Tuesday, January 31, 2017

The End of Rocardism

In my American Prospect article as well as in previous blog posts, I wrote that Hamon's victory marked the end of the Socialist Party of Épinay, the creation of François Mitterrand. I omitted to say that it also marked the end of the party of Michel Rocard, the "second left" that promised not a compromise between Communism and reformism but rather between socialism and the market. Hamon was one of Rocard's young lieutenants, as was his main rival in the primary, Manuel Valls. Valls pushed the market side of the second left to an extreme, while Hamon pushed its utopian longings past the breaking point.

As the picture below shows, Mélenchon was also part of the young Rocardian team; so was Cambadélis; so were Bartolone and Moscovici. Rocard's disciples are everywhere in today's PS, but their common origins cannot mask their present disagreements. Nothing remains of the socialism of the 80s. A new new left will have to be invented from the ground up.


Today, the PS is in total disarray. Deputies are fleeing; several have announced that they will support Macron. Cazeneuve has told Hamon that, while he is the "legitimate" candidate of the party, having won the primary, he will nevertheless have to be a "rassembleur" and assume responsibility for Hollande's "bilan." The absurdity of this demand--as though Hamon did not run explicitly against that bilan and win handily over its defender Valls--demonstrates the impossible position in which the party finds itself. And the impossibility of the party's position is all the embarrassment of its candidate, who represents a party the majority of whose officials and permanent staff do not support him. 

Monday, January 30, 2017

Revelations

I have been reading the Davet-Lhomme tome Un président ne devrait pas dire ça. It's difficult to say whether the portrait of Hollande that emerges from this book reflects the pettiness of its subject or the pettiness of the portraitists. There is not a hint of grandeur in this chronicle of a quinquennat, not a moment of lofty reflection or breadth of social or geopolitical vision. The politician depicted in these pages might have been an obscure député from Corrèze in the Third Republic; it is impossible to see him as a successor of Charles de Gaulle.

For me, the reason for the failure of Hollande's presidency stands most clearly revealed on p. 112, where our two chroniclers record the president's joy as he pores over the organigramme of the new government to be put in place after a remaniement:

Il faut entendre le chef de l'État nous expliquer, la mine gourmande, l'oeil scintillant, comment il a composé lui-même, sur un bout de papier, en mars 2014, le gouvernement Valls I, dans le secret de son bureau. ... Dix-huit noms à trouver ... et deux schémas différents, selon que les écologistes acceptent de cohabiter avec Manuel Valls ou non.
Pas de doute, c'est pour ces instants-là qu'il a voulu faire de la politique. Et devenir président de la République, le décideur ultime, celui qui tire les ficelles.
There you have it. This is why François Hollande went into politics, why he coveted the role of "decider": to apportion "power" among the various factions of a fractious coalition, to dribble out risible bits of influence to the ecologists if they throw in their lot with Valls or to withhold those same bits if they don't, to offer them instead to some other aspirant whose greatest desire in life is to hold un maroquin and be driven about Paris in an official car with a motorcycle escort.

What might such ministers want to accomplish? What ultimate goal might such a president want to achieve with such a team? The subject does not come up, except as it might on the 8 o'clock news, as a criterion to be met in order to renew the lease on the office for another five years. If "the famous unemployment curve" should be inverted, it is not because the president burns to reduce the suffering of the unemployed but because he has made this the condition of his re-election bid.

Perhaps François Hollande is a better man than he appears in this book, but then he is a fool to have sat for such a portrait at the hands of such paltry painters.

Interpreting Hamon's Win

In The American Prospect. A little teaser: "It is nearly 50 years since I first set foot in France, and I have been returning to the country regularly ever since. The sights and sounds of Paris still exhilarate me: the purposeful clackety-clack of the low-heeled boots of long-legged women hastening toward the “mouth” of the Metro; the clatter of china and hiss of the espresso machine mingled with the laughter and chatter of a busy café; the fragrance of a truffade simmering in a parabola of cantal and crème fraîche on the rue Mouffetard; the joy of small children, cartables strapped to their backs, running down a cobblestone street as fast as their little legs will carry them to rejoin their classmates in the school courtyard before the raucous bell signals the start of the day. Just down the same street is a plaque indicating the place where Hemingway partook of the movable feast, a short walk from where, centuries earlier, Descartes pondered the cogito and around the corner from where Valéry Larbaud hosted James Joyce as he put the finishing touches on Ulysses."

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Hamon Wins!

As expected, Benoît Hamon has won the Socialist primary 58-41. Participation is up from last week, 1.1 million with 60% of precincts reporting.

In short, a decisive victory for les frondeurs, a stinging rebuke for the party of government. Hollande is undoubtedly glad he avoided the thrashing that Valls has taken for him.

So what lies ahead? Corbynisation? Renewal? Fragmentation? Decline into irrelevance? Replacement by a Macronized left? Anything is possible. But the era of Epinay is definitively over.

Awaiting the Results of the Socialist Primary

Now we can safely drop the fiction of a "primary of the left," of une belle alliance populaire. This is a Socialist primary, pure and simple. And yet its outcome is unlikely to settle the future of the Socialist Party--if it even has one. More than anything else, it will consecrate the deep split between the Socialists who see their party as a party of government and those who see it as a radical alternative to the status quo.

If Valls, who stands for the party of government but has lost favor even with many who might normally be his natural allies, loses, he will still remain their heir apparent to Hollande as the most "realistic" of the Socialist leaders, although challengers for this position will undoubtedly emerge.

If Hamon wins, he will have a leg up among those who wish to redefine the party by reinvigorating the utopian side of its message. The campaign has effected something of a metamorphosis in his public image, but it's hard to gauge how much real support his underlying "eco-socialist" message really commands. For now he is THE alternative to Valls, but his program of universal basic income, limits to growth, and revised relation of work to human dignity remains a bit too distanced from the pragmatic world of French political discourse, for better or for worse. He will nevertheless have to be reckoned with.

Of course there is always the possibility that the winner of this primary will fare better than expected in the coming presidential race. Fillon's apparent collapse once again reshuffles the deck. If some surprise befalls Macron, the new chou-chou of the hour, who knows what could happen? But let's see where things stand after the results come in a couple of hours from now.

Friday, January 27, 2017

C'est la faute de la fatalité

Les vertus farouches font les moeurs atroces. -- Saint-Just

François Fillon, the candidate whose attempt to make himself the incarnation of virtue propelled him past his LR rivals Sarkozy (qui traînait des casseroles) and Juppé (ex-con for peculations not unlike those of which Fillon now stands accused), is sinking like a stone in the polls (h/t Arun Kapil). His decline began even before the scandal broke, as the harshness of his platform entered the consciousness of voters outside the LR circle and he began to backtrack on the more radical elements of his program, thus alienating even some within the circle. And then the scandal--the deliciously named Penelopegate (pronounced in French pen-uh-lopp-gate, which to the English ear lends a certain jocular touch to the whole business).

It's hard to see how Fillon escapes from this trap, since even if he can persuade investigators that his wife did in fact "faire des synthèses de l'actualité" for him while he was a deputy, his suppléant will have to explain why he continued to pay Penelope nearly 100,000 euros a year, far more than parliamentary assistants are normally paid, after Fillon became a minister.
En effet, il faut bien préciser : Mme Fillon a travaillé pour son mari en tant qu’assistante parlementaire entre 1998 et 2002. Puis, quand il est devenu ministre, elle est restée l’assistante de son suppléant, devenu député, M. Joulaud. C’est à ce moment que sa rémunération a atteint 7 900 euros brut, ce qui est très au-dessus du salaire standard des assistants. M. Joulaud est resté pour le moment très discret sur la réalité de ce travail et sur l’importance de la rémunération. C’est l’un des aspects les plus flous de cette affaire, que la justice devra élucider.
And then there is the matter of the three book reviews she wrote for La Revue des deux mondes for another 100K (as a sometime book reviewer, I can attest that this is above the normal pay scale).

So Penelopegate is likely to have inversé la courbe of the Fillon meteor and brought it back down to earth.

Which leaves the presidential race where?

Three hypotheses:
1. LR recognize the extent of the disaster, somehow manage to disencumber themselves of the candidate, and nominate, say, Juppé, who had been their best hope (?) to begin with. I don't even know if this can be done under the party by-laws, but it would saddle the replacement candidate, whoever it might be, with enormous baggage (of which Juppé has enough of his own). Or again, Fillon might voluntarily remove himself from the race (as he has said he would if he is mis en examen).

2. Fillon stays in, but his voters desert him in large numbers, mainly for Le Pen but some for Macron. The net result is likely to be a big boost for Le Pen in the first round.

3. Bayrou is tempted by Fillon's mortal wound to get into the race, creating even further chaos.

Meanwhile, the Socialist primary debate on Wednesday was of remarkably high quality. This has to be said, because until now I have been quite critical of Valls's apparent lack of preparation for the campaign. But on Wednesday he was excellent, in command of himself as well as his dossiers and demonstrating a gift for sustained argument and forensic skill not previously on display. But Hamon was also superb, adroitly defending his novel eco-socialism with studies and statistics galore. It may be that both men are campaigning not for the presidency but rather for the right to define the future of the Socialist Party, which is going to have to rebuild itself after the Hollande debacle. There were two sharply different visions of the party on display: a conventional party of government and responsibility rather more forcefully and articulately embodied by Valls than by Hollande, or an unconventional and even utopian party of conviction designed to govern a future of low-growth, increased leisure time, and ecological sensibility coupled with a barely adumbrated scheme for combining a modicum of redistributive justice with a multiplication of riches thanks to the genius of homo technologicus. If it all sounds rather farfelu, Hamon nevertheless made it seem almost seductive, while Valls managed to restrain his pugilistic instincts long enough to appear uncharacteristically warm if not altogether fuzzy. I could almost remember the days when I felt warmly about le Parti socialiste.

Another thing that emerged from the debate is that Macron will not be allowed to get away with the vagueness of his current program for very long. He will have to take on one or the other of these two Socialists at some point, and both showed themselves to be formidable debaters, who will not allow him to coast along behind his friendly face and appealing smile. Fillon's apparent collapse makes it clear that the left is not at all barred from making the second round against Le Pen. But it is still not clear which of the three elements of the left and center-left--Macron, the eventual PS candidate, or Mélenchon--will prove more effective in advancing the flag.

Penelopegate has suddenly changed the complexion of the race. And there may be still more surprises to come.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Fillon Scandal?

Today there is a new wrinkle in the campaign: a possible Fillon scandal. His wife was paid over 500,000 euros as his "parliamentary assistant," although other members of his staff say they never saw her, and she was also paid a salary by La Revue des Deux Mondes, where none of the staff ever met her. The latter publication is owned by an industrialist friend of Fillon's and paid her 5,000 euros a month.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Hamon Carries First Round

Benoît Hamon, who has been coming on strong in recent weeks, handily won the first round of the Belle Alliance primary. His victory wasn't a surprise to anyone who has been paying attention, as he had become the talk of the town. Still, it is being compared to Fillon's upset on the right. He is now in a good position to knock Valls out of the race. I read the victory as a definitive rejection of the Hollande regime rather than a triumph for Hamon's novel eco-socialism formula. Hollande took himself out of the race and then took Valls down with him. But is it really a victory for Hamon, whose program is both innovative and radical?

The candidate's proposed basic minimum income will cost 600 billion euros a year in its current form (30% of GDP). All social protection in France (welfare, med insurance, pensions, unemployment) currently costs 715 billion. When asked how he is going to pay for everything in the no-growth eco-friendly future he envisions, Hamon says he will "tax the robots." Catchy, that. With this program he got 36% of the 1.2 million people who turned out for round 1 of the Socialist primary. In the general there will be some 35 million voters. The primary of the right had over 4 million voters.

And like Fillon, Hamon is already backtracking on the more radical aspects of his signature issue. The 750 per month minimum income figure has disappeared from his Web site, as has the promise that the minimum will be "universal," since every talk radio show (my favorite being Les Grandes Gueules, The Loudmouths) is asking whether he's really going to give 750 a month to Mme Bettencourt and M. Dassault.

I've been talking to a lot of people here over the past ten days. Most people like Hamon, especially the young. Socialists like him because he's neither Valls ("the Sarkozy of the left," one shopkeeper said to me) nor Montebourg (a lawyer who comes across as slippery). But few really imagine him becoming president.

His victory opens up a large space in the center, which Macron is eager to fill. Hamon's victory is Macron's dream come true. It puts both of his opponents on the left, Mélenchon and Hamon, pretty far out on the spectrum and will drive many in the PS camp to choose Macron as un pis-aller. But what I've noticed most since arriving here is how volatile people's opinions are. No candidate has really caught their fancy. They hop from candidate to candidate, party to party, and right to left. "I would have voted for Juppé, but now I'm for Hamon." There isn't much logical sense to this fickleness, but politics, as we have seen repeatedly of late, is not logical.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Piketty Defends Populism

No surprise, but Thomas Piketty favors Jean-Luc Mélenchon for president. His argument is devoted to separating the good populism (Mélenchon's) from the bad (Le Pen's). He passes rather quickly over Mélenchon's weak points, particularly in foreign policy:
en dépit d’une rhétorique clivante et d’un imaginaire géopolitique parfois inquiétant, Mélenchon conserve malgré tout une certaine inspiration internationaliste et progressiste.
This rather soft-pedals Mélenchon's conviction that Putin's annexation of Crimea and meddling in Ukraine are legitimate responses to "American imperialism," or his affection for the Cuban and Venezuelan regimes. Piketty retains the romanticism of a radical left international consisting of "Podemos, Syriza, Sanders ou Mélenchon." Above all he rejects the two candidates who, to his mind, appeal primarily to "the winners of globalization" with what he calls "interesting nuances": "Cathos vs. Bobos."

Ils prétendent incarner le cercle de la raison : quand la France aura regagné la confiance de l’Allemagne, de Bruxelles et des marchés, en libéralisant le marché du travail, en réduisant les dépenses et les déficits, en supprimant l’impôt sur la fortune et en augmentant la TVA, alors il sera bien temps de demander à nos partenaires de faire un geste sur l’austérité et la dette.
But then, having made his case, seemingly, for the radical left, he puts water in his wine:

Il est essentiel que cette primaire désigne un candidat qui s’engage dans une remise en cause profonde des règles européennes. ­Hamon et Montebourg semblent plus prêts de cette ligne-là que Valls ou Peillon, à condition toutefois qu’ils dépassent leurs postures sur le revenu universel et le « made in France », et qu’ils formulent enfin des propositions précises pour remplacer le traité budgétaire de 2012 (à peine évoqué lors du premier débat télévisé, peut-être parce qu’ils l’ont tous voté il y a cinq ans, mais c’est bien ce qui rend d’autant plus urgent de clarifier les choses en présentant une alternative détaillée). Tout n’est pas perdu, mais il y a urgence si on veut éviter de placer le FN en position de force.

In the end, like everyone else, Piketty recognizes that Mélenchon has no chance of winning, is disappointed with the Socialist field, and sees the realistic options as either the Catho, the Bobo, or the Facho.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Debate and Vote

The debate of the Belle Alliance Populaire (viewable in its entirety here) drew an audience of over 3 million, apparently, yet was neither popular, beautiful, nor indicative of much of an alliance. In the concluding remarks, Jean-Luc Bennahmias, candidly pointed out that although he is generally considered un petit candidat, it would be more honest to admit that all seven of the debaters were petits candidats in the sense that none of them would make it to the second round unless one of them succeeded in igniting a fire around which the others could and would rally.

This did not happen. The candidates dutifully performed their roles. Valls was tough and wrapped himself in the mantle of wartime prime minister, the war in question being the one supposedly waged against terror; Montebourg, his chief rival, eloquently hit all his marks; Hamon earnestly tried to differentiate himself with his basic income proposal; Peillon schooled the others on social democracy; de Rugy and Pinel acquitted themselves honorably but seemed to accept their lot as petits candidats, unlike Bennahmias, who stood out by being rather less adapted than the others to the rules of the televisual game.

By American standards, all the candidates were masters of eloquence: capable of extended disquisitions on policy, well-spoken, disciplined, respectful of one another, eager to appear dignified rather than ingratiating, and above taking cheap shots. But there was little to sustain attention over 2 1/2 hours, and I doubt the debate swung many votes, although Hamon's performance was stronger than I expected, so he may have gained slightly, and Peillon had a certain appeal, but he is coming from so far back that it probably doesn't matter.

Next week's vote will simplify the field, thankfully, but Bennahmias's theorem remains true: until proof to the contrary, even the two winners will remain petits candidats unless they can somehow generate some momentum going into the next round.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

First Left Primary Debate

The first of three debates prior to the primary of the Belle Alliance Populaire will begin in less than an hour. Unfortunately, I will be on my way to the airport to catch a flight to France, so I'll be reporting on the results this weekend, time permitting.

Marine Le Pen in Trump Tower

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

The Race Thus Far

"Horse-race reporting" is the pejorative term for the lowest form of political writing, namely, handicapping the candidates as though they were nags circling the oval. But I indulge in it in my latest article for The American Prospect. Readers of FP won't learn anything they don't know, but they may appreciate the kicker:

Hence the chief significance of this primary exercise may be to determine the fate of Macron, the only challenger on the left currently given any chance of actually winning the presidency. Of course, it’s still very early in the race, several debates remain before the left primary takes place, and there is no reason to place much confidence in the polls, not only because polls everywhere have been mistaken this year but also because the fragmentation of the French party system has made it very difficult to predict what voters are likely to vote in the primary. Turnout is expected to be light, much lower than turnout in the primary of the right and center that elected Fillon. This augurs ill for the eventual winner, whose victory celebration may resemble a wake around the corpse of the Socialist Party built by François Mitterrand. If a left remains in France after this election, it will bear little resemblance to the party that still dreamed in 1981 of a “rupture with capitalism” by democratic means and a repair of the breach in the workers’ movement that opened when the French Section of the Workers’ International split from the Communists at Tours in 1920.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Polls, Polls

Thanks to Arun Kapil, I bring to your attention two recent polls. The first brings the surprising news that if the stars align just right, Emmanuel Macron could edge past Marine Le Pen to confront François Fillon in the second round. The stars that need to align include: 1) a Montebourg victory in the left primary and 2) a decision by Bayrou not to run. Unfortunately for 1), this poll shows Valls running well ahead in the left primary. But the first debate (scheduled for Jan 12) hasn't even taken place yet. So a lot could change.


Friday, January 6, 2017

Jean-Marie Lends Marine €6 Million

Marine Le Pen is borrowing €6 million from her dad for her campaign. So much for the de-demonization via estrangement theme.

In other news regarding FN financing, the Russian bank that lent the FN €4 million in 2014 has gone bankrupt, and a Russian banking oversight agency is asking for the money back. Whether the overseer is acting independently or for "political reasons" remains ambiguous (the Kremlin may have decided that it has a better shot of obtaining influence in France by backing Fillon, who is friendly with Putin, rather than Le Pen).

Finally, Le Monde claims that Russian official were overheard discussing the usefulness of rewarding Marine Le Pen for her support of the Russian annexation of Crimea:

En avril 2015, des conversations piratées de responsables du Kremlin posaient la question d’un arrière-plan politique à ces transactions financières, les intéressés évoquant la façon dont Marine Le Pen devait être « remerciée » pour son soutien à l’annexion de la Crimée, en mars 2014.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

The Socialists Get Their Show on the Road

Lately, I wake up every morning to listen to interviews with candidates in the Belle Alliance Populaire via podcast. A few impressions:

1. Arnaud Montebourg has stepped up his game. He's always been a smooth talker, but he now seems quite well-prepared to engage on issues at a level of detail he previously avoided. Even when challenged, he responds adroitly, and he does not let interviewers get away with what he considers to be mischaracterizations of his stands. His forensic skills should stand him in good stead in the upcoming debates.

2. Manuel Valls seems totally unprepared for the race. He is of course in a difficult position of his own making, at once a defender of Hollande's record, from which he can hardly dissociate himself, and self-styled policy innovator. But his innovations are far from clear, unless they are self-repudations of the "I will abolish Article 49-3" variety. His customary belligerence remains abundantly on display, but there seems to be nothing of substance behind it. I think he expected to be the automatic front-runner once Hollande stepped aside and is surprised to discover that other candidates are being taken seriously.

3. Vincent Peillon is quick on his feet and has worked up his dossiers, but he put his foot in his mouth the other day by alleging that laïcité had somehow been an alibi for Vichy's anti-Semitism as it is said to be an alibi for anti-Muslim sentiment today. He quickly retracted, but the episode left a bad taste.

4. Benoît Hamon comes off as earnest but not particularly adroit.

I list the contenders in the order in which I expect them (as of now) to finish in the primary, with 3 and 4 more or less ex aequo.

The other candidates are thus far inaudible, at least from my vantage point in the US.

The Russia Question in the French Presidential Campaign

Foreign policy as usual seems unlikely to loom large in the coming presidential race. Allegations of Russian interference in the US election have put Russia in the limelight on this side of the Atlantic, and Donald Trump's expectation that Europeans should pay more for their own defense, his professed admiration for Vladimir Putin, and his hints that US guarantees to certain Baltic countries might not be terribly robust have raised anxieties in Europe.

French presidential candidates have generally emphasized the need for engagement with Russia rather than confrontation. This is true across the board from far left to far right, with the exception of Manuel Valls. Marine Le Pen is the most outspoken supporter of Putin, and she has been accused of being dependent on Russian bank financing. François Fillon alleges that the West provoked Putin into taking defensive action in Crimea and Ukraine. Jean-Luc Mélenchon is even more vociferous on this point and discounts alleged Russian interference in the US election by pointing to known US espionage on European leaders (including Hollande and Merkel) and firms.

Somewhat more reserved is Socialist candidate Arnaud Montebourg, who has called for the lifting of sanctions against Russia in connection with a "process" that would ultimately lead to Russian concessions on Ukraine. Emmanuel Macron regards Russia as an "unfriendly" power but, as a "realist," insists that "discussion" is necessary.

The most forthrightly aggressive candidate on the Russia front is the characteristically combative Manuel Valls, who is trying to differentiate himself on this issue first from François Fillon but secondarily from his Socialist opponents.

The Russia question will not be decisive in the election, but it is an issue worth watching, particularly in the upcoming Socialist primary debates.

Beyond the nuances in the positions of particular candidates, I think the important points here are: 1) Le Pen's pro-Putin position does not put her outside the mainstream of French debate; 2) possible Russian interference in the US (and French) election is no more a source of outrage in Europe than known US hacking of European officials (including Merkel and Hollande) and firms, and all espionage charges are discounted as business as usual; 3) Russia's muscle-flexing has achieved its goal--Russia is again a major power whose wishes foreign-policy "realists" must take into account; 4) Russia-related issues such as ensuring a continued flow of oil and gas from Russia and the Middle East and controlling the flow of refugees from Syria and elsewhere are more important to Europe than they are to the US. Europeans in general don't like Trump and are particularly wary of his backing away from NATO, but many are also unhappy with the escalation of anti-Russia rhetoric by US Democrats in the wake of the election.

Addendum: On Russia and the need to defend the liberal world order, see this by Yascha Mounk.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Le Parisien Won't Poll During Campaign

Le Parisien has decided not to commission or publish any polls during the 2017 presidential campaign. The paper says it has begun a period of "introspection" in the wake of what it sees as polling failures prior to the Brexit and US elections. This choice is "an experiment," intended, according to the paper's editor, to allow journalists to "breathe the air of the moment," "go into the field," "detect weak signals," and "uncover blind spots." The tens of thousands of euros saved on polling will presumably be used to send more reporters out into the provinces.

Monday, January 2, 2017

Narrowing the Field

FT columnist Wolfgang Münchau sees the French presidential race as a 3-way contest among Fillon, Le Pen, ... and Macron. He's not alone in already counting out the eventual Socialist candidate even before the debates and the primary of the Belle Alliance Populaire. But is he right to do so?

It has to be granted that Macron has played his cards awfully well. His political timing has been impeccable--and at this stage of a political battle, timing is often everything. But vagueness has also been an essential part of his strategy, and at some point this will begin to cost him. Macron is running as the new kid on the block, and for that it suffices to say "Out with the old!" But "In with the new!" comes next. Voters and, more importantly, journalists will then want to know what "the new" looks like, and what is Macron actually offering beyond what is in la loi Macron (and El Khomri) and the Attali Commission report (and perhaps the Gallois report)?

For Munchau it all comes down to Europe. Macron is for, Le Pen is against, and Fillon is ambivalent. Macron, moreover, is a federalist, and Munchau approves, while wondering if he can get Germany to go along with whatever plan he may (or may not) have for strengthening the EU's central institutions. In essence, Munchau is endorsing Macron for his vagueness while condemning Le Pen for her clarity. But in the upcoming primary debates Macron is likely to become a punching bag for all the Socialists, since he is really the man they are running against, more than they are running against one another. This may force him to descend from the cloud on which he is currently floating above the fray.

Or maybe not. Some politicians seem charmed, and for the moment Macron is enjoying a peculiar état de grâce. Pourvu que ça dure. But for now Munchau seems to have captured the feeling that the French race has narrowed, that the Socialists are out of it, and that Macron could (according to a couple of polls) edge past Fillon to become Marine Le Pen's opponent in round 2. If so, it would be the most stunning political rise in the history of the Fifth Republic. This in itself seems to have captivated the media and perhaps the public. But is it real? No one has yet cast a single vote for Macron for anything. And since he has refused to take part in the primaries, his first test will come in the Big Show. Until then we won't really know whether he's for real.

P.S. I should add that Macron has abandoned his vagueness in one important respect. He forthrightly praised Merkel for her refugee policy, which he says saved Europe's "dignity." And implicitly he criticized France for not doing enough. This is a courageous stand and not calculated to win votes. He deserves credit for it.