Tuesday, February 28, 2017

First They Came for the Workers ...

The Front National, we hear constantly, is now the leading party of the French working class. Apparently it has taken over the peasant class as well. Perhaps it should be renamed the National Farmers and Workers Party. But the working and peasant classes are a declining proportion of the electorate, so the question remains, How many bobos has Marine Le Pen? I keep thinking about that FN chapter at Sciences Po. Harbinger of things to come?

To the Lifeboats!

When the ship sinks, the women and children are supposed to be the first to abandon ship, the officers and crew last. As the Socialist Party sinks, however, the president was among the first to desert: He ostentatiously went to the theater on the night of the great Belle Alliance primary debate and then he embraced the "outsider" candidate Macron at the CRIF dinner, as I noted previously. Now Jean-Marie Le Guen is saying openly that Hamon can't win, so there's no reason to back his candidacy.

It's not difficult to imagine a complete decomposition of the PS after the first round if Macron wins. There will be a mad scramble to jump on his bandwagon and jockey for position ahead of the legislatives, in which it will be in the interest of most Socialist élus to back President Macron. There will be a few exclus, of course, but non-frondeurs will be welcomed with open arms.

Meanwhile, on the left, rumblings of discontent have been heard. Montebourgians are saying that Hamon's people haven't returned their calls. Hamon has been too focused, they say, on courting Mélenchon, who has no use for Montebourg. Now that that courtship is over, perhaps Montebourg's people will be welcomed: Come back, all is forgotten. Except now the candidate is damaged goods.

Meanwhile, the Mélenchoniste hard-core is blaming Hamon for the break-up. Victory could have been his, they say, all he had to do was surrender. A commenter suggested this morning that perhaps Mélenchon should be credited with being a brilliant strategist: recognizing that an alliance with Hamon might have led to a Hamon-Le Pen second round in which Le Pen would have had the advantage, Mélenchon brilliantly averted disaster by irrevocably dividing the left. An analysis that suggests "Pyrrhic victory" should be renamed "Mélenchonian victory."

Macron: "Irrational" or "Rational"

Le Monde today:


Pour aussitôt ajouter qu’Emmanuel Macron avait un « bon programme », dans la droite ligne du quinquennat, mais que le fondateur du mouvement En marche ! était trop « irrationnel », avec ses envolées « christiques ». En résumé, « nous avons le choix entre un candidat qui est un type bien mais avec un programme dingue, ou un dingue avec un programme plutôt bien ! » Et ce ministre, redevenant sérieux, de conclure : « C’est quand même assez atterrant, comme alternative. Qu’est-ce qu’on choisit ? »
Politico on 2/27:
The strategy isn’t without risk, as one of his aides acknowledged. “If you bet on reason in the age of rising populism, right and left, you’ll always find people to say you’re misunderstanding the times,” the aide said.

So which is it? Is Macron the hyperrational technocrat bucking the populist tide or the mystic who takes himself to be the son of de Gaulle and Jesus Christ (when he is actually the "spiritual son" of François Hollande, dixit Hollande himself).

One of the secrets of Macron's success is precisely that his quicksilvery personality is so hard to grasp. On the one hand he's the fast-buck artist who made millions in mergers and acquisitions at Rothschild; on the other hand he's the former assistant to philosopher Paul Ricoeur who excels at the piano and married his French teacher. But above all he's the guy who turned in his maroquin to run for the presidency at age 39 in a situation that would have looked hopeless to anyone else: as a protégé of the most unpopular president in the history of the Fifth Republic and architect of policies that had put thousands of opponents into the street, how could he hope to be elected when the president himself couldn't run for re-election? And to make matters worse, Macron had served the previous president, almost as unpopular, so that he could be accused by the FN of being the perfect example of the indistinguishability of right and left, the "UMPS" incarnate, ni droite ni gauche or, as Macron prefers to put it, et droite et gauche.

So he took a huge risk, and risk-takers are in a sense "irrational." At the same time his counsel to the nation is that all the French should become risk-takers. The country has been vitiated by a dearth of animal spirits, he argues. And yet he is an énarque, so one expects that his risks, no matter how immense, are carefully calculated. And no doubt his plunge into politics exemplifies this penchant for "rational" risk-taking. Win or lose, he's a winner. If he loses, he's the only 39-yr-old Rothschild M&A guy who has also been minister of the economy and a presidential candidate. One has no difficulty imagining his bright future in business, where he can amass another few million before returning to politics whenever it suits him. And if he wins ...

De Gaulle said that if you wanted to sell the French on autoroutes, you had to give them poetry. Macron appears to believe that if you want to sell them labor-market reform, you've got to give them evidence that you've been touched by the Saint Esprit. It's not my cup of tea, but it seems to be working for him in a year when more conventional political potions seem to have lost their efficacy. Credit where credit is due. If this be madness, there's method in it.

Monday, February 27, 2017

Has Macron Stopped the Bleeding?

A new poll (h/t Hugo Drochon) shows Macron closing in on Le Pen in round 1 and well ahead of Fillon. This no doubt reflects a strong urge to voter utile on the part of those disappointed by the disunion of the left (see previous post) and motivated primarily by a wish to stop both Fillon and Le Pen. Macron has counted on this dynamic all along. The one thing he could not have foreseen was Juppé's defeat by Fillon, which only reinforces the push toward the center. But the disarray on the left was foreseeable no matter which candidate emerged. Hollande would have been even more divisive and less attractive than Hamon. Valls was dismissed by many as "the Sarkozy of the left." And Montebourg could never have obtained Mélenchon's support.

Two years ago, who would have proposed Macron as the favorite to be the next president of France? No one except Macron himself.

La Désunion de la Gauche

As predicted, Jean-Luc Mélenchon has rejected further "negotiations" with Benoît Hamon, so what's left of the left will go into the general election divided. Instead of a Socialist Party and a nebulous formation to its left, we now have two versions of the suddenly popular "eco-socialist" strain of gauchisme, to one version of which the disintegrating Green party has now lent its feeble support.

One version of eco-socialism, Hamon's, envisions the end of work and the robotization of everything in a positive light, as a step toward the end of productivism and humble acceptance of whatever it takes to live in harmony with nature. The European Union will be persuaded to go along with this lenifying vision of a brighter tomorrow by the addition of an Upper Chamber, and everyone will dine out à la bonne franquette on their Universal Basic Income.

The other, Mélenchon's, will do away with the European Union, abolish unemployment within the well-protected borders of the Hexagon, and compensate for any loss of competitiveness with imports of cheap oil and gas supplied on friendly terms by the comrades in Venezuela and Russia.

On L'Emission politique the other night Mélenchon fiercely defended his saber-toothed version of eco-socialism against poor François Lenglet, who tried to illustrate the flaws of open-economy Keynesianism with a pair of Adidas sneakers. "They're a product of exploitation," Mélenchon snarled, skirting the point in his characteristic "the best defense is a barking offense" manner.

And so the contest for the number two slot and the right to contest the presidency with Mme Le Pen will pass by default to MM Macron and Fillon, the latter hauling after him a heavy cargo of casseroles from Penelopegate and the former frantically treading the water he formerly walked on before stumbling over a crime against humanity.

If the gods are smiling on France, one of the latter two will be its next president; otherwise, Trump's friend Jim may soon be returning to a Paris restored to the glory it enjoyed between June 1940 and June 1944.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Rising Fear of Le Pen Victory

An excellent analysis (paywalled) of the judgments of the other candidates regarding Le Pen's chances. I don't have time to summarize this, but the message is clear: Be afraid, be very afraid. The last barriers are crumbling.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Macronism at Ground Level

Emmanuel Macron the candidate has tried to emulate de Gaulle, floating above the parties, or even Jesus, walking on water (he did not reject the label "Christic" as a description of his campaign style). It has worked well for him so far.

But others have taken his campaign into the villages and hamlets of France, and according to this report, they have fared less well. "He's like all the others." "Tous pourris." "A good-looking scoundrel." Etc.

Now, one might say that these responses reflect the naiveté of the canvassers: three young people who took time off from their studies or jobs in the US to return to France and take Macron's message, which seems to inspire them, to "the people." Or one might say that it's the sort of anecdotal evidence that proves nothing: if, as the polls say, Macron is supported by 20% of likely general election voters, you have 4 chances out of 5 of running into a stream of vitriol if you tap at random into various places on the French electoral map.

But one does have to wonder how deep Macron's support is, what reserves he can mobilize if momentum starts to shift in his direction, and whether his strong early support reflects mainly high-information voters in the larger cities who read newspapers and tune in early to presidential politics. There are many people who doubt Macron's staying power. He has not been tested in face-to-face debate. The FN, judging him to be the most likely second-round opponent at this point, has begun to train its fire on him. Half of Florian Philippot's speech the other day was aimed at Macron, who epitomizes everything the FN is running against: Europe, globalization, cosmopolitanism, and loss of sovereignty. His charge that colonialism was a crime against humanity will be cited again and again by the far right as evidence of his lack of "patriotism," a capital offense in their Manichean view of a world divided between "patriots" and "cosmopolitans."

De Gaulle did not need to develop a common touch. He was a figure of myth. Macron, however much he wishes he were, is not de Gaulle. He may be able to continue his campaign à distance, but for all its modern trappings, it retains a strangely archaic feeling. It is a campaign of mass meetings rather than mass media, coupled with small, exclusive gatherings out of the limelight with influential representatives of what is politely called "civil society" and impolitely called, even by Macron's new "ally" Bayrou, "moneyed interests." Occasionally he will don a hard hat and tour a factory. But even Giscard sought to soften his technocratic image by playing the accordion and breaking bread with peasants. Macron, who is said to be an excellent pianist, needs to set up his piano in some village square and boogie with local burgers.

Friday, February 24, 2017

Penelopegate Referred to Juge d'Instruction

That's all for now.

Macron Details Economic Plan; Hamon and Mélenchon to Meet

In the wake of the "alliance" between Macron and Bayrou, the former today released details of his economic plan. Economists for the most part greeted the plan enthusiastically, but perhaps the most eloquent reaction came from the Financial Times: "Mr Macron’s economic measures do not herald a big break from policies he inspired and helped implement as economy minister under Socialist president François Hollande."

Indeed, Macron promises to maintain tight control over the budget but will increase public investment nevertheless. How will he accomplish this miracle of fishes and loaves? In the time-honored manner: by promising to "negotiate a eurozone budget and EU-wide investment programme with Germany." There is perhaps a somewhat greater likelihood of success in this direction than there was when Hollande tried the same tack in 2012. The German surplus has grown larger in the meantime, and Macron will try to persuade the Germans that this is unsustainable, as many across the Rhine actually recognize, even if they are reluctant to say so. If Martin Schulz should come to power in Germany, Macron might have a decent shot at success. But "the German question" remains the major uncertainty in Macron's program as in the future of Europe. On the other hand, Macron's program, for all its dependence on the German imponderable, is more likely to succeed, in my view, than the programs of any of his rivals, both for reviving the French economy and for giving Europe a new lease on life.

Meanwhile, the Greens are out of the race, Jadot having thrown in his lot with Hamon, who, thus fortified, has agreed to meet with Mélenchon. Fierce noises continue to emanate from the Mélenchon corner, but it's not out of the question that Mélenchon will knuckle under to reality and opt for an "alliance" with the Socialist Devil. If it comes to pass, such an alliance would undoubtedly be a less tranquil affair than the Cartel of the Centers represented by Macron and Bayrou.

My blogging confrère Arun Kapil, whose instincts are usually right about these things, rates the chance of a Mélenchon capitulation to realism as infinitesimal. I'll hedge a bit, however, and say I think there's a small chance (the difference between "small" and "infinitesimal" is left as an exercise for the reader to work out), especially if the weekend polls show a sharp uptick for Macron.

As Arun points out, Mélenchon's real goal is to destroy the hated Socialist Party, and that is more or a less done deal with Hamon as the candidate of total rejection of the Hollande bilan. Mélenchon is still blustering about the need to repudiate all the deputies and ministers who abetted the depredations of the pedal boat captain, but in the end the main thing he cares about is ensuring a platform for himself.

If he becomes Hamon's Passionaria, he could go on speechifying to even larger crowds and plunge the entire presidential race into real chaos by threatening to upend Macron and make plausible the prospect of an extreme right vs. extreme left second round. If he really wants to flanquer la trouille à la classse politique, that's his best shot right there.

You heard it here first.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Le Sacre de Macron

"Emmanuel Macron, c'est moi," President Hollande, echoing Flaubert, told the journalists Davet and Lhomme back when he thought his young protégé had no political ambitions of his own (as he also told the incredulous pair of reporters). The separation must have been painful, but the hatchet seems to have been buried, to judge by this photo taken tonight at the CRIF annual dinner:


No doubt the president would like to see his legacy honored by Macron, who shares his view of what needs to be done to reform the French economy. And he surely feels no warmth toward Hamon, whose vote to censure the Valls government shocked him (as Davet and Lhomme also tell us).

The problem is that Jean-Claude Cambadélis has warned that any Socialist supporting Macron rather than the party's official candidate Hamon will be expelled. Since a substantial majority of deputies and other party officials prefer Macron, this will be a difficult order to enforce. The embrace pictured above thus represents the inevitable disintegration of the party formerly known as Socialist, now en marche for destinations unknown.

Another fine mess the PS has gotten itself into.

Bayrou Will Back Macron If Conditions Are Met

François Bayrou, recognizing that the "dispersion" of political programs would increase the risk of a Le Pen victory, proposes an "alliance" with Emmanuel Macron. He also laid out a series of "exigences" that Macron would have to meet.

The Cost of Frexit

Marine Le Pen is advocating an end to the euro and withdrawal from the EU if she wins. How much would this cost the French economy. The Institut Montaigne estimates a loss of 500,000 jobs and numerous other dire consequences.

Le Pen Improves Her Position With Women

According to Bloomberg:

In 2012 Le Pen lagged behind with female voters, winning 17 percent compared with 20 percent of men’s ballots. Now she’s closed that gender gap, attracting 26 percent of voters of both sexes, according of pollster Ifop. That makes her the favored candidate among women for the first round.

"Plus rien à foutre"

Brice Teinturier, the head of the polling firm IPSOS, was interviewed on France Inter this morning about his new book Plus rien à faire, plus rien à foutre. As he tells it, large numbers of French people--32% of the electorate, according to his most recent estimate--are completely turned off of politics (and skeptical of democracy). These are not angry voters of the sort who support Le Pen and Mélenchon. They're rather turned-off voters, who believe that the decisions of politicians make no difference in their lives and that political talk is all hot air. The increase in their number is, according to Teinturier, one of the reasons underlying the diminished capacity of political parties to organize the electorate.

Underlying Teinturier's observations is a theory. It goes like this. The period 2007-2017 has been unprecedented in the history of the Fifth Republic, in that it offered an alternation between a pure right-wing quinquennat and a pure left-wing one. In short, both the center-left and the center-right had a chance, undiluted by cohabitation, to show what they could do, and neither provided a solution to the problems perceived by the PRAF (plus rien à foutre ... avec la politique) group to be the major difficulties of the moment. Hence they turned off, drawing the conclusion that the choice between right and left no longer determined their fate. Their disillusionment was exacerbated by the fact that it followed a moment of renewed hope for each camp, Sarkozy briefly reinvigorating the right after years of the fainéant Chirac and Hollande briefly reinvigorating the left.

If these voters are drawn back in, Teinturier believes, it will be by one of the extremes, Mélenchon or Le Pen, and most likely the latter. Macron does not fit the profile: his voters are not turned off by politics but are highly tuned in, identify with the decision-making class, and believe that their choice will matter.

I would not have guessed that the turned-off portion of the population was as large as Teinturier says it is, but I do think he's on to something.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Hamon's Upside Potential?

In a discussion on Facebook yesterday, the question of Hamon's potential to improve his current position arose. He has shown himself to be an able campaigner with an attractive personality, so why should he be counted out at this stage of the race? Even if, as now seems certain, Mélenchon will refuse to join forces with him if Hamon is the candidate, won't some of JLM's voters desert him for Hamon?

The answer, in my view, is that, yes, in fact, some voters who now support la France insoumise will desert to Hamon, who will soon emerge as the stronger of the two candidates. But it won't be enough to put him on a par with Macron, and there will be a stronger dynamic of voters deserting Hamon for the latter. This is a highly speculative analysis, however, and I'm open to counter-arguments.

My reasoning is that Hamon is the candidate of the Socialist frondeurs, who were over-represented in the primary. The frondeurs represented at most 1/3 of the PS deputies and in my view an even smaller proportion of the PS electorate. But most Socialist voters were so dispirited by the failure of the Hollande presidency and the judgment that they had already lost the presidential race, no matter which candidate they chose and before any votes were cast, that they sat out the primary.

Then the Fillon scandal erupted, changing the complexion of the race. Suddenly there was a chance for the left to win, but the PS had already chosen as its candidate someone whom most of its voters would not have chosen to represent them. Macron, even if they don't fully trust him, is closer to their views as well as more likely to win. Even if Hamon succeeds in attracting Mélenchon votes, it won't be enough. So my prediction is that over the next few weeks, JLM declines in the polls, Hamon improves his position slightly, but Macron emerges as the clear favorite of the "left," which I put in scare quotes to indicate that this will be a highly "centrized" left.

Of course this is all assuming that Bayrou decides not to run. We'll know tomorrow at 4:30 Paris time. I think he will say no, but le coeur a ses raisons que la raison ne connaît pas, so I don't rule anything out.

Meanwhile, Fillon has watered his wine on health insurance, moving from the significant pare-back he advocated in the primary to a position that borrows a lot from Macron's platform (higher payments for dental work, eyeglasses, etc.), the opposite of his full-on austerity message of a few months ago. This shift was apparently urged on him by Juppéistes in his post-primary entourage. He's also cutting back on the number of civil service jobs he proposes to eliminate. It's a smart move, of course, assuming that his candidacy is still viable--and the Parquet National Financier may have something to say about that.

Meanwhile, Le Pen has visited Lebanon, trying to beef up her international stature. A recent poll shows her with 44% in round 2 if Fillon is her opponent, but this poll was taken with Fillon in the throes of scandal. Should we regard this as a worst-case scenario? Not necessarily. I don't place a lot of faith in French polling, and polls everywhere have been mistaken this year. We know that Trump attracted many people who had not voted in previous elections and were therefore undersampled by pollsters. This could prove to be the case with Le Pen as well. So any poll that shows Le Pen at 45 or above in the second round is grounds for serious worry. We're almost there.

Of course my previous analysis suggests that Macron, not Fillon, will be the opponent in round 2, and against Macron Le Pen scores "only" 42%. A slightly more comfortable margin. But not comfortable enough. Le Pen has broken the 40% ceiling now, so we're in uncharted territory.


Sunday, February 19, 2017

Crime and Humanity

Why did Emmanuel Macron choose to attack colonialism (or, more precisely, "la colonisation") as a "crime against humanity?" Does this represent a deep personal conviction, a shrewd electoral calculus, or perhaps a combination of the two?

As a historian, I would have been happier with a more precise indictment, given the seriousness of the charge. After all, who hasn't been guilty of "colonialism?" All the great powers and many of the small ones at the very least. If everyone is guilty of "crimes against humanity," one has to wonder first of all about the victim "humanity." The charge is so broad that it amounts to indicting humanity itself for all its debilitating and disqualifying sins--a religious rather than a political condemnation, and as such perhaps not altogether alien to Macron's vision of politics as comporting a "Christic" dimension. Had he been more specific in his allegations, condemning France's crimes (enfumades, massacres, torture, famines) in the context of colonialism, he would have performed a more useful pedagogic service. As it is, he offers instant expiation along with his confession: Yes, we are guilty, so were they all, so has every descendant of Adam been, say 15 Hail Marys, my son, and be on time for work Monday morning.

Still, politically, Macron enthusiasts will say, he did a bold thing, and it will have cost him some votes, so this proves he is a politician of conviction rather than calculation. Well, perhaps. Most of those incensed by the condemnation of colonialism will have been on the other side anyway. What Macron offers to the electorate is rather an alternative version of French history to that already injected into the campaign by Fillon, for whom History is a highlight reel of Great Men and Moments from Vercingetorix at Alésia to de Gaulle in London and Algiers (Macron even borrowed "je vous ai compris" from the General in response to his critics). Macron knows that anyone likely to vote for him will be a person for whom the words mission civilisatrice must be placed between scare quotes. Hence for whom the condemnation of colonialism will come as salve rather than shock.

With Fillon's candidacy disintegrating, it makes sense to reach out to those who would have been among the softer of his supporters, many of whom will have harbored doubts about the right-wing effort to shore up the national identity by resurrecting an heroic ideal of the national past. Just as Chirac judged that the moment was right to own up to France's complicity in the Holocaust well after it was safe to do so, Macron has made the same judgment about colonialism. But I don't want to be too cynical about it. It was the right thing to say, or nearly right (allowing for the caveats outlined above), and it would be churlish to criticize a politician for saying the right thing.

One can criticize him, however, for saying the wrong thing, which he arguably did by extending his "understanding" to those who marched against the legalization of gay marriage in the Manif pour Tous. Of course, he may have had good reasons for that too: Among the voters deserting Fillon are surely some who were attracted to his warm defense of "traditional moral values," meaning immemorial prejudices against certain violations of social norms. Marine Le Pen's FN being notably gay friendly and as "untraditional" as her own family values, some who might otherwise have leaned toward her leaned back toward Fillon, who comforted their uneasiness on that score. Macron's "comprehension" might not be enough to win their votes, but it might remind them why they resisted Le Pen's siren call in the first place and prevent them from deserting to the FN.

I apologize in advance for this analysis of Macron's motives, which places more importance on his apparent self-interest than on his possible convictions. Cynicism is unbecoming, it's the first refuge of a scoundrel, and I'm guilty here of more than a little cynicism.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Parrainages de Le Pen, Fortune de Macron

As usual at this point in every electoral cycle, doubts are being expressed about Marine Le Pen's ability to collect 500 parrainages. I would be very surprised, however, if she fails to surmount this hurdle:

Ces dernières semaines, plusieurs déplacements de la candidate – annoncés officiellement ou non – n’ont finalement pas eu lieu. Plus préoccupant pour le parti lepéniste, certains cadres commencent aussi à s’inquiéter de la collecte des 500 signatures d’élus nécessaires pour pouvoir se présenter à la présidentielle.
And far-right sites are raising doubts about Emmanuel Macron's wealth disclosure statements. This is what happens to front-runners. Is there anything here? Who knows? But uneasy lies the head that wears the crown.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

As they round the bend, the leader is ...

Horse-race reporting on elections is no métier for a self-respecting intellectual, but it's that time again, folks, so here is the latest from CEVIPOF:


As expected, Le Pen maintains her lead, but she's not expanding it, despite Fillon's swoon. Macron seems to be picking up most of his lost votes. Mélenchon and Hamon are close, and neither is gaining on the other.

In short, the race is static for the moment. But two major uncertainties hang over the field. The Parquet National Financier has refused to clear Fillon and has signaled that there is enough to keep the investigation going and probably result in eventual charges, perhaps as early as next week. Fillon emerged from his lunch with Sarkozy yesterday with a proposal to reduce the age for treating a criminal as an adult to 16, which is hardly likely to persuade voters that he is once again immaculate. Who knows what deal the two men may have concluded sotto voce? Plan B François Baroin? Who cares? Being designated the choice of both Fillon and Sarkozy would probably be enough to sink Baroin before he surfaces. The only Plan B that makes any sense is Juppé, and it's not clear that he's up for it.

The second major uncertainty is Bayrou, as I discussed the other day. We should be hearing from him soon. And then it's off to the races.

Meanwhile, Macron, in Algeria, characterized "colonization" as a "crime against humanity" and "true barbarism." He was immediately attacked by Fillon and Raffarin, among others. What are we to make of this latest Macron sally? Macron is too intelligent not to know exactly what he's doing. This is his pitch to the left, the token that is meant to redeem him from the charge that he is a heartless neoliberal capable of telling the unemployed that if they want to wear nice suits, they need to work, that young French people need to dream of becoming billionaires, and that the life of an entrepreneur is often more difficult than that of a worker. Yes, he said all those things, comrade, but he also said that colonization was a crime against humanity, so he's all right. And he will have all those right-wing backs up and pummeling him for his divisiveness. It's bold camouflage and typical of Macron: he holds on to the left with symbols while keeping his sponsors happy with substance. He's a cool customer. But it's a risky course, as reflected in the high level of uncertainty among those who say they're for him. They might not stick. One or another of his moves might just be the thing that alienates this soft support.

So this election is far from a done deal. As all observers are hastening to note, the only candidate with solid support is Marine Le Pen. But her solid support accounts for only about 1/4 of the electorate, and the other 3/4 are pretty solidly against her, even if they can't agree on an alternative. So it's not correct to say that if Macron falters, Le Pen is the obvious winner. Everything is still up for grabs.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Fronde Anti-Fillon

Two more nails in Fillon's coffin? Or perhaps he's pried one of them out, while the other has yet to be driven firmly home. His campaign spokesman Thierry Solère has been accused of tax fraud by Le Canard enchaîné, which is having quite a year. And 17 LR deputies met last night and asked the candidate to withdraw for the good of the party. Today, Fillon met behind closed doors with the LR group in parliament, however, and won a reprieve. The 17 withdrew their request for now. But stay tuned.

Bayrou: Will He or Won't He?

François Bayrou has been giving signals that he might run. He's also been telling François Fillon to drop out because he's too tainted by "the money power" to stay in the race. Presumably he feels the same way about Macron, the former banker, but as Macron made his money without proven impropriety, Bayrou has held his peace on that point.

If he gets in the race one can expect him to be more outspoken. His presence would of course plunge everything back into turmoil. He'd draw votes from Macron, and he'd draw votes from any Plan B successor to Fillon, or from Fillon himself if he stays in. It's hard to even guess at what the split might be in the middle of the spectrum. All bets would be off. In a 5- or 6-way contest with Bayrou in, Hamon could squeak by, or even Mélenchon. Macron is likely to have the advantage over Bayrou in the middle because he's been in the field for a while now and is a new face, but Bayrou would definitely hurt him. The waters would become incredibly muddied.

I think the odds are about 50-50 he goes for it.

Monday, February 13, 2017

A Film Worth Seeing

Raoul Peck's "I Am Not Your Negro" is a masterpiece. I write about it here.

Hors de l'Église, pas de salut ... mais dedans non plus

Agree with thine adversary quickly, whilst thou
art in the way with him; lest at any time the adversary
deliver thee to the judge, and the judge deliver
thee to the officer, and thou be cast into prison.

This is the passage (Matthew 5:25) that François Fillon had to listen to when he went to church in Réunion on Sunday. Why Réunion? Probably because it is as far away as possible from the pesky Parisian press. The priest was no kinder to Fillon in his sermon: "If we think we can escape responsibility for all that we have done because nobody saw us do it, we are mistaken."

No relief for the weary, and no salvation outside the Church ... or inside it, apparently. Meanwhile, Fillon's people are having trouble finding LR officials eager to have him campaign on their turf. He has become toxic.

Still, he's only 3 points behind Macron in the poll I posted yesterday, so anything is possible. It looked like curtains for the Donald after Pussygate, but the devil's henchmen seem to be unusually active this year, so I don't rule anything out.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Poll

L'intention de vote du 8 février 2017 : 
- Nathalie ARTHAUD : 0,5% 
- Philippe POUTOU : 0,5% 
- Jean-Luc MELENCHON : 10,5% 
- Benoît HAMON : 14,5% 
- Yannick JADOT : 1,5% 
- Emmanuel MACRON : 21% 
- François BAYROU : 5,5% 
- François FILLON : 18% 
- Nicolas DUPONT-AIGNAN : 2% 
- Marine LE PEN : 26% 
- Jacques CHEMINADE : 0% 

Source here.

Macron

Commenters have been asking me to write about the Macron candidacy. I had originally intended to wait until he released his "detailed program" in early March, but I realized that this would be a cop-out. As Macron himself says, "programs are meaningless."

In any case, we do not need figures and spreadsheets to know what Macron's program will look like. He has a track record. He is a social liberal supply-side reformer. He favors deregulation of product and labor markets, including professional labor markets (like notaires and pharmacists). He is a pragmatist, who will retreat on matters of principle, such as eliminating the 35-hour week, in favor of "negotiated" arrangements where the balance of power is likely to result in change in the direction he desires. He thinks globalization and free movement of capital and labor have been on balance beneficial to France, and he is the most outspokenly pro-European of all the candidates.

What this means in practice is that he will continue the supply-side, pro-business reforms inaugurated by Hollande (with a good deal of advice from Macron himself). These are the very policies that made Hollande so unpopular that he could not run again. And yet Macron is at this writing favored to win the presidency (by default, as it were, Fillon having pulled off the remarkable feat of stabbing himself in the back, while Hollande's self-proclaimed heir Valls succumbed to the abrasiveness of his own personality, allowing the more likable Hamon to seduce the jonesing left primary electorate with a heady pipeful of the intellectuals' opium).

Macron will come into office with one advantage that Hollande forfeited: He will be introducing the reforms he ran on rather than reneging on all his campaign promises. We now know from Hollande's own confessions to Davet and Lhomme, as well as from the book of Aquilino Morelle, that he was a social liberal supply-sider, just like Macron, as early as 1985, when he wrote articles for Le Matin advocating the same kinds of measures that Macron favors today. But Hollande camouflaged his true beliefs in order to hold the divided Socialist Party together as its first secretary and later as its candidate and president. Macron never joined the Socialists and never pretended to be anything but what he is.

But will the country follow him as president? The CGT is unlikely to be any mellower in its opposition to future Macron reforms than it was in its resistance to the Macron and El Khomri laws. Business has already manifested its receptiveness to Macron's message and supported his campaign with substantial contributions. Macron, no fool, will move quickly and decisively as soon as he takes office, as even Hollande now recognizes he should have done. If he wins, as I think he will, he will have at least a temporary mandate to do what he promises. More than that, he will reap the benefit of Hollande's "turn" to social liberalism, which, as I have noted, was not really a turn at all. Hollande failed, but his very failure has drawn the venom from the opposing forces. France is at last ready for Macronism.

But of course Macronism may fail to solve France's problems. He will have a couple of years to show what he can do, after which all bets are off. A change in the German leadership is possible (polls now show Martin Schultz with a chance to become the next chancellor), and that could help. But uncertainty reigns at the moment, not least because Trump is such a volatile presence.

If the "radical center" fails, the likely alternative, with both mainstream "parties of government" in total disarray, will be a turn to one of the extremes. If the Front National's time is to come, it won't be this year but 2022, with five more years of party building in full-throated opposition to everything Macron stands for: neoliberalism, globalization, and the European Union. There will also be some sort of realignment on the left, but I don't think it will be led by either Hamon or Mélenchon.

One final word: imagine what the French political scene would look like if Macron had not jumped ship last summer and had not remained outside the Socialist Party. With Fillon discredited and the Socialists led by the untried and unconvincing Hamon (notwithstanding his enlistment of Thomas Piketty to the Hamon team), I think the likelihood of a Le Pen victory would be substantially greater than it now is. Macron likes to think of himself as a latter-day de Gaulle: a bit presumptuous, no doubt, but in this limited sense, yes, he may well be the savior of France's honor in 2017. Faute de mieux. I am not an enthusiastic Macron supporter--I have too many doubts about all aspects of his position and what seems to me his relative unconcern with the least well-off and identification with the rich and successful--but of the options on offer, his is the least bad alternative. Not a ringing endorsement, I know.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Fillon: "Les remontées du terrain ne sont pas bonnes."

It's not looking good for François Fillon. For the moment he has cowed the party's top leadership into sticking with him as candidate, but out in the provinces--the heartland of his traditionalist campaign--party militants are themselves disgusted and are reporting that voters are deserting in droves. A mayor who is offered a total of €500 to cover his expenses and gives €50 of that to his assistant finds it difficult to understand how Fillon could have compensated his wife and children quite so handsomely. His campaign, predicated from the beginning on his "character," is therefore in tatters in the very places that supported him most strongly. The crisis can only grow worse. There is no way out, even if Les Républicains have yet to acknowledge this.

Friday, February 10, 2017

MLP on L'Emission Politique

I finally watched the replay of Marine Le Pen's appearance on L'Emission politique. I had already read a good deal of commentary on social media, much of it critical of the performance of the journalists as well as that of education minister Najat Vallaud-Belkacem. The former were said to be too passive, the latter too aggressive. Curiously, many of these same critics admired the relative répondant of Patrick Buisson.

I find these judgments hard to understand. Marine Le Pen's style in encounters like these is that of a bulldozer. She makes up in volume what she lacks in logic. Her body language communicates contempt. She sneers and smirks when she dislikes a question. She dismisses troublesome lines of inquiry in advance with the weary defensive parry, "Ça commence," as if she's heard it all before. Which she has. She does not refute her critics; rather, she relegates them to the camp of the enemy in the "us against them" construct that passes for a political philosophy.

Journalists are at a disadvantage in this game. They cannot seek to dominate the conversation as she does because they rightly accept the rules of the game: She is the candidate, they are not, hence their role is to permit her to expose her views, not to argue for their own. They can try to point out weaknesses, but since they must let her dominate the floor, they can't really press their case. If her case rests on faulty logic--as it manifestly does in her confused discourse on the virtues of protectionism--they must trust the viewers to draw the correct conclusion. You can criticize François Lenglet, the all-too-ubiquitous economic journalist, for resorting to the silly prop of toy automobiles to make a point about outsourcing in the auto industry. But you can't fault him for speaking softly and allowing Le Pen to swagger about with her big stick. He was playing his role, she hers.

The political opponent is in a different position. She is free to vie for position with her antagonist, to raise her voice, to try to hold the floor. Vallaud-Belkacem used her freedom effectively, I thought, particularly in the exchange on écoles hors contrat. She's a tough cookie, and I thought she used her toughness to good advantage, putting the bullying Le Pen on the back foot.

As for Buisson, I can't see why other commentators thought he was the highlight of the evening. When he asked Le Pen to comment on the patriotism of Mélenchon and Fillon, he merely offered her an opening to define patriotism in such a way that she became its exemplar. His gambit in trying to get her to admit that her position on gay rights was in contradiction with her anti-liberalism in economics was pure logic-chopping. Apart from the frisson one enjoyed at seeing two gladiators of the far right jousting with each other, this passage was entirely empty.

The best moments in the show came when Le Pen confronted the student chefs. The sharp exchanges on national preference in hiring and on the consequences of an employment tax on foreign workers showed the heartlessness of Le Pen's doctrine by pitting her abstractions against the predicaments of actual human beings. Against journalists Le Pen has no trouble acting the part of the bully, but against ordinary people even she recognizes that there would be no profit in that. She didn't try to fudge her position but simply stated it and let it drop, without seeking to dominate her interlocutors, showing the degree to which her "leadership" is more un effet de plateau than a genuine quality.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Zarka on the Fillon Affair

This article by Yves-Charles Zarka gets at what is so troubling about Penelopegate. It isn't the legality or illegality of nepotism but the discretion given to politicians to set the compensation of family members and the requirements of their "job" (real or imagined) without any external control over the use of public funds.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Fillon Fiddles, Sarkozy Burns

François Fillon held a news conference yesterday. He proved to be surprisingly good at denial, almost as good as Jérôme Cahuzac when he proclaimed to the Assembly and the nation that despite the abundant smoke there was no fire. Fillon saved his candidacy, essentially by declaring to his would-be replacements that he would fight them tooth and nail, refuse to relinquish his official designation as the candidate of LR, and therefore sink them as well as himself (and possibly France) by splitting the LR vote. This was surely the most convincing part of his performance. "You can kill me," he implied, "only by slitting your own throats." This apparently worked. When Fillon said that "Le plan B sera le plan Bérézina," he was obviously uttering a threat rather than offering a neutral judgment.

For the rest, his apology to the French for failing to evolve as quickly as he believes they have done in regard to the morality of political nepotism should have been accompanied by violins. What boffo kitsch! "I am honest," he declared, and, indeed, honesty compelled him to say, in effect, that it's none of the taxpayers' damn business how he used their money to enrich his family because the employment contract between a deputy and a parliamentary assistant was not a public contract but a private contract. Hence the prosecutors who hastened to investigate him have no standing to do so, as his lawyers argue in their brief. Yet at the same time no one has the right to say what duties a parliamentary assistant must perform except his or her employer, the deputy, because of "separation of powers."

It might seem contradictory to argue at one and the same time that the employment contract of a PA is a private matter and yet its content is subject to the "separation of powers" doctrine, which necessarily pertains only to the public sphere. But as we now know, not only François but also Penelope Fillon both hold law degrees, so we should expect their defense to contain a double dose of legal subtlety.

Fillon also deftly avoided mention of the Revue des Deux Mondes affair altogether. He laid all his troubles at the door of the Dishonest Press, in true Trumpian fashion, while hinting again that an unidentified cabal lurked in the background pulling the strings.

I came away from the press conference thinking that Fillon was a rather more sinister figure than I had imagined going in, so smooth in his prevarication that one almost had to admire him for the quality of his performance.

Meanwhile, Nicolas Sarkozy has been definitively removed from the Plan B speculation by the referral of his campaign financing case to a court for trial. Apparently only one of the two juges d'instruction assigned to the case signed the order, however, and Sarko's resourceful lawyer and alleged co-conspirator (in another case) Thierry Herzog seized on this rarity to question the soundness of the procedure.

And so Marine Le Pen will be able to continue crooning her favorite song, Tous pourris.