Friday, December 30, 2016

The Joy of Vicarious Aggression

An article in Le Monde this morning sent me to the video clip linked below of Georges Marchais, erstwhile leader of the French Communist Party, with interviewers Alain Duhamel and Jean-Pierre Elkabbach.

When I lived in France in the 1970s, I quite enjoyed the Marchais spectacle. We had nothing like it back home, where Communists were pursued by the FBI rather than by high-profile TV newsmen, and political interviews were rather sedate affairs. It was impossible to imagine even the surliest of American pols--Richard Nixon, say--telling Walter Cronkite to get it into "your little head that I, too, have a brain."

George Wallace might have said such a thing, but I never thought of comparing Marchais to George Wallace, because Marchais, after all, represented the "revolutionary" left and Wallace the racist right. But the two had much more in common than I imagined in my callow youth. Not only did Wallace enjoy strong working-class support in certain regions of the country, he also brought cheer to millions who didn't care a fig for his policy agenda (because they never expected him to achieve power) but immensely enjoyed watching a pugnacious and earthy scrapper stick it to the stuck-up mouthpieces of the powers-that-be. Marchais tapped into the same vein of ressentiment. "You think of me as a worker," he says to Elkabbach, that is, as someone who can't think for himself, who is simply a tool in the hands of other men, be it the capitalist boss or the communist ideologue. But in fact you are the tool, and a greater fool than I because you don't understand when you are being used.

"Bourgeois" viewers used to watch these Marchais performances with fear in their hearts, thinking how they would spirit their savings out of the country if that madman ever came to power. But those without savings loved to watch him spar with the anointed representatives of the officially-sanctioned media. Jean-Marie Le Pen recognized the appeal of Marchais's pugnacity and made it his own. He passed the gift on to his daughter, who has learned to sing the same tune in a different key. But this is an instrument that doesn't need to be learned from a virtuoso. Some politicians immediately recognize its potential and play it with skill from the moment they pick it up: Wallace and Donald Trump are cases in point.

The music may be crude, but countries fall into moods in which the only music they can hear is a music undergirded by primitive rhythms and harsh, simple melodies repeated ad nauseam until any finer harmony become inaudible.


Thursday, December 29, 2016

Mélenchon's Social Media Strategy

Le Monde today has an interesting piece on Jean-Luc Mélenchon's use of social media. Apparently he's reaching large numbers of people via the net, which has turned out to be a medium particularly congenial to his style of politicking. As rhetorician, Mélenchon has many admirers. I confess that I've never been among them. His great set speeches à la Passionaria are often full of fine verbiage larded with historical references, but impassioned nostalgia for the halcyon days of the left fails to work its magic on me.

But Mélenchon's fireside chats on YouTube are another matter. Take this one, in which he analyzes Renzi's failure in Italy. The analysis is tendentious, to be sure. Mélenchon accuses Renzi of playing a double game, in which he conspires with "Brussels" to put the Italian economy in difficulty, then imposes neoliberal labor market "reforms" to put things right. Italians, JLM argues, having seen through the media-abetted subterfuge, voted No in the referendum to put an end to Renzi's double-dealing depredations.

The (familiar) argument is worth what it is worth, but what I want to call attention to is Mélenchon's relaxed style. His speech is familiar rather than high-rhetorical. He is relaxed rather than angry, lightly mocking rather than irritable (as he often is with the press), and in his element, because he is excellent at taking a basic theme and embellishing it with marks of familiarity and invitations to assent. His points come off as obvious truths, and since there is no interviewer to contradict him, one sits entranced by his bonhomie and faconde. There is a charm in his directness. YouTube suits him to a T.

I also sampled the site Blabla 18-25 Ans mentioned in the Le Monde piece but found nothing of interest. I visit JLM's blog and press reviews from time to time, but these are more arduous exercises. Written down, Mélenchon's volubility passes less easily. One tires of reading him, whereas listening to him is like sitting down for an apéro with an amusing friend rather to one's left politically but still diverting to hear.

What actual political effect will the new media have? It's impossible to predict. But there's no question that social media have given politicians who understand them the means to circumvent the filters of the old media, for better or for worse, and to speak directly to new strata of voters not reachable via the old routes. Trump's success attests to this. It surprised everyone, and Mélenchon could well surprise in France in a similar way. He won't be in the second round, but it's not impossible that he will surpass the candidate of the "governmental left" in the first round, and that, in its own way, would be a shock of some magnitude with serious implications for the future of the Socialist Party.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Is Fillon Fading?

A remarkable thing has happened since Fillon's surprisingly strong victory in the primary of the right: instead of receiving a post-primary boost, momentum has drained from his candidacy. It's as if those who voted in the primary, determined as they were to retire the two old warhorses Juppé and Sarkozy, did so without paying much attention to the program of the eventual candidate. With the increased scrutiny that comes of being the winner, Fillon has stalled out. And, lo and behold, the apparent gainer is not the yet to be designated candidate of the left but the unaffiliated centrist Emmanuel Macron.

Polls at this stage are of course to be treated with extreme caution, but there are some striking figures here: for instance, 56% of FN sympathizers would prefer Macron to Fillon. This is not altogether surprising. The FN is the leading party of the working class, and Fillon's platform is decidedly worker-hostile. Macron enjoys even stronger support on the left, despite his having distanced himself from the Socialist Party.

Of course, Macron's problem remains making it to round 2. He would need some of those FN voters to defect in the first round, and he would somehow need to demolish the candidacy of the winner of the left primary and simultaneously reduce support for Mélenchon. But stranger things have happened. If Fillon's inevitability wanes, Macron just might edge him out. Or perhaps it will be Le Pen whose invincibility comes into question. She has been having difficulty raising money for her campaign, and voters may decide, as they did in the regional elections, that taking the final step with the FN is just too much.


Thursday, December 22, 2016

Guaino Schools Fillon on Laval--and Austerity

Well, I guess if this is the 93rd most important political blog in the world, I ought to blog something.

How about this? I agree with Henri Guaino. Not something I say very often. But apparently he irked François Fillon by comparing him to Pierre Laval. One can understand why such a comparison would rankle, not that it's likely to shake many voters loose: As Fillon is fond of pointing out, French schoolchildren don't learn any history anymore, so today's voters aren't likely to know much about Laval. Still, if they look him up on Wikipedia, they might be dismayed to learn that he was un collabo. So Guaino, perhaps afraid he might be challenged to a duel, backtracked a bit:

J’ai appris, cher François, que tu t’étais ému de ma référence à Pierre Laval à propos de ton programme économique et social. Je souhaite d’emblée dissiper tout malentendu pour qu’il ne subsiste aucune ombre entre nous.
Nous nous connaissons depuis très longtemps. Assez pour que tu saches que je n’aurais jamais pu songer à faire le moindre rapprochement entre toi et le Pierre Laval des années 1940, celui de Vichy, du déshonneur et de la collaboration. C’est au Laval de 1935, président du Conseil de la IIIe République, et à son programme que j’ai fait explicitement référence, programme qui est resté comme un cas d’école dans les annales des politiques économiques.
Indeed, it turns out that Guaino was comparing Fillon not to the collabo Laval but merely to the dimwit prime minister who opted for a deflationary economic policy in the midst of the Depression.

Now, for Guaino, to be sure, this was a disastrous choice not so much because it deepened the misery of millions of Frenchmen but because it brought on the Popular Front, which Guaino regards as a national catastrophe. I'm rather more sympathetic to the Popular Front, but I have to agree with Guaino about the foolishness of imposing austerity in recession, which is what Fillon is proposing in his platform for 2017. It really isn't very wise.

The lengthy historical detour via Laval 1935 may not be strictly necessary to make this point, but Guaino knows Fillon better than I do (il le tutoie dans Le Monde!), so perhaps he's right in thinking that the best way to penetrate Fillon's well-armored mind is to appeal to his vanity as a connoisseur of French history.

The former prime minister's pride in his knowledge of the past may not be entirely justified, to judge by the rather banal examples he chose in his speech on the subject (M. Fillon, I knew François Mitterrand, François Mitterrand was a friend of mine, and you're no François Mitterrand--at least when it comes to showing off your knowledge of history), and Guaino's lesson may therefore serve him more than he knows, even if he is unlikely to follow his economic advice.

When it comes to following the eminently respectable precepts of German Ordoliberalism down the road to ruin, François Fillon has no peer.

Number 93

French Politics has been named no. 93 of the 100 top political blogs. That might not seem like much to write home about, but the NY Times is only no. 4. And they probably have somebody to brew the coffee for them.

Monday, December 19, 2016

Meanwhile, back in the USA ...

My latest for The American Prospect on Trump's cabinet and leadership style.

Lagarde Found "Negligent" but Goes Unpunished

A court of her peers--other politicians--found Christian Lagarde, head of the IMF, "negligent" in her handling of the award of hundreds of millions of euros to Bernard Tapie back when she was minister of finance but decided to impose no penalty. No doubt this jury of peers recognized that her negligence was an occupational hazard of working for a boss (Nicolas Sarkozy) who knew what he wanted and held her own future in his hands. Neither Tapie nor the Crédit Lyonnais being above reproach, what was a few hundred million among friends? Now Lagarde, standing Fabius on his head, is judged "coupable mais pas responsable." Expedient justice.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Juppé Seeks to Prevent Defections to Macron

Alain Juppé turns out to be a rightist after all. He wants his supporters in the LR primary to support Fillon over Macron. Many apparently feel orphaned by Juppé's loss and are thinking of jumping to the "ni droite ni gauche" candidate. Juppé's lieutenants are trying to head this off. What will be his reward? Prime minister under Fillon?

De quoi le candidat Valls est-il le nom?

Patrick Cohen interviewed Manuel Valls on France Inter this morning. It was a curious colloquy. Cohen, an experienced interviewer (though evidently afflicted with a cold), kept trying to get Valls, an experienced interviewee, to softpedal the boilerplate and say something substantive, but Valls was determined to make the most of his 10 minutes and include every talking point he seemed to be reading from the back of his hand. Until, that is, Cohen brought up the subject of the use of article 49-3 to ram through unpopular legislation, and Valls, to Cohen's astonishment, said he was agin' it--despite having had recourse to the provision several times during his prime ministership. He also said he would eliminate the tax on overtime pay--one of Sarkozy's key measures, which Hollande rescinded. And despite having been prime minister as recently as last week, Valls presented himself as the "anti-system" candidate and declared that in fact journalists like Cohen represented the system.

It was a baffling performance, at once a defense of Hollande's (and his own) record and an attempted repudiation of it, or at any rate an effort to place himself in the position of "outsider" running against the errors of "the government," which he himself headed. Valls' indifference to reality rivals Trump's (which is saying something), yet his style could not be more different. He remains the aggressive, no-nonsense, get-things-done politician he has always been but is now determined to pretend that he had nothing to do with the aggressive, no-nonsense, get-things-done prime minister whose ruthlessness made his president so unpopular and steadily whittled away at his own approval rating while alienating much of his own party--the very party whose members' primary votes he is now courting.

This has all the earmarks of a losing strategy, and I would be very surprised if the next polls do not show a precipitous drop in support for Valls. Le Monde today suggests (h/t Greg Brown) that the Hamon camp sees some hope that he will emerge as the spoiler on the left, in a position to emerge as Fillon did on the right as the candidate of those who reject the early press favorites. Perhaps. My guess is rather that les déçus du vallsisme will desert to Macron, who offers a similar social liberal platform in a rather less off-putting package and who has somehow escaped the need to twist himself into a pretzel in order to justify his role in the Hollande regime while at the same time pretending that as president he would be able to overcome the resistance on the left without recourse to the "brutal" methods that Valls now disowns, as if he weren't their very embodiment.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

The Polls ... Fluctuate

Le Monde covers the latest CEVIPOF poll with great seriousness, as though a fluctuation of a couple of points were a significant indicator rather than sampling noise. This permits them to portray Macron's small advantage over Valls and slightly larger advantage over Montebourg as major news, while neglecting the fact that Mélenchon is running neck-and-neck with the lot of them. Meanwhile, Marine Le Pen has slipped a bit behind Fillon, who is enjoying a post-primary bubble. In short, all's quiet on the western front: the second round is still Fillon vs. Le Pen, with nobody from the left even within shouting distance unless by some miracle they settle on a common candidate--in which case their voters might desert them anyway.

And what reason is there to put any faith in polls this year anyway?

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Fillon Waters His Wine

This was predictable: François Fillon has moderated the assault on health insurance that figured so prominently in his primary campaign.

Elu à la primaire sur un projet de « rupture radicale », M. Fillon a été contraint d’adoucir son discours pour tenter de ne pas effrayer les classes moyennes et populaires. « On ne tient pas le même discours aux électeurs de droite et à l’ensemble des Français », justifie son entourage, en ne voulant surtout pas entendre parler de « reculade ». « Il clarifie », explique un proche. « Il fait de la pédagogie », selon un autre.
"Pedagogy" is a euphemism for flip-flopping, but flip-flopping has a long pedigree in French presidential politicking, where the trick is to unify one's own party by throwing red meat to the base before tacking back to the center to pick up "the median voter," as political scientists like to say. Fillon seems to have wasted no time in adjusting his course and will likely pull off the maneuver without shedding too much support from the base, which has nowhere to go but far right, where Marine Le Pen offers no solace if what they are looking for is a reduction of medical benefits for the "undeserving." 

Le Monde describes the maneuver in these delicate terms:
Pas question d’accréditer l’idée que le candidat de la « vérité » et du « courage » se serait finalement résolu à affadir son « projet de redressement » à tonalité libérale et aux accents thatchériens assumés. Mais, entre la crainte de décevoir une partie de ses électeurs de la primaire, en quête d’une ardeur réformatrice à toute épreuve, et le risque de se mettre à dos une majorité de Français, le candidat a opté pour le moindre mal.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

About That Macron Rally

Emmanuel Macron staged a massive rally in Paris yesterday. His team claims an audience of 15,000. His peroration inevitably calls to mind Howard Dean's famous scream after winning the Iowa primary, which was widely mocked and ended up sinking his candidacy. Macron's will survive. It may even prosper. Many wondered before yesterday whether En marche! really had legs. Apparently it does. This was a good crowd by any standard, and certainly larger than any of the other candidates have turned out to date.

But what about substance? Macron gave a speech of Castro-like proportions: 1 3/4 hours of nonstop talk by the candidate. I have yet to see a full accounting of the details and am not about to listen to the entire speech, but what I have seen is vintage Macron: a clarion call to transform attitudes toward, for example, risk-taking, coupled with a laundry list of mini-measures intended to effect the desired transformation: convert unemployment insurance, say, into "solidarity wages" that would be paid to failed entrepreneurs as well as unemployed workers. Will this produce a French Facebook or a host of corner grocers hoping to compete with Félix Potin? And would a French Facebook, if it arose, resolve the deep problems of the French economy?

These are no doubt the wrong questions to ask. The right question, at least for the short term, is whether the patented Macron formula of lofty goals coupled with long litanies of wonkery will mobilize the masses in sufficient number to drive Mélenchon and the eventual Socialist candidate from the field, catapulting Macron into a position where he might edge out Fillon for the number 2 spot. Or, failing that, will he make a strong enough showing to start in pole position for the left's 2022 nomination?

I think it's a long shot for both, frankly, but I have to concede that Macron does seem to have galvanized a segment of the population to embrace him as the candidate of "change"--always a desirable position in an era when publics everywhere seem convinced that the status quo has run its course and something new is required. I just can't read how large a segment of the population that is. On my Facebook feed this morning I read a post by a young entrepreneur who attended yesterday's rally and was convinced. For him, the long speech was a Saul on the road to Damascus experience. But commenters immediately retorted that Macron was a "bobo populist," whose appeal would soon find its limits. On the other hand, I've heard from two older friends, one a French diplomat, another an academic, that Macron represents precisely the mix of youthful energy, decent values, and deep familiarity with the workings of the economy that for them represents a revival of hope in an otherwise dismal field of candidates.

Macron took pains to differentiate himself from Fillon by insisting that he would leave the legal work week at 35 hours, for example (although he then called for firm-level negotiated modifications), and promised to increase the number of civil servants rather than eliminating 500,000 of them, as Fillon as said he would do (but Macron did not say how he would pay for them).

We shall see. I myself have yet to succumb to the Macron magic. His economic nostrums do not strike me as particularly insightful or likely to succeed. His energy and intelligence are not in doubt, but the breadth of his base remains to be seen. Thus far, his most obvious qualities are his ambition and his chutzpah. Neither is particularly endearing. But perhaps I expect too much from politics in an era that seems determined to yield too little.

Friday, December 9, 2016

One More Down on the Left

La sénatrice Marie-Noëlle Lienemann annonce au « Monde » qu’elle renonce à être candidate à la primaire de la gauche

« J’ai décidé de ne pas être candidate à la primaire de la gauche », annonce dans un entretien au « Monde » la sénatrice de Paris, qui dit vouloir éviter « un éparpillement des voix ». 

First Hollande out, now Lienemann. Not that anyone ever gave her the slightest chance. Still, simplification helps. I wouldn't be surprised to see Hamon drop out as well before the first round. That would give Montebourg a boost.

Investors Worry About French Political Risk

Despite polls assuring that a Le Pen victory remains highly unlikely, investors have become wary of French sovereign debt. The spread between French and German bonds has increased by 10 basis points since September. The anxiety in the bond market is focused primarily on the outside chance of a Le Pen victory next way. But there is also political risk in a "safe" Fillon win, which would pose less of a threat of Frexit than a Front National victory but conceivably more of a threat of widespread worker resistance to Fillon's proposed overhaul of the French social safety net, including drastic modification of both the pension and health insurance system, as well as labor law reform. Given the massive demonstrations against the Macron and El Khomri laws, these fears are not exaggerated.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Macron Rejects the Siren Call of Unity

Emmanuel Macron has made it clear that he will not accede to demands that he bring his maverick candidacy within the broad tent of the Socialist Party. And why would he do otherwise? The moment he stuck his nose inside the tent, the people now trying to woo him with the siren song of Unity will begin to whack away at it. Outside, he's still a novelty; inside, he's just another contender.

His only worry, as the new kid on the block, is assembling the required 500 parrainages. Apparently, he doesn't have them yet, so he's appealing to France's 35,000 mayors to help him out. Of course, most of those mayors belong to political parties that have an interest in locking him out of the race, so he may have difficulty getting them. He has had no trouble raising money: although he enjoys substantial backing from wealthy donors, he claims that most of his money comes from small donations. But getting the parrainages of élus, a peculiarity of the French system, may prove to be a greater obstacle.

Macron's decision makes good strategic sense. Inside the Belle Alliance Populaire primary, he and Valls would divide the social-liberal reformist vote, with the likely result of making Montebourg the winner. Since Valls is bogged down by all of Hollande's baggage, Montebourg may still win the primary even with Macron out, leaving a 3-way contest between him, Mélenchon, and Macron for the "left" of the political spectrum in round 1, but then Montebourg and Mélenchon would whittle away at each other's base, allowing Macron perhaps to top both and thus positioning him nicely for a 2022 presidential run, which may well be his real objective. Even if Valls is the candidate, Macron could still beat him in round 1, with the same result: demonstrating his inevitability for 2022.

Or, then again, the Macron bubble may well collapse. It's really hard to say. But at this point he seems to be playing the hand he's been dealt as well as can be expected.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Vincent Peillon? Really?

As if the Socialists don't have enough problems already, Vincent Peillon is preparing to get into the race. If you've been following the PS for a while, you'll remember Peillon as the spokesperson for Ségolène Royal's campaign in 2007 and then as minister of education in the Ayrault government.

He's the son of a Communist banker, who headed the first Soviet bank outside the USSR, and the great-grandson of Léon Blum--quite a pedigree for an authentic man of the left. (CORRECTION: Jacob Soll points out that his great grandfather was not Prime Minister Léon Blum but Dr. Léon Blum, famous in his own right but not as a prominent Socialist--apologies for the error). Though involved in numerous efforts to reform the PS, his quiet intellectual demeanor never seemed to catch on with the rank-and-file. He comes across as a friendly schoolteacher, a French Mr. Chips, and in fact he has been teaching school since his retirement from active political life, which came about when Manuel Valls came to power: Peillon had gotten along well with Ayrault, another schoolteacher in politics with a similar style, but he and Valls were oil and water, and Valls got rid of him. Peillon fled to Switzerland.

Now he's back, in part, apparently, to make trouble for Valls. Peillon had been prepared to support Hollande, but he can't stomach Valls. Some say that disgruntled Hollandistes have egged him on precisely to make mischief for Valls. Who knows.

Peillon's candidacy will probably go nowhere, but it is one more symptom of the terminal state of the PS. There is not even a pretense of seeking to unite behind a candidate through the primary process. The primary is being taken rather as an occasion to express everything that has been repressed since Jospin's defeat. The prevailing wisdom had been that in order to prevent a repeat of 2002, differences had to be kept muted in order to prevent another fatal dispersion of energies. Hollande was the father of this crack-papering approach to politics, and his failure, along with the probable elimination of the left from the second round again this year, as in 2002, has put an end to the wish to project even an illusion of comity. All voices now want to be heard, and Peillon, who had chosen silence for the past two years, has suddenly recovered his powers of speech.

As an historian, Peillon has worked on the origins of laïcité and published a polemical attack on Furet's revisionist history of the French Revolution. One can imagine how such subjects might figure in the campaign he may be preparing to launch. The schoolmasterly tone will be an interesting alternative to Valls's hectoring. One takes one's amusement where one can. If nothing else, a Peillon candidacy might offer a few weeks' diversion in what otherwise promises to be a depressing holiday season of intrasocialist bloodletting.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Valls to Cazeneuve

Bernard Cazeneuve is the new prime minister. The volume at Matignon will be dialed down from 12 to 6 or 7, but security policy will become no less firm. Otherwise the governmental changes appear to be cosmetic. The phrase "shuffling the deck chairs on the Titanic" is not only a cliché but also too kind to what remains of Hollandia, because the Titanic had survivors, while the good ship Hollande will sink without a trace.

Unless, of course, Manuel Valls pulls off a miracle and somehow arrives at the Elysée. Current polls rate his chances as slim to none. He is running behind both Macron and Mélenchon. Of course he hasn't yet begun whatever strategy he has in mind to separate himself from the president and project a vision of Vallsism different from that of Hollandism, so he is still saddled with all the baggage of the ancien régime. But it's hard to see how he can possibly shed this baggage. It must be galling to Valls to see Macron, who should be sandbagged by the same set of policies, leap out ahead with his winning smile and softshoe routine. But that, for now, is the reality. Polling at this stage (and perhaps right up to the end) is to be viewed warily, however.

Still, in the end, no poll has any of the "left" candidates getting anywhere close to the second round as long as the three principals remain in the race, so it's all moot, except perhaps in positioning for 2022.

Friday, December 2, 2016

Post-Hollande

After President Hollande took himself out of the presidential race yesterday, I was surprised by two reactions: first, the surprise of many commentators that he would have done so, and second, the hostility to the departed.

I was not surprised by Hollande's decision, because as I have said all along, if he had one area of supreme competence, it was the reading of polls. He knew that he would lose if he ran, and lose badly, even in the primary. He knew that the primary debates would degenerate into a dissection of his presidency, which he would be able to defend, as he defended it yesterday, as at best a prelude to better times ahead. Whether prescient or delusory, such a defense never wins in politics, and, as I said, if there's one thing Hollande understands, it's politics.

As for the hostility, it seems pointless to me. Hollande did what many politicians do. He said whatever he needed to say to get elected, assuming that once in power he could do as he pleased (insofar as the traffic would bear) and be justified by the results. When the results failed to materialize, he temporized, hoping that something would turn up. It never did--except for two terrible and tragic terror attacks, which he briefly thought might give him the presidential stature he had been unable to achieve in any other domain. The effect quickly faded, however.

Some observers are now praising Hollande for lucidity and courage. His unprecedented withdrawal (no president of the Fifth Republic has ever shied away from seeking a second term) is supposed to set the stage for a renewal of the Socialist Party and perhaps even for a united left and a chance of making the second round. This is not true. The Socialist debate will remain what it has been for decades: a contest between social liberalism, this time represented by tough-talking Manuel Valls, who has reduced the "social" component to la portion congrue, and some form of resistance to that nebulous doctrine, be it Mélenchon's, Montebourg's, Hamon's, Aubry's, or what have you? At this stage it's not worth trying to pick apart the small differences sustained by these various narcissisms of the left of the left. It might be more useful to ascertain whether a sufficient social base exists to support them.

Valls' biggest handicap is that he will have to defend Hollande's bilan, but he can finesse this by denouncing Hollande's hesitations and saying that he will do what needs to be done with greater vigor and less head-scratching. One challenge will be to fend off Montebourg on his left within the primary and Macron on his right outside. Here I will go out on a limb: once Valls starts skirmishing with Macron in earnest, Macron's bubble will quickly deflate. I don't personally like Valls' style (nor do I much like Macron's), but my sense is that outside the Paris media bubble Valls will be the much more popular candidate. In any case, we should find out quickly. And Macron may now be under increased pressure to join the primary of la Belle Alliance Populaire. He no longer has the excuse of not wanting to bite the hand that fed and petted him (Hollande's). He really has no alibi for remaining un cavalier seul.

Valls' more difficult challenge will be Montebourg, who is adroit, clever, and surrounded by all the PS scribes and thinkers who dislike everything Valls represents. I find Montebourg's economic policy vague and unconvincing, but it will have a superficial appeal to many and, if presented well, can be made to seem a more uncompromising alternative to what Fillon is offering.

So it will be an interesting primary ahead, but not the ultimately clarifying one that the PS needs. Neither Valls nor Montebourg has a sufficiently clear alternative to the European status quo. Both remain politicians who fly largely by the seat of their pants. At the end of all this, the result may still be what it would have been if Hollande had remained in the race: the disintegration of the Socialist Party and its replacement by two or more new political formations.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Hollande Is Out. What Now?

As I predicted in my previous post, François Hollande announced today that he will not be a candidate for his own succession. In a televised speech, he defended his bilan except for la déchéance de nationalité, which he recognized as a serious (and costly) error. He said that throughout his presidency, which one might describe as a calvary, he retained his lucidity, and he correctly concluded that his presence in the race would divide the left and pave the way for its elimination in the first round of the presidential election.

His face told the story even before he reached its dénouement. He was a man in pain, announcing his failure, desperately hoping that history may yet convert it into a victory.

Valls will now surely enter the ring, and I would guess he will immediately surpass Arnaud Montebourg--but not by much. The unity of the left is still far from assured. Mélenchon, I wager, will never drop out. Macron's bubble may collapse, but then again it may not. And Bayrou may still decide to get in (although I suspect that if Valls is the candidate, this becomes less likely, whereas if Montebourg is, Bayrou will almost surely run).

Little by little, the murk is dissipating, and we can begin to see the contours of the presidential race.