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.