded that he would fail and chose to stay out.

FrédéricLN said...

May I just write I find this post — a column indeed — absolutely great, one of the best ones on this excellent blog.

And I find the author's last point (as developed in the comment above) extremely important. Never read that elsewhere (ok, I do not read that much). But, as great innovations usually do, it sounds obvious once expressed.

Mitch Guthman said...


Bravo! I agree with Frédéric. Really outstanding analysis. But also very pithy: The problems with French politics (and, I should say, the EU) summarized in a single paragraph. If you ever get tired of Harvard there's undoubtedly a spot for you at the five-minute university.

GK said...

Thanks for the response, Art. The idea that EU technocracy "displaced" Rocardian social democracy makes sense. (And it's a displacement, I suppose, not only in the sense of an unfortunate replacement but also in the sense of becoming placeless, unmoored from place?)