Sunday, April 30, 2017

Ross Douthat, Apologist for Le Pen

Ross Douthat must rival Jean-Luc Mélenchon in his distaste for Emmanuel Macron, whom he calls "the callow creature of a failed consensus" and "the John Lindsay of the Eurocrats."

Douthat might have exerted himself a little more strenuously rather than phoning in his column from the Hamptons if he had challenged his own complacent assumptions by asking a) why the abortion- and gay-friendly Le Pen so easily routed her pious opponent of the mainstream right in nominally Catholic France; b) why French polling indicates a sharp (+15%) uptick in SUPPORT for the EU over the past six months, as the prospect of Le Pen's calling a Frexit referendum on the heels of her election became increasingly real rather than hypothetical; and c) what the nomination and quick resignation of J.-F. Jalkh, Holocaust denier, say about the "competence" of the FN, with its extremely shallow bench, to take the reins of government with no more robust ally than Nicolas Dupont-Aignan and with every other seasoned politician in the country (save Mélenchon and Laurent Wauquiez, the right's Iago) endorsing "the John Lindsay of the Eurocrats" (an odd simile for Douthat to choose, given the low salience of poor John Lindsay in the minds of readers of Douthat's generation, or even mine, for that matter).


There is no doubt that Le Pen is a competent politician; I've made that point myself, contrasting her forensic skills with, say, Trump's. But her mastery of the dossiers is purely rhetorical, and she has given less thought to the actual consequences of leaving the EU than even Boris Johnson did. Compared to which, "the callow creature of a failed consensus," who conveniently lent himself to Douthat's meeting his alliteration quota for the week, is John Kennedy rather than John Lindsay--young indeed but well-schooled and well-traveled in all the right places.


With Brett Stephens associating atmospheric science with Robby Mook and Ross Douthat painting Emmanuel Macron as the spearhead of the Wehrmacht's onslaught, the right side of the Times bench is going for broke, casting what I will call, for want of a better term, managerial centrism as today's totalitarianism in order to wreathe their peculiarly pinched conservatisms in populist plumage (who can't play at this alliteration game?). A pox on both.
For a much more probing and useful conservative take on France, see this piece by Christopher Caldwell, which takes off from the work of Christophe Guilluy.

Friday, April 28, 2017

Another Rat Boards the (Hopefully) Sinking Ship

Présidentielle : Nicolas Dupont-Aignan apporte son soutien à Marine Le Pen

Sans Commentaire: Jalkh Resigns From FN Presidency

Editorial du « Monde ». Ce n’est pas une péripétie. Ce n’est pas insignifiant. Ce n’est pas un « détail », est-on tenté de dire. Le président par intérim du Front national (FN), Jean-François Jalkh, a été contraint, vendredi 28 avril, à démissionner. Nommé il y a quelques jours à la tête du FN par Mme Marine Le Pen qui, par ce geste, entendait séduire au-delà de son électorat habituel, M. Jalkh s’est vu reprocher un passé « négationniste ». Le chef d’une formation dont la candidate, Mme Le Pen, guigne la plus haute fonction élective en France doutait de la réalité des chambres à gaz durant la deuxième guerre mondiale.

The Second-Round Campaign

Dear Readers,
You may find me surprisingly silent, just as everyone else has become vociferous. I confess that I'm tired. I've been traveling around the country giving lectures on the election. I spoke for two hours last night to interested Harvard students and will spend another two hours at Boston College today. Then it's off to Columbia in New York and from there on to Houston. So I'm talked out.

I'm also surprised. I had thought that the first round would lead to a clarification of the case for "steady as she goes." Instead, it has turned into a sort of zombie war, in which the undead hulks of the losing candidates stalk about feeding on poor Emmanuel Macron. For die-hard Mélenchoniens he has become the dread symbol of all they detest, the hypercapitalist neoliberal Euro/technocrat indifferent to the fate of the workers of the world, the very face of greed, the fattest of fat cats, the two-faced banker, nay, the two-faced investment banker, or better yet, the lying Rothschild banker who pretends to be neither right nor left, or both right and left, or both socialist and not-socialist--in short, a monster. For die-hard Hamonistes he is the usurper, the traitor to the party who stole its birthright, displaced its president, rejected its primary, and yet in the end a raflé la mise. And for die-hard Fillonistes, he is nothing but a Bolshevik in a suit.

Forgotten in all this bitterness over the victory of the wrong man is the real enemy, the Le Pen clan, which is eagerly wooing the Macron-rejectionists of all stripes by painting Marine as the fulfillment of their every fantasy and wish. Macron will close your plants; Marine will join you at the factory gate for a selfie party, and if snapshots of your unemployed self with the aggressively smiling blonde don't put food on the table, she'll promise to nationalize your industry, just as the left used to do back when there were real socialists running the show rather than forts en thème who married their French teachers. Macron will sell you out by governing with the likes of Xavier Bertrand; Marine will defend the working class by elevating fine, upstanding citizens like Jean-François Jalkh. Macron will besmirch the purity of La Grande Nation by permitting discussion of the darker aspects of the French past in public schools; Marine will scour away all the tarnish. Macron will surrender to the Germans and dissolve France in the acid of Europe; Marine will preserve la bonne vieille France in aspic, serve only le jambon de Bayonne in every school cafeteria of France and Navarre, and thereby drive out the foreigners who don't deserve to be called French merely by grace of le droit du sol.

The campaign itself has degenerated into a war of televised set-pieces. Macron meets with union reps; Marine outflanks him among the rank-and-file; Macron counters with his own jaw-jutting confrontation in the parking lot, reminiscent of Sarkozy's famous colloquy with the worker mounted on a crane: "Tu veux me parler, déscends de là si t'es un homme." Marine goes to sea with les marins-pêcheurs and plays with un poulpe. Macron meanwhile plays soccer in Sarcelles with la jeunesse des banlieues. 

Eventually there will be a debate. Macron will defend globalization with arguments; Marine will tear it down with anecdotes. And then France will vote. Macron will be elected by a landslide. Make no mistake. Do not be distracted by the endless men in the street assiduously uncovered by the TV journalists, who naturally have no difficulty finding vendors in open-air markets or housewives on streetcorners prepared to declare, for the edification of all, "Ben, oui, je vote Front National pour la première fois, et pourquoi pas, on a tout essayé et la France va toujours mal." He will win nevertheless. And then the troubles will begin all over again. For those who see this election as a choice between continuity and change are in one sense right: France is traversing a storm, but those who think that the way out is to steer the ship onto the rocks (Change!) are wrong, while those who think that a safe harbor can still be reached if the necessary course corrections are undertaken in time (More of the same!) are right.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Le Non-Consigne de Mélenchon, The Virtue of Xavier Bertrand

Jean-Luc Mélenchon has announced that he will give no consigne de vote for the second round and will not say how he will vote personally. He has "consulted democratically" with the 450,000 adherents of La France Insoumise, offering them 3 choices: 1) abstain, 2) cast a blank ballot, 3) vote Macron (voting Le Pen is not an option, although polls show that around 18% of his supporters intend to do just that:


Mélenchon's "democratic" discretion contrasts sharply with his attitude in 2002, when he called unambiguously and unreservedly on the "peuple de gauche" to vote for Chirac in the second round against J.-M. Le Pen. What has changed? The Front National? I think not (see previous post). "Neoliberalism?" Really? Is Macron a greater threat to Mélenchon's values and principles than Chirac was?

No. What has changed is Mélenchon. His common sense has been vanquished by his ego. Even "ni-ni" Sarkozy has announced that he will vote for Macron. Mélenchon thus replaces him as the most insufferable prima donna in French politics. Compare his dishonorable intransigence with Xavier Bertrand's admirable statement on France2 last night: "I am not 'throwing myself in the arms of Macron,'" he said, contrasting his position with the words of Georges Fenech. "I disagree with Macron about many things, but when it comes to opposing Le Pen, I cannot remain indifferent."

This has been a dispiriting campaign, but the last few days have cast a revealing light on any number of political personalities.

The FN's Interim President

As everyone knows, Marine Le Pen began her second-round campaign with a stunt, dramatically stepping down temporarily from the presidency of the Front National. (She followed up with a second stunt, trying to steal Macron's thunder by appearing at the Whirlpool plant in Amiens, but he countered effectively by bravely confronting the hostile crowd there in the wake of her visit.) To replace her she named Jean-François Jalkh, a low-profile FN VP who turns out to have quite a history:

Le 19 mai 2015, Jean-François Jalkh est mis en examen pour « escroqueries, abus de confiance et acceptation par un parti politique d'un financement provenant d'une personne morale ». Il est poursuivi en tant que secrétaire général de Jeanne, un micro-parti, dirigé par des personnalités proches de Marine Le Pen, qui fait lui-même l’objet d’une mise en examen en tant que personne morale. Il est le premier haut cadre du FN à être inquiété dans cette affaire14. Les juges ordonnent, en octobre 2016 son renvoi devant le tribunal correctionnel15,16.
Il est également cité dans l'affaire de la politique d'embauche des assistants parlementaires de Jean-Marie Le Pen. Ce dernier, alors eurodéputé, aurait employé Jean-François Jalkh sans pour autant pouvoir prouver un quelconque travail d'assistance. Le Parlement européen réclame à Le Pen le remboursement des 320 000 € pour emploi fictif.
He may also be a Holocaust denier.

En 2000, il déclare, d'après des propos rapportés cinq ans plus tard dans Le Temps des savoirs, qu'il distingue parmi les négationnistes et les révisionnistes, d'une part les « gens détestables », et d'autre part « [un] négationniste ou [un] révisionniste sérieux » comme Robert Faurisson, évoquant « le sérieux et la rigueur [...] de l'argumentation » ; dans une phrase dont on ne sait si elle reflète sa pensée ou résume celle d’un autre, il conclut « sur l’utilisation d’un gaz, par exemple, qu’on appelle le Zykon B [sic], moi je considère que d’un point de vue technique, il est impossible […] je dis bien impossible de l’utiliser dans des […] exterminations de masse » — dans le même temps, Jean-François Jalkh rejette l'étiquette de négationniste pour lui-même6,20. Il dément avoir tenu ces propos lorsqu'ils sont relayés par Laurent de Boissieu à l'occasion de son accession à la présidence du FN par intérim21 ; David Rachline indique quant à lui que Jean-François Jalkh « a déposé une plainte parce que cette affaire est montée de toutes pièces »6. La chercheuse Magali Boumaza, qui a recueilli ses propos, confirme ses écrits et affirme en détenir la preuve6,22. Pour sa défense, Jean-François Jalkh met en avant sa proximité dans les années 1980 avec le secrétaire général du parti de l’époque, Jean-Pierre Stirbois, accusé au sein de l’extrême droite d’être un « agent sioniste »22.

Legislative Elections

The rules are complicated. Triangulaires, quadrangulaires--such things can happen depending on the turnout and the division of votes in the first round. Le Monde sums up the rules here. And try this interactive tool.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

My Hot Take on the Election

Here.

Ouf!

Macron 23, Le Pen 21, JLM/Fillon 19. Best possible outcome from my point of view. Now a complicated game begins to determine the complexion of the Macron government. Vive la France, vive la République!

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Arun's Summary

Arun Kapil gives us a terrific roundup of how things stand on the eve of the contest.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Dernière Ligne Droite

Well, it's coming to the wire, and madness reigns more than ever. Last night's terror attack en plein non-débat may have shaken things up yet again, just as the undecided were coming off the fence. I am in Indiana, where I have been lecturing on the election at Purdue. I refused to make any prediction during my talks here, and I woke up this morning still with no idea how this will turn out. My gut tells me ... nothing. And since I've been watching French elections now for (gasp!) half a century, my profound ambivalence should tell you something.

My sense is that Macron hasn't closed the deal, Mélenchon has been hitting all the high notes lately, Fillon's sheer bull-headedness has kept him in contention, and Marine Le Pen has reverted to form, partly erasing the gains she had made in de-demonizing the party. But I just don't know how it's going to end. On Sunday we'll know. Brexit and Trump have taught me to expect the unexpected, but the possibility of an impending disaster is never easy to contemplate. And this could end in complete and utter disaster.

How's that for a pessimistic start to your day.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Critique of French Polling Methods

Political scientist Jean-Yves Dormagen criticizes the methods used by French pollsters, in particular their use of quotas based on gender, age, and socioeconomic status. All pollsters are obliged to "correct" their samples to compensate for non-randomness in survey responses, but Dormagen argues that the quotas employed in France are applied to categories that are too broad and unrepresentative.

So beware of accepting the poll rankings (currently Macron no. 1, Le Pen 2, Mélenchon 3, and Fillon 4) as definitive. Big surprises may be in store. I'm making no bets on the outcome. Still biting my nails.

The Last Roundup

There won't be a final debate before the first round, but there will be a program on France2 in which each of the 11 candidates will be interviewed for 15 minutes by 2 journalists (with 2 1/2 minutes additional for "droit de réponse"). It's an interesting gambit and strikes me as potentially more useful than yet another 11-way debate, but everything will depend on the ability of the journalists to get the candidates off their prepared talking points and into some sort of discussion. (This is not easy. I know: I've tried it with a few professional politicians, and avoiding any deviation into uncharted waters is what they excel at.) I'm not sure who will watch such a marathon, but there will probably be a large audience for the highlight reels, which could influence the final result with the race so close.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Elie Cohen Dismantles Pro-Frexit Arguments

This very good piece demonstrates why electing either Le Pen or Mélenchon would be a disaster.

Russian Meddling?

The Times has a report on purported Russian meddling in the French election. The goal seems more to defeat Macron rather than secure the election of one of the other three front-runners, all of whom--remarkable fact!--are friendly to Russia.

Philippot

If Marine Le Pen has changed the face of the FN, she has done it with the help of Florian Philippot, of whom Le Monde has an excellent profile this morning.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Response to Another Reader on Macron

In response to my previous post on Mélenchon, another reader writes:
I'm sure that I speak for many of your readers when I say I would appreciate a clear, affirmative presentation of the case for Macron on this blog sometime before the first round of voting. My sense from what you have written so far is that you support him more or less the way I do: faute de mieux, and with considerable foreboding.
The writer seems to want something I cannot provide: assurance that in marking his or her ballot for Macron, he or she will be doing "the right thing." We are in a moment of great uncertainty. No one can say for sure what "the right thing" is.

I am fairly confident that the programs of certain candidates are the wrong thing, however. Yesterday, I said why in the case of Mélenchon. It does not need saying why I think Le Pen's program is wrong: some of the reasons (her anti-European stance, her faith in protectionism and devaluation) are similar to the objections I raised against Mélenchon; others (national preference in hiring, hostility to minorities) are unique to her. Hamon, though personally and morally more appealing than either of those rivals, proposes a radical experiment in social and economic reform that I think would tip the balance against France in what I believe is a precarious early stage of recovery (see, e.g., this article on France's high-tech renaissance).

Macron would seek to push that recovery along by doing what centrist technocrats always do: making gestures friendly to business to improve the investment climate, spending money on education and R&D in areas that seem promising to young entrepreneurs with profiles similar to his own, and helping to position French firms to compete more successfully in the global economy by moving them up the value chain and shifting emphasis away from labor-intensive activities like autos and steel and toward industries where France enjoys a comparative advantage. To people who lose jobs he will offer retraining, which will be painful for some and ineffective for many. There will be pain in the future as there has been in the past. It is hard to predict how he will respond to those cries of pain. Compassion does not seem to be his long suit (I use the word "suit" advisedly, as he advertised the limits of his compassion when he told unemployed workers that the best way to afford a suit like his was to go to work). He will have to learn on the job to curb the asperities of his personality.

What he will not have to learn on the job is what it takes to engage in fruitful dialogue with other powerful economic actors. This is his milieu. Some of you hate this milieu. You don't like Davos men in expensive suits. You don't like successful exam-takers who make millions on their first flyer in the world of mergers and acquisitions just because having the right credentials and the right contacts put them in the right place at the right time. You don't like the way this social hierarchy reproduces itself by securing the best schooling for its sons and daughters.

I don't like these things either. But I do not see an alternative at the moment. Nor do I think this reality is the greatest horror, the most oppressive order, the world has ever known. The Google campus (or its French equivalent) may not be my idea of utopia, but neither does it represent a return to the dark satanic mills of old, as one might think from the hyperbolic rhetoric of candidates of the far left and far right, or even from the amorphous grumbling of the chattering classes about the ravages of "neoliberalism." With Macron the trains may not run exactly on time--that was a fascist promise, after all, to discipline society as one disciplines an army--but when they run off the rails, he will shake up the management of SNCF and follow up by appointing competent monitors to measure the progress of the new managers toward meeting his 14-point improvement program for better rail service. That is the kind of politician he is, for better or for worse.

With Macron you wont get les lendemains qui chantent, but you'll get to work more or less on time aujourd'hui et demain, and you'll need to keep getting to work until you're 65 or perhaps 67, because that's the way things are headed. Some of you won't be wanting to break out the champagne to celebrate prospects such as these. But I've been around a while and have stopped looking to politics for intoxication or even inspiration. Just keeping the train on the tracks is enough, even if it's fifteen minutes late. That I think Macron can manage; with the others a wreck is imminent.

Some of you think Macron won't fare any better with Germany or the CGT than Hollande did. I have more confidence in the German leadership, among whom many have recognized that something has to change and are looking for a French leader in whom they too have confidence to make the necessary adjustments. Regardless of whether Schulz or Merkel is the next chancellor, the Germans have signaled that Macron is the French leader they prefer to work with and, I'm reasonably sure, compromise with. So I have hope on that score. The CGT and the Right and Far Right and the Far Left at home will of course be looking to put spokes in Macron's wheels, but in this area (as opposed to others, such as foreign policy) he actually has acquired the requisite experience through his stewardship of the Macron and El Khomri laws. Despite his youth, he is one of the most experienced French politicians in dealing with the unending guerrilla warfare that is French domestic politics, and temperamentally he is better equipped for it than Valls and surpassed only by the wizened Juppé, whose career is over.

The writer suggests that I prefer Macron faute de mieux. Perhaps, but I think it's rather that of the choices on offer I prefer Macron to manage the world as it is, faute de pouvoir en imaginer un autre. Perhaps that failure of imagination is mine, but for now I think, alas, that Margaret Thatcher was right: There is no alternative. When one presents itself, I might consider voting for it. Macron is a manager, not a magus. But politics is the wrong place to look for magi.


Sunday, April 16, 2017

Response to a Reader on Why I Do Not Support Mélenchon

Yesterday, a reader wrote:

You suggest "My two chief desiderata are to preserve both the European Union and the French welfare state."

But Mélenchon ​ does not seem to pose a threat to the welfare state, and his opposition to the EU​ is ​based on the body's neoliberal leanings, ​not unreasonably so.

Otherwise, ​you've not been specific about your concerns. What is it specifically about the man's positions that bothers you? Perhaps this should be in a blog post.
This reaction is typical of some quarters of the left, so let me answer briefly.

Mélenchon does pose a threat to the welfare state, because he believes that it is enough to make redistributive demands without proposing a plan to manage the economy so as to generate the revenue needed to meet them. This was what left-wing politicians often did propose before the 1930s, back when the state's role in managing the economy was minimal. This is no longer the case today. One cannot simply decree that pensions should be increased, working hours reduced, the legal retirement age lowered, taxes on households decreased, nuclear power eliminated, etc., without explaining how you expect the economy to respond and how you might manage any adverse consequences. Mélenchon has nothing to say on these matters.

I do not like the term "neoliberalism," however useful it may be as shorthand on occasion. But if you think that the EU suffers from "neoliberal leanings" that would justify leaving it, you have to explain what France will do once it is no longer a member. Capitalism is not going to disappear if France withdraws from the EU; the global market is not going to evaporate; competition from low-wage states is not going to vanish; and financial institutions are not going to be more inclined to lend to states that run deficits far larger than permitted under the EU's Stability and Growth Pact. Mélenchon seems to believe that if France withdraws, it will be free to stimulate its economy at will and devalue its currency until its products become competitive. This is identical to Marine Le Pen's position, and it is in my view dead wrong. France's borrowing costs will rise, as will its trade deficit. Consumers will feel the pinch as the prices of imported goods, especially food and fuel, rise. Remember what happened to the Mitterrand government between 1981 and 1983. Most Socialists do; Mélenchon left the party because he thought his comrades were cowards; if only they had had a little more revolutionary fervor in their hearts, he thinks, things would have turned out differently. He's wrong about that.

Mélenchon appears to believe that he can run the economy by fiat, as Chavez, whom he admires, did in Venezuela. But harsh realities cannot be overcome by mere defiance. Mélenchon is good at enacting defiance rhetorically. I wonder how he will respond when the popular anger turns on him, as it surely will if he comes to power and he fails to deliver on his unrealistic promises.

Finally, I believe that Mélenchon is right when he says that France has more power to affect the course of the EU than it has realized in recent years. But there is no chance of deflecting Europe toward a better equilibrium by confronting the Germans with non-negotiable demands, as Mélenchon intends to do, and by telling them that they are fools for not seeing the wisdom of the course Mélenchon proposes as an alternative. Opponents can be persuaded, but not by making empty threats. Mélenchon's stance toward the EU is like that of a child who threatens to hold his breath until his mother does what he wants. He will turn blue in the face, but eventually he will have to start breathing again, and his mother will still be standing there with her arms folded.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Fillon Pulls a Bait and Switch on His Benefactor?

It's really too much. Médiapart says there is reason to doubt that Fillon returned to Robert Bourgi the same suits from Arnys he was given. Did he pull a bait and switch?

Selon des spécialistes d’Arnys sollicités par Mediapart, les ensembles de la marque sont normalement accompagnés d’une griffe visible en transparence moirée dans la doublure du vêtement. Ils sont également accompagnés de deux étiquettes siglées avec, écrites à la main, les mentions du propriétaire du vêtement et sa date de fabrication. La marque vante par ailleurs régulièrement son savoir-faire français. L’hypothèse selon laquelle un costume Arnys puisse porter la mention “made in Holland” paraît, dès lors, hautement improbable. C’est pourquoi la justice a engagé des vérifications.
Flabbergasting if true.

Jamais Deux Sans Trois: France Slouches Toward the Unknown

When I woke up this morning, I reached for my tablet and was confronted with a bulletin from Le Monde announcing that the top four candidates are converging toward a dead heat on April 23. There is no longer any certainty about what the final round will look like, and all the momentum is with Mélenchon. Fortunately, I will be away from my computer for the rest of the day. I need a little respite from the anxiety.

At Harvard recently, the French political analyst Dominique Moïsi evoked the expression "Jamais deux sans trois" and asked whether France would fit into the Brexit-Trump-? scenario or the more heartening Austria-Netherlands-? scenario. With its usual orneriness, France seems headed for something sui generis: a match between populisms of the left and right, not yet seen anywhere. Sans pareil.

But for Americans who wish that Clinton-Trump had been Sanders-Trump and believe that Sanders would have emerged victorious, make no mistake: Jean-Luc Mélenchon is no Bernie Sanders. And he's no bumbling Jeremy Corbyn either. Since he seemed out of the running for so long, his program has received very little scrutiny, and with strict equal time limits now in force on the media and no more debates before April 23, it's unlikely that late-coming Mélenchon enthusiasts will receive much in the way of an antidote to the heady elixir they've been drinking. This election is veering into unknown territory.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Mélenchon, totalitarian

Laurent Berger, the head of France's largest trade union, the CFDT, said today that Mélenchon has a "rather totalitarian vision" of government. I'm not sure that this approach will work any better than the Remain campaign's approach in the UK, but the language reflects the high anxiety that is now afflicting the entire political class from Hollande on down. They were confident of beating Le Pen; they're not as confident of beating Mélenchon.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Le Boulanger, La Boulangère, et le Mitron

Those who know their French revolutionary history will appreciate this story (and will catch the allusion in the title of this post). It seems that the boss of Les Boulangeries Paul is the father of the boss of La Maison Ladurée, the home of the chic (and expensive) macarons that one takes as gifts to the hosts of Parisian dîners en ville. Father and son do not see eye to eye on politics, the dad being an outspoken Fillon supporter and the son not. Hence;

« Le président de la Maison Ladurée ne s’associe en aucun cas à l’annonce politique faite ce matin par M. Francis Holder. » Dans la grande maison des macarons, le message est clair : « La Maison Ladurée respecte la liberté de penser de l’ensemble de ses collaborateurs, qu’elle soit politique ou religieuse. Cela relève de la sphère privée. »

Mom stands with her boy and not with her husband.

Mélenchon on RTL This Morning

Jean-Luc Mélenchon, latecomer to the tête de peloton, was on RTL this morning and acquitted himself admirably. This is the setting in which I find him most effective: not alone on the platform, in the flesh or in hologram, but with a decent sparring partner whose blows he can duck and return with a flurry of punches. JLM's great gift, compared with his rivals, is that he can actually think on his feet. He seems to converse rather than return prepared talking points, and his language is rich even when improvised. Agree or disagree with him on the issues--and I emphatically disagree on many--he comes across as a thoughtful human being, not an automaton. That already puts him streets ahead of the others. Alas.

The Politics of Memory

Regarding Marine Le Pen's statement about the Vél' d'Hiv', please read Henry Rousso, THE expert on the politics of memory.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Nail-Biting Time

I am beginning to get seriously worried about this election. It is now possible to envision any combination of the four front-runners in the final, and most of the scenarios would have entirely unpalatable outcomes from my point of view.

My two chief desiderata are to preserve both the European Union and the French welfare state. Le Pen and Mélenchon threaten the former, Fillon the latter. On the other hand, I wouldn't be averse to a measured transition toward a Sixth Republic and a redistribution of a reasonable portion of powers from the executive to the legislative--not as a panacea but rather as a recognition of the flaws of the monarchical presidency. That said, I have no confidence whatsoever in Mélenchon as the steward of such a transition. And to elect Fillon in the state of turpitude in which he finds himself would be to deepen the distrust in which government is already held.

Although for me, therefore, There Is No Alternative to Macron, I can't say I'm happy with his campaign. When asked to specify his differences with the Hollande regime, he named two. First, he had quit the government, but this owed more to his ambition than to any difference of principle (a fact that his answer blithely left unacknowledged even as a possibility), and second, Hollande would not let him go as far as he thought necessary, which only reinforced the critiques of his opponents that his presidency would be Hollande bis. By this point he should have been able to articulate a more detailed critique of Hollande's approach to governing, even if he shares the president's general philosophy of what needs to be done (which is debatable, while the failure of the approach is not).

In addition, though capable of being affable, Macron has come across recently as a sort of Valls lite, perpetually pissed off about something or other for no good reason. While it's true that the picador style of many French interviewers would be enough to irritate even the most patient of men, Hamon, whose detailed incoherencies should require far more defending than Macron's vague ambiguities, handles even hostile questioners with dignified calm and aplomb, much more to my liking than Macron's annoyed and annoying hauteur. But perhaps Hamon's dismal place at the back of the pack is yet further proof that my instincts are out of sync with those of le bon peuple.

So, like Brexit and the US election, this one looks as though it's going to be decided in the home stretch, and I don't like the look of things at all as the field rounds the final bend.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Macron et les 100 Jours

One thing that has worried me about the Macron candidacy is that I have little sense of how he will govern once elected. Until now he has occupied only subaltern positions in government. What would he do as chief executive.

Two weeks ago, a visitor to Harvard who claimed to know him well said he would press immediately for labor-market reform and school reform. Now, it seemed to me that these are two hot-button issues, likely to bring masses of people into the streets, as indeed labor-market reform did under Hollande. So I asked, Wouldn't this risk a repeat of 1995, when the Chirac-Juppé proposal to reform the pension system, which enjoyed nearly universal elite support, brought masses into the street and paralyzed the country for a month, leading to eventual retreat and dooming the Chirac presidency? The answer was that Macron believed in the "theory of the 100 days," that what doesn't get done in that initial period, when the incoming president's mandate is fresh and strong, doesn't get done at all.

But in today's JDD, Macron says the opposite. Not only does he not believe in the "100-day theory," he explicitly says that the theory led to the failure of previous presidencies. Of course, he (and I) may be wrong, or it may be that circumstances are different now and that a quick strike would succeed while a more gradualist approach will fail. But I was reassured that, whatever the truth of the matter, Macron had pondered the problem and will proceed deliberately rather than impulsively.

Marine and Marion Patch Things Up

When the party is a family business, family squabbles become political. But Marine and Marion have patched things up--or now. Still, this potential cleavage within the FN is one to watch, because the Marion faction--traditionalist, Catho, gay-unfriendly--is more compatible with the Fillon faction of LR than the more "modernist" Marine-Florian Philippot faction. The future recomposition of the right, if there is one, will depend on how this shakes out.

Saturday, April 8, 2017

The Nation Covers the French Election: Alduy, Bell, Goldhammer

The Nation's coverage of the French election has been extensive. I'm honored to be included alongside Cécile Alduy and David Bell.

Friday, April 7, 2017

The Alt Right Goes for Le Pen

Interesting article on alt right online support for Marine Le Pen. (h/t SM).

The Mélenchonian Moment

Everything comes to him who waits. Jean-Luc Mélenchon has not exactly been waiting patiently, but he has persevered in his mode à la Passionaria for quite some time now, and he has finally had his breakthrough. Oddly for this contemner of the media, his moment came thanks to his gift for the televised debate. He roughed up Marine Le Pen on the question of crèches, entangling her in a contradiction between her defense à outrance of laïcité as the supreme republican (and anti-Muslim) value and her equally tenacious defense of France's Christian roots. This has apparently seduced a part of le peuple de gauche away from Hamon's robot tax and universal basic income and 32-hour week. Nothing mobilizes the left like a good religious war, or war on religion, compared to which all this folderol about an end to work seems a trifle unreal.

Of course, extirpating baby Jesus from his manger in the mairie is not going to put steelworkers back to work at Florange, but an 11-way debate is not likely to turn into a seminar in economics. It's more like a joust in a bumper car concession at the amusement park, and Mélenchon's thrust visibly unseated Le Pen and left him master of the stage, free to zip about in his bumper car smacking up against what Donald Trump might call his "low-energy" rivals. Hamon seems to have been the principle victim, as the polls show Mélenchon jumping up toward Fillon territory and Hamon slipping another notch or two toward oblivion.

Although JLM remains some distance from his dreamed-of match-up with MLP in the final, he just might pull off the exploit of surpassing Fillon and relegating both mainstream parties to the rear of le peloton. Et alors? as Fillon might say. But while Mélenchon nurses his dream, I briefly envision the nightmare of a Mélenchon-Le Pen face-off and say, By God, could France possibly come to this? I think not. Meanwhile, Macron revealed the names of some of En Marche!'s candidates for the legislatives, including Jean-Michel Fauvergue, the supercop former boss of the RAID, which made the assault on Coulibaly holed up in the Hyper Cacher. This very young candidate certainly has a way of enticing older, more seasoned men into his orbit from all walks of life, from high finance to high police. Another kind of talent, less visible on TV than Mélenchon's but essential if Macron wishes to celebrate his 40th birthday in the Elysée.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

The Molten State of French Politics

There is a fluidity about today's political scene that is unlike any other political era in recent memory. This is exemplified by an article in today's Le Monde. The question is what the two parties formerly known as "mainstream" or "parties of government" will do if, as seems likely, their candidates do not make it to the second round of the presidential election. The legislatives loom large in their thinking. This is where they must defend their turf. But they also need to regroup and rebuild, and there careers are open to talent ... and ruthlessness and infidelity. Thus we learn that François Baroin, who had made a pact with Sarkozy to become his PM only to be left hanging when Sarkozy lost, who then flipped to Fillon, only to be left hanging when Fillon had the rug pulled out from under him, now sees himself as a potential prime minister under Macron, a position he will secure by leading the right in the legislatives, winning a majority, and thus confronting Macron as a rival who cannot be brushed aside.

Meanwhile, Laurent Wauquiez, another young man who has never been able to conceal the boundlessness of his ambition, plans to follow in Sarkozy's footsteps by seizing control of the party apparatus in preparation for a 2022 presidential run.

On the left, things are more dire, and Cambadélis has been reduced to measures that look rather desperate, like demanding loyalty oaths of his minions. But loyalty to what? Hamonism has not caught fire either within the ranks of the party or in the electorate at large. The candidate himself, while personally appealing, has not imposed his authority but rather become the figurehead of a cult, which yearns for change without being capable of proposing anything resembling a strategy to achieve it.

The Sandersistas and Occupiers and Indignados and Nuit Deboutistes and Hamonistes of the world, for all the youthful energy they have brought into politics, have not yet found the key to organizing and disciplining it, even in Spain, where they have come closest to institutionalizing the insurgent spirit. Unless I miss my guess, Hamon is not the man to make this happen in France. I don't really see anyone in France who is. Between the apparatchik Cambadélis, the renegade Mélenchon, the floundering Hamon, and the quisling Valls, the left has nowhere to turn. But as always there remains the faith that something will turn up.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

The Fate of French Socialism

My latest, at The Nation.

Yesterday's Debate

I missed yesterday's debate because I was in Toronto lecturing on the French election:


The press accounts and video clips suggest I didn't miss much, but if anyone has any thoughts on what transpired, please post in comments. For the rest of the week I will be at a conference in Madison on the EU, so posting may be slow or non-existent.

Monday, April 3, 2017

Grunberg on the Breakup of the PS


L’ensemble de ces évolutions vont incontestablement dans le sens d’une clarification idéologique et politique à gauche. Mais, comme il était prévisible, cette clarification, que le PS d’Epinay ne pouvait effectuer pour des raisons liées à son modèle génétique, ne peut s’opérer désormais qu’en dehors de lui et contre lui. D’où son éclatement.
Cette clarification aura pour conséquence principale la disparition de la gauche comme agrégat pertinent pour le fonctionnement de notre système politique. Aucune recomposition ne rapprochera Macron de Mélenchon ni les sociaux-libéraux des radicaux. Ils ne gouverneront pas ensemble.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Latest Polls

The latest polls, all taken since the first televised debate, show the race settling into a two-person contest, Le Pen vs. Macron, with Macron in the lead in several polls. Mélenchon appears to be pulling ahead of Hamon, but polling for JLM in 2012 also showed him doing better than the final result. As usual, polls should be treated with extreme caution, especially these.


Saturday, April 1, 2017

James Traub on Mélenchon

James Traub has a good article on Mélenchon in Foreign Policy, painting him as the candidate of romantic revolutionary nostalgia.

What has happened to Hamon is a pity. After delivering the best speech of his life and perhaps the best speech of this campaign, he had a lackluster debate performance and began to sink in the polls. Mélenchon now seems likely to finish ahead of him. But there is much more to build on in Hamon's version of ecosocialism, for all its flaws, than in Mélenchon's.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

The State of Europe

I wrote a shamelessly speculative piece for The Tocqueville Review on the current state of Europe. You can read it here.

Ça chauffe à gauche

The defection of Manuel Valls has broken upon the simmering caldron of resentment that has been building in the Socialist Party since the primary. Macron continues to dominate Hamon in the polls, so the party's "reformist" wing, of which Valls is the leader, can invoke the voter utile alibi for abandoning the candidate who won their primary by a landslide. Disloyalty is one thing, but the specter of a repeat of 2002 is another. And yet Macron remains a deeply troubling candidate for many on the left, for reasons well described in this paywalled FT article:
"In 2010, he advised, for free, the staff of Le Monde when the newspaper was put up for sale. Journalists at the daily started doubting his loyalty when they happened upon him in conversation with Mr Minc, who was representing a bidding consortium that the staff opposed. They did not know that it was Mr Minc, a fellow Inspecteur des Finances, who had helped the young Mr Macron secure his interview at Rothschild.
A media executive who was part of the same consortium recalled: “It wasn’t clear who Emmanuel worked for. He was around, trading intelligence, friends with everyone. It was smart, because he got to know everybody in the media world.”
An open letter to Le Monde, signed by a number of intellectuals (including friends of mine), expresses the anger that has erupted on the left:

Nous avons toutes et tous cru – que nous ayons voté ou non à la primaire, que nous ayons soutenu ou non Benoît Hamon – que le jeu démocratique serait respecté. Naïfs que nous étions ! Aujourd’hui, vous opposez au choix des urnes au mieux un silence assourdissant ou une moue circonspecte, au pire un soutien à un autre candidat. Ce mépris total que vous opposez au vote citoyen est intolérable.
Pierre Laurent of the PCF has called for renewed discussions between Hamon and Mélenchon in view of joining their two campaigns.

In short, we are witnessing the breakdown of both mainstream parties. Long-buried cleavages in both the PS and LR have been exposed. Of course, the dynamic will be quite different in the legislative elections, but at the presidential level, the party system has completely broken down.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Watering Her Wine

Marine Le Pen faces one of the paradoxes of democracy. Many in France feel that the EU constrains French economic policy in unacceptable ways, but they don't want to leave it.  (Technically speaking, there are Condorcet cycles in French preferences.) Le Pen has made attacking the EU-imposed constraints a centerpiece of her campaign, but as voters contemplate the possibility of an FN victory, they have become increasingly nervous that she might actually make good on her promise. So she has been playing up her deference to "the will of the people" by promising a post-election referendum on the euro and the EU, trying to have her cake and eat it too. But this compromises her image as a no-nonsense authoritarian. Not quite as shameless as Donald Trump on Obamacare, she can't make people believe that she will both smash the EU and retain its benefits. But as with Trump, the contradictions in her underlying position are increasingly undermining her appeal. Unfortunately, Americans were slow to cotton on to Trump's flagrant flaws. Le Pen's recent back-tracking shows that she is afraid the French are already onto her.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Le Parti Socialiste n'est plus

Defense minister Jean-Yves Le Drian has joined the Macron camp. But what really struck me in Le Monde's report was the following:

Ce ralliement était attendu. Depuis plusieurs semaines, les membres du cabinet de M. Le Drian travaillaient main dans la main avec ceux de M. Macron. Son programme en matière de défense, dévoilé le 18 mars devant un parterre de gradés de l’armée, avait été entièrement conçu par des proches de l’élu breton.
In other words, staff personnel of a regalian ministry are lending their expertise to a candidate whom the president must refrain, and has reportedly urged ministers to refrain, from publicly endorsing. Meanwhile, the Haute Autorité governing the Socialist primary has officially rebuked Manuel Valls for denying Hamon his parrainage after losing to him in the primary.

The French left is usually a contentious place, but this kind of open guerrilla warfare is something new (one saw it on a smaller scale when Ségolène Royal was the candidate and in a more covert form when Mitterrand was cutting the legs out from under Michel Rocard). But it is clear that les éléphants have decided to cut Hamon loose, are all in for Macron, and are no doubt already negotiating behind the scenes for a joint campaign with En Marche! in the legislative elections and for positions under the future President Macron.

The first post-debate poll has Hamon down a couple of points, moreover, so that the PS candidate could finish an unbelievable fifth after Macron, Le Pen, Fillon, and Mélenchon (in that order--Macron now leads Le Pen in round 1 in the same poll). In short, the party bearing the name "Socialist" seems to be dying, but a new center-left, or rather left-center-right, or perhaps more simply, "center" party is being born under the name En Marche!

The entire French Establishment (except for Fillon and his stubborn LR rump) is now all-in on Macron as the only alternative to Le Pen.

After the election, France could thus end up with an eco-socialist anti-European extragovernmental Left party, a Macronist Center Party, a traditionalist Right party, and a xenophobic Far Right Party. This would be a highly unstable mixture.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

What Was Fillon Thinking?

There is a real puzzle about the disintegration of François Fillon. Employing the wife and kids, OK, maybe he did make a "mistake," as he says. Maybe he was slow to catch on to changing mores, as he says. But the suits? Taking money from a guy like Robert Bourgi in 2016, as he was contemplating a presidential run. Setting up his consulting firm, 2F (clever, that!) just before the law requiring disclosure of same? Taking on clients like Ladreit de Lacharrière, who was already involved in the dubious payment to Penelope by La Revue des Deux Mondes? And then this guy, Fouad Makhzoumi? The king of the fiber optic pipeline, who wanted Fillon to use his good offices with Putin? It's too much.

All this happened relatively recently, after Fillon had decided to run for president, in contrast to the nepotism. It's as if he decided that you can't become president without dirtying your hands, so might as well plunge in up to the elbows. There's plenty of precedent for this among his political mentors and peers: Balladur, Chirac, Sarkozy. This is the way it's done on the right. You raise money by going where the money is, inside France and outside.

By contrast, the Le Roux affair is small potatoes. And the Fillon affair might be explicable in terms of the traditions of the right if he hadn't decided to run as Mr. Clean. That's the baffling part. It's almost as though he was overcompensating for his sins, as if he were driven by guilt to stage his innocence.

As Donald Trump would say, Sad!

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Polls Give Macron Debate Victory

Polls give Macron victory in debate, according to Politico.

Et Tu, Le Roux?

Another case of dubious nepotism: Interior Minister Bruno Le Roux appears to have employed his teenage daughters as parliamentary assistants, in some instances while they also held other jobs:


« Quotidien » affirme toutefois que certains de ces CDD effectués en tant qu’assistantes parlementaires ont pu se superposer avec des stages en entreprise ou le temps universitaire, à l’été 2013 pour l’une des filles de l’ancien député, 20 jours en mai 2015 pour l’autre, mettant ainsi en doute la réalité du travail accompli. Et attirant donc les soupçons sur de possibles emplois fictifs.
More grist for the tous pourris mill. In only Le Pen weren't compromise on this score herself, she could have a field day. I say he'll be gone by the end of the week.

The Debate

I feel an obligation to comment on the debate but not much enthusiasm for the task. With the aid of two glasses of wine and some lively banter with a happy few on Facebook, who kept up a diverting conversation throughout, I made it through to the end and can therefore state with authority that no knockout punches were thrown. There were not even any particularly memorable petites phrases. In the end I would say everyone stands more or less where he or she stood going in.

For Marine Le Pen the finest moment came before the debate began. She stood on the platform with the four men, shoulder to shoulder, shook hands with them, exchanged smiles, etc. She revealed neither horns nor tail nor cloven hooves. De-demonized, in short, a normal candidate, even if she would make a far from normal president. Of course, in the debate itself, she showed herself telle qu'en elle-même, with her usual faintly contemptuous smile and "patriotic" disdain for everything even faintly foreign. She knows she will be in the second round and is keeping her powder dry for the inter-round debate.

For Macron the stakes were higher. He chose a strategy in keeping with his campaign overall: et de droite et de gauche, frequently agreeing with one or another of the others (except Le Pen), compulsively nodding in approval of this or that remark to indicate silent assent. But when an opportunity for disagreement presented itself, especially with Le Pen, he seized it eagerly, revealing a pugnacious counterpuncher beneath his blandly agreeable surface. What's more, he came across as feisty rather than drily technocratic. Occasionally he used more words than necessary, and when he uses words, no one will accuse him of poetry--he has none of Mélenchon's ability to savor his own speech, to chew his verbiage the way wine-tasters chew their wine. For him, language is an instrument.  He wields it well enough.

Hamon held his own. His TV presence is appealing, even if the contrast between his debate presence, more or less pedestrian, and his meeting presence of the day before, when he somehow lifted himself above the political quotidian and for a moment soared in the lofty empyrean of the statesman, was made all the more striking by the proximity in time. His mistake, I thought, was to concentrate his fire on Macron (le parti de l'argent, which he attacked on lack of financing transparency) while sparing his real enemy, Mélenchon. Yes, he wants JLM's voters, but he had to give them a reason for switching, and he didn't. I was also struck by the prominence given to Thomas Piketty and Julia Cagé, seated directly behind where he stood on the platform. I confess I felt oddly implicated in the campaign. Hamon is using Piketty as a branding device--"parmi mes soutiens il y a un économiste mondialement connu"--and I had something to do with establishing the brand. But in fact Hamon had nothing to say about inequality.

Mélenchon enjoyed himself immensely and rewarded his audience with a few bravura passages, but otherwise his truc was all too familiar. Let's be done with the Fifth Republic, return power to the people, stop pissing on Putin, and tell off Europe. On the latter point his frequent agreement with Le Pen should have embarrassed him but didn't. He doesn't even seem to notice a problem in the convergence of the extremes.

And that leaves Fillon, who fully merited the appellation "Droopy" last night. He was strangely subdued. Trying to appear relaxed despite being under investigation for corruption, he smiled a lot, unaccountably, but his smile came across as more Mephistophelean than it should have. He likes to project la force tranquille but looked to me more like la force tranquillisée. He joined Mélenchon and Le Pen in expressing sympathy for Russia and did not flinch at the fleeting mention (by Macron) of the fact that two of the candidates on stage were at grips with la justice. Otherwise, everyone tiptoed around the scandal, as though Fillon were already dead meat and it would only look cruel to peck at the corpse.

The two anchors contributed little but timekeeping to the affair, which is probably appropriate. All five of the contenders displayed a facility with language and a fluency in regard to the issues at which I can only marvel (and of course regret that no American politician can rise to such a level). Despite the fact that several of the candidates expressed discomfort with the exclusion of the six lesser contestants from the debate, I felt that five was quite enough, more than enough, and was grateful for being spared the likes of Dupont-Aignan and Jacques Cheminade, though I always rather enjoy Philippe Poutou. who has a delightful way of pronouncing "la gauche."

Monday, March 20, 2017

Some Versions of Utopia

There is a utopian strain in the programs of each of the five major presidential candidates. In advance of tonight's debate, I analyze them in my latest article for The American Prospect.

Hamon and Mélenchon Rallies

For firsthand accounts of the Hamon and Mélenchon rallies, you can't do better than Arun Kapil.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Hamon Speech

Excellent speech by Benoît Hamon. Mélenchon is often praised as the orator of this campaign, but Hamon is better in my opinion.



Benoît Hamon en meeting à Bercy

Friday, March 17, 2017

Macron as Debater

I've been worrying here and elsewhere about how Macron will perform in head-to-head debate with Marine Le Pen. Here's a sample of his style, albeit on a panel where everyone is more or less in agreement on the EU, which will certainly be a major bone of contention between EM and MLP:




Bottom line: he's good, sometimes too technical, but capable of pith, charm, and wit.

A Two-Person Race?

Has the dust finally begun to settle? We won't really know until next week's televised debate, but there are signs that the race is settling into a two-person contest. For instance, Florian Philippot was a guest the other day on Les Grandes Gueules (I know I shouldn't listen to trash radio, but there is nothing better than les GG to while away the time a traffic jam), and he concentrated all his fire on Macron. When asked about the expulsion of a Holocaust-denier who headed the Nice chapter of the FN until a few days ago, Philippot's answer, brazen beyond belief, was to suggest that if journalists with hidden cameras followed Macron around into the back rooms he frequents, they'd uncover equally scandalous things. It's a fascinating ploy. To respond to the charge that you're harboring neo-Nazis in your midst, you imply that someone else also has things to hide, and immediately one begins to speculate about what those things might be. You do the propaganda work yourself. Philippot doesn't have to make any charges or offer any proof. He just hints.

The polls continue to point in the same direction: Macron consolidating his no. 2 position and perhaps even closing in on no. 1, Le Pen holding her own, Fillon losing ground as his scandals thicken around him (today we learned that the secret admirer who paid for his suits was Robert Bourgi, a lawyer with connections to African heads of state), and the divided left going nowhere (together Mélenchon and Hamon now add up to less than Macron).

Since 2007, when there was briefly talk of a Royal-Bayrou tandem, I have felt that a coalition of center-left and center-right could win. Most people I talked to said no, impossible, the center never wins in France. But this year a strange concatenation of circumstances--Juppé's elimination, Macron's extra-party run, the gauchisation of the PS primary in reaction against Valls, Bayrou's endorsement of Macron, and Fillon's unexpected scandal--have made possible a unique natural experiment. It seems that a centrist candidate might indeed win. The question will then become whether he can govern.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Hamon's Brain Trust

I keep reading about how Benoît Hamon has brought the intellectuals back into politics, but somehow it's always the same intellectuals: Dominique Méda, Julia Cagé, Thomas Piketty, etc. I know a few others whom Hamon tried to recruit but who declined. I know a larger number who are supporting Macron. Hamon is said to be innovative while Macron is dismissed as a "populist" of the center:

« Hamon est plus ancien en politique, mais il innove. Macron incarne une soi-disant modernité, mais s’appuie en réalité sur les sondages pour dire aux Français ce qu’ils veulent entendre, c’est une forme de populisme », estime ainsi Romain Slitine.
But in fact Macron also has a brain trust: Philippe Aghion, Pierre Rosanvallon, Terra Nova, l'Institut Montaigne, etc. Hamon's people are younger and lefter, drawn to the Sanders/Corbyn/Podemos model.

Une fois sorti du gouvernement, Benoît Hamon est resté connecté à cette sphère des idées, tout comme il a suivi les campagnes de Podemos en Espagne ou de Bernie Sanders aux Etats-Unis.
It's a different generation behind Hamon, still feeling its rebellious oats but not planning to stick around after the election:
« Le PS, je m’en fous, prévient d’emblée Piketty. Moi, je suis là pour parler directement avec Hamon et son équipe, pas avec les courants et les sous courants du parti ».
Many in the younger generation see Macron vs. Le Pen as Clinton vs. Trump: the centrist, they think, will always lose to the extremist demagogue. It takes something more radical on the left to fight the radical right. I nevertheless stuck with the center in the US race, even disagreeing with my own son, and lost. Nevertheless, I still think the center can hold and have my doubts, my sincere and serious doubts, about the left alternative. The examples of Corbyn and Podemos are not exactly inspiring, nor are the polls for Hamon. But I admit I may once again be overestimating the strength of the center. On the other hand, yesterday's results in the Netherlands show that it's also possible to overstate the strength of the xenophobic right.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

FN Party Boss in Nice Is Suspended for Holocaust Denial

Benoît Loeuillet, the FN party boss in Nice and regional councilor, was filmed on a hidden camera in a back room of his bookstore where "forbidden" negationist literature was kept. He is seen on camera expressing doubt that mass murder of Jews took place during WW II. Soon after the news broke, he was expelled from the FN.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

The EU in the French Election

A fragment of a longer piece I'm writing for The Tocqueville Review:

The most recent Eurobarometer shows that only 51 percent of the French feel “attached” to the European Union. Two French presidential candidates, Le Pen on the far right and Mélenchon on the far left, are calling for “Frexit” on the grounds that there is no other way to restore exclusive national sovereignty over budgetary and regulatory matters—sovereignty which they insist is both necessary and sufficient to resolve the problems that have bedeviled two successive French presidents. The Socialist candidate Benoît Hamon has taken up economist Thomas Piketty’s proposal for a Eurozone Parliament to bring greater democratic management (and legitimacy) to the common currency, but European commissioner for the economy and monetary affairs Pierre Moscovici has rightly criticized the plan as an impractical “dream”: “One has to start with Europe as it is, not as one dreams it ought to be.”

Indeed, opposition to “Europe” now functions as opposition to capitalism used to function in the past: it is a rhetorical badge of “radicalism,” proof that one is not in any way complicit with the existing “system,” the disappearance of which is taken to be the prerequisite for any improvement in the status quo. The particulars of the replacement are seldom specified or analyzed, however. This is radicalism on the cheap, predicated on the assumption that what is different can only be better. The inertia of what exists is minimized, and the transformative, disruptive power of the unknown and untried is magnified as only a projection on a tabula rasa can be.

In contrast to the radical options of exit or impossible institutional transformation, the centrist candidate Emmanuel Macron characteristically prefers the blandly enigmatic formula of “strengthening the Franco-German couple” that is at the heart of European construction. Critics denounce this as merely more of the same, “muddling through,” a recipe for continued dominance of German ordoliberal preferences for rules over discretion, austerity over stimulus, and for the famous schwarze Null, the zero-deficit nirvana that is supposed to give backbone to otherwise spineless politicians inclined to spend their way out of whatever troubles arise.

The possibility that some reforms work slowly—il faut donner du temps au temps, as François Mitterrand put it—is discounted, as is the possibility that a shift in the balance of power in Germany’s Grand Coalition, from Christian Democratic to Social Democratic dominance, might make Macron’s cautious gradualism a more attractive (because less risky) choice. Of course, it is too early to say whether polls showing Martin Schulz for the first time ahead of Angela Merkel in the race to become the next chancellor will prove prophetic. What is certain, however, is that if any of the candidates proposing a radical change in France’s stance toward Europe should win the presidency, the pressure in the combustion chamber of the European engine will build to dangerous levels. If it explodes, the radicals will be left trying to reassemble the fragments of the shattered system, for which the people they claim to serve will be clamoring loudly once it ceases to supply their needs.

Fillon Mis en Examen

It's official: François Fillon has been mis en examen:

Le candidat Les Républicains à la présidentielle François Fillon a été mis en examen ce mardi 14 mars, pour "détournement de fonds publics", "complicité et recel de détournement de fonds publics", "complicité et recel d'abus de biens sociaux", "manquements aux obligations de déclarations à la haute autorité de la vie publique", ont affirmé des sources judiciaires à l'agence Reuters.
This comes two days after the JDD revealed that some mysterious person has been signing large checks for bespoke suits from chez Arnys.

I can't think of another candidate whose image has been so totally transformed in the course of a presidential campaign. Yesterday came word that 100 young Juppéistes were deserting LR for En Marche!, so however much the Trocadéro demo, with troops turned out by Sens Commun, may have shored up Fillon's support on the catho-traditional right, it weakened him in the center. If I had to guess, that means that most of Fillon's remaining supporters will go for Le Pen in round 2. This is the hard core of the ex-governmental right, which has no problem with the FN's xenophobia but rejects its defense of welfare chauvinism in favor of a hard-right paring back of the welfare state. The cross-cutting cleavages on immigration, social spending, and relation to the EU are tearing apart the French party system.

The next few years look to be quite unstable no matter who wins the presidency. The Fifth Republic may not be formally replaced by a Sixth, but its vaunted stability seems more and more likely to evaporate in a way that will revive memories of the Fourth.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Hamon on L'Emission politique

I finally watched portions of Hamon's appearance on L'Emission politique. I thought he did well, particularly in his confrontations with the four policemen and with Laurent Wauquiez. Hamon is an excellent debater: concise, firm, pointed in his responses without being snide or impolite. I'm not convinced by his universal (actually quite a bit less than universal--up to 1.9 smic, with exceptions) basic income, 32-hour week, robot tax, or ecosocialist velleities. But he's firm on freedom of conscience and not one to mince words when telling the police that all is not well in their approach to dealing with minorities. I'd like to see him as minister of the interior. As a potential president, however, he's less convincing.

Political Debate and Debates

Yesterday I put the finishing touches on the draft of an article I've been writing about the elections. I ponder at some length the strange death of French social democracy as it has evolved since World War II and its still stranger rebirth as Macronism.

Then I woke up and listened to a podcast of Le Grand Rendez-vous d'Europe 1, in which a series of economists defended the programs of the five leading candidates, and I realized how surreal the political debate has become and how bewildering it must seem to people who do not follow politics with any persistence.

The Grand Rendez-vous consisted essentially of confrontations between the interviewers, who picked out some aspect of each candidate's program--Hamon's basic income, Macron's expanded unemployment benefits, Le Pen's euro exit and franc devaluation, and the economists, who were challenged to explain how some supposedly related set of numbers added up. There was absolutely no coherence to the discussion, no attempt to situate the challenged figures in a more comprehensive vision of the economy, no effort to look beyond a time horizon a year or two out to ask what kind of world each candidate envisioned a generation down the road. In short, it was all noise.

And no doubt it is this pattern of noise-making that will continue as we move into the final sequence of the campaign. There is nothing more to say about Fillon's scandals, so the media will have to start examining the candidates' programs, but radio and TV are equipped to do so only in the Gatling gun style that is enforced by the assumption that the attention span of the audience is limited to ten minutes if not two. So question follows hard upon question, and candidates and their surrogates must squeeze twice the normal number of words into the time allotted. With no time to think, only pre-masticated answers can be regurgitated, and the audience is impressed more by the fluency of the answers than by their adequacy.

Yet as Thierry Mandon observed this morning on RTL, this is a year in which voter volatility is the most salient fact about the electorate. Something like 50% of the French have yet to settle firmly on one candidate or another. Hence the election is likely to be decided in the final few weeks, as the electorate finally tunes in and forms its hasty impression on the basis of the kinds of superficial judgments encouraged by the format described above. Both the Brexit and Trump votes seem to have solidified in the final weeks of the campaign, not before. The French election may well follow the same pattern.

In France, the most important question for the undecided is how to voter utile, and this of course depends not on what each voter thinks but rather on what each voter thinks other voters will think. For the moment the anti-Le Pen vote seems to be gravitating toward Macron, but if he falters in debate, where he is untested, there could be a panicked flight to an alternative. The polls could swing wildly in the weeks ahead, and what will emerge from the ensuing confusion is impossible to predict. I therefore don't believe that one can place much confidence in the polls. And since the polls are predicting that Le Pen will lose, this is a disturbing state of affairs. I already sense a certain complacency that the danger is past, and this is of course a sure sign that it isn't.

Friday, March 10, 2017

La bouillabaisse Macron

Robert Hue is backing Macron. Dominique Villepin is backing Macron. Daniel Cohn-Bendit is backing Macron. Alain Madelin is backing Macron. Bertrand Delanoë is backing Macron. What strange bouillabaisse is this? Macron's christic tendencies have made him an extraordinary fisher of men, and out of the troubled waters of French politics he has fetched up an extraordinary haul of political has-beens (pardon the unkindness). Strange bedfellows hardly does justice to this extraordinary ménage.

Of course all these supporters are quick to say that while they support Macron, they are not Macronistes, but since no one knows what Macronisme is, this doesn't tell us much. Listen to Hue, the former Communist leader:

Je n’ai pas cédé à je ne sais quelle mutation social-démocrate ni, moins encore, succombé au parfum libéral dans l’air du temps. Soyons clairs, je continue de penser que l’heure n’est pas à l’aménagement mais au dépassement de cette société inégalitaire dans laquelle perdurent et grandissent des injustices inacceptables et révoltantes.

Personally, I'd settle for a little aménagement, leaving dépassement to less desperate times. It seems impossible for anyone to say simply that Macron's politics, if unexciting, are cautiously sensible, and that should be enough when his opponents are calling for exit from the EU and euro or anticipating the disappearance of work or proposing to eliminate 500,000 civil service jobs. But the name "common sense" has been appropriated by a group opposed to gay marriage, so even saying one is in favor of common sense has become politicized.

I personally am quite fond of bouillabaisse, but I think Macron's needs to be flavored with a strong dose of aïoli lest this mixture of strange old fish develop an unpalatable flavor of fishiness. With a little judicious seasoning from the chef, a satisfactory meal could soon be set on the table.

Le Pen the Future?

Even if she doesn't win this time, Marine Le Pen's popularity among younger voters bodes ill for the future:


Thursday, March 9, 2017

Nail-Biting Time

A new poll shows the race settling into a two-person contest between Macron and Le Pen, but Fillon is hanging on to his ~20%, while Macron's support is remarkably soft, with 58% of his voters saying they could still change their minds, compared with only 24% of Le Pen's voters. With the left-wing candidates going nowhere, it's not clear where Macron's supporters would go if they lose confidence in him.


Abstention Could Determine the Outcome of the Presidential Election

As I reported last week, the expected level of abstention in this year's presidential is abnormally high. A new study confirms the one I mentioned previously, and the softness in the center in particular is no doubt alarming to the campaign of Emmanuel Macron. I don't have time to analyze these findings in detail today, but I will return to this topic in the future. It's a new and interesting development in French politics, in which participation in presidential elections has historically been high. Apparently, the decomposition of the party system and the blurring of the left-right divide has left many voters disoriented and unsure which way to turn.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Mr. Clean Has a New Problem

Marc Ladreit de Lacharrière, the same financier who paid Mme Fillon €100,000 euros for three pages of book reports, also lent €50,000 interest-free to her husband. No problem, says his lawyer. He paid it back. But in the US an interest-free loan is a gift that incurs a tax liability. I don't know what the law is in France. The investigators are looking into this, as well as into the activities of M. Fillon's consulting firm, which also has a connection to Ladreit. The Republicans are going to regret having stuck with Fillon.

J'y suis, j'y reste.

The words uttered by MacMahon at Malakoff might as well be those of Fillon at Trocadéro. And there he remains, a survivor, the last man on the island, the others having been voted off, he claims, by le peuple de droite if not, in his more grandiose moments of self-pity, le Peuple tout court. Thomas Legrand's editorial this morning compared Fillon to de Gaulle, not to flatter him but to diminish him. De Gaulle had a knack for dramatizing political differences, for turning nuances into existential crises; it served him well. Fillon has dramatized his petty personal corruption--his "errors," as he calls them--into a similar existential crisis, a "civil war" in which the fate of la Grande Nation hangs in the balance. The effect is bathetic rather than tragic, tragicomic rather than Racinian, as Gérard Courtois puts it this morning.

So that is where we are. The fundamentals have not changed. Fillon will continue to be dogged by protesters with casseroles wherever he goes. His hypocrisy has now fallen like the rain at Trocadéro on many of the LR comrades who had deserted the sinking ship but have now returned because they see no alternative. It will be amusing to watch those who had previously denounced the wounded candidate invent formulas to praise his bravery in fighting on, bloodied but unbowed, for the sake of his "political family."

I doubt that Juppé will be among the hypocrites, even though he is to meet with Fillon and Sarkozy today. His renunciation speech yesterday was bitter but becoming, a rare moment of lucidity and honesty in an otherwise sordid political passage. It was also poignant: "For me it is too late." He might as well have said, "For the center-right it is too late." Fillon has gone over to the dark side, relying on the radicalized social conservative movement Sens Commun to organize the Trocadéro rally and turn out the troops that enabled Fillon to carry the day. This was the meaning of Juppé's charge that "the core of LR's militants has been radicalized."

So we now have two parties of the far right contending for the presidency, with the gay-friendly and relatively laïque FN the more "socially liberal" of the two. And we have two parties of the far left, Mélenchon's France Insoumise and Hamon's PS with its unrealistic program of 32-hour-week, basic minimum income of some sort, and incompatible proposals for debt mutualization coupled with new borrowing for investment.

In the center Macron stands alone, hoping it can hold against the extremes. We await the next round of polls as the dust from the Fillon affair begins to settle. Who knows where voters will shake out? Many Juppéistes will undoubtedly jump to Macron, but it's difficult to say how the remainder will split between the LR and the FN.

Monday, March 6, 2017

New Prospect Piece

Here.

The Cemetery of Trocadéro

It looked like a military cemetery. The Place du Trocadéro was a sea of bleu-blanc-rouge bunting. All those flag-wavers stood out in the rain for hours to hear their hero, François Fillon, admit to "errors" he now regrets, although he seems to have no intention to give back the dough. Responsable mais pas coupable has worked for others, so why not for FF?

Defiance was the order of the day, and despite the high-flown talk of "examining his conscience" and considering only "the general interest," Fillon's speech was actually a long "Fuck you!" to his party rivals. As he repeated in calmer tones on France2 Sunday evening, he had no intention of deferring to anyone else, be it Juppé, Sarkozy, a cabal of regional governors, his former campaign aides, or the 83% of France that prefers someone else for president. He won the primary, point barre, and nobody can take that away from him. And he turned out 200,000 people on a rainy Sunday in Paris--never mind that the police said it was 40,000. 200,000 is a suitably impressive, almost Trumpian exaggeration. One Fillon aide went so far as to double to already-inflated estimate to 400,000. Fine. All's fair in politics.

So Fillon will remain the candidate, and the race is narrowing to a two-person contest between Macron and Le Pen. As things now stand, neither major party will have a candidate in the second round. And the future of the Fifth Republic will rest on the shoulders of a 39-year-old Wunderkind who thinks of himself on some days as the reincarnation of de Gaulle and on other days as the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. So Round Two will be a contest between Jesus and Lucifer. Sauf qu'on dit que Lucifer s'est dédiabolisée.

Heaven help us.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

The Fillon Rally: You Are There

Thanks to Arun Kapil, an eyewitness account.

My article on the state of the race should appear in The American Prospect tomorrow. Stay tuned.

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Twisting Slowly in the Wind

One almost feels for François Fillon. It can't be easy to realize one's life's ambition only to have the prize snatched away by the exposure of a bit of peculation you'd been getting away with for your entire career. It's easy to understand why he feels aggrieved. But his lucidity seems to have deserted him. He is beginning to look even more obtuse than Hollande, who continued for several years after his sell-by date to insist that he still had a chance to be re-elected, even when everyone else agreed that he didn't.

By now Fillon should have gotten the message. His campaign manager and chief spokesman have resigned. He's had Sarkozy on the phone several times telling him that the jig was up. Alain Juppé's lieutenants have been spreading the word that Prince Hamlet has overcome his irresolution and is ready to snatch the crown from the usurper (but remember, it didn't end well for Hamlet). And now, having accused his enemies of fomenting civil war against him, Fillon is calling for his own troops to mount a counter-attack tomorrow at Trocadéro, in the hope that this rag-tag army of irregulars will be enough to face down the Czar and his savage hordes. Failing that, it's "Plan B for Bérézina." The metaphor is looking more and more apt, as Fillonistes desert in droves and die in the cold.

This "French carnage" (I borrow from Donald Trump, une fois n'est pas coutume) is horrible to watch, but there may be worse to come. If Juppé is the replacement, as seems likely, today's conventional wisdom--that round 2 will be a Macron-Le Pen contest in which Macron will win--will be fit to wrap fish in. Juppé will no doubt drive some considerable number of LR voters into the FN camp while repatriating some who had already defected to Macron. Back when Juppé was the favorite to be the LR nominee (I know, it seems like ancient history), the smart money had it that most PS voters would flock to Juppé in order to stop Le Pen. But now, who knows? Many will hesitate between Macron and Juppé. Will familiarity breed more contempt than novelty breeds affection? Will the sidelining of Fillon enhance Le Pen's chances or diminish them?

It's hard to dope out, despite a few instant polls, with one even showing a first round with Juppé on top, Macron second, and Le Pen eliminated. A consummation devoutly to be wished, except by all those on the far right and far left who will feel caught in the mucky quicksand of the mushy center--and remember that the number of such dispossessed could well amount to more than half of the electorate, an indication of the rapidly declining legitimacy of the Fifth Republic itself. France could well find itself with a president judged sane by Europe's elites presiding over a nation angered an electoral process that has been the opposite of sane. Indeed, it's the craziest election I've witnessed in half a century of observing the French scene.

As Laurel used to say to Hardy, "What a fine mess you've gotten us into this time, Ollie!" What a fine mess you've gotten us into this time, Fillie. And for what? A château in the Sarthe? One almost feels nostalgic for the bling-bling president with his fancy watches and yachts and supermodels. His vices were so much less stodgy. It's 2017, after all. Qui voudrait investir en pierre quand il pourrait diner chez Fouquet's? One has to learn to sin with one's times. Fillon is a character out of the Third Republic, not the Fifth. Perhaps that's what will have doomed him in the end.