Monday, September 17, 2007

A Sad Day for Socialism

Libération has published excerpts from Lionel Jospin's book L'Impasse in advance of publication. It is hard to know what tone to take in speaking of the Jospinian onslaught. I've been critical enough of Ségolène Royal's political skills to have earned rebukes from one or two readers, who take a more favorable view of her. But I criticize from a distance, as an outside observer. Jospin's attack is vicious and personal and steeped in acid: having offered her his nominal support during the campaign, he tells us now that he was certain she could not win, "not because she was [sic] a woman but because I had been able to form a fairly precise idea of her well-known qualities and her very real inadequacies." He goes on: "Having made an error in nominating her in no way justifies repeating that error" by allowing her to lead the party.

I have met Lionel Jospin, sat across a table from him, chatted with him, listened to him speak, watched him debate over lunch his own political errors and defend the 35-hour week against the criticisms of two renowned economists, Nobel prizewinner Robert Solow and Olivier Blanchard. My impression was that he is a rather melancholy man, too reserved to make a good politician but thoughtful enough to have made a good professor. I wouldn't have thought him capable of such a personal attack. Who knows what slights and indignities and humiliations may have prompted it. In private terms it may even be justified, but in public and political terms I cannot think of it as anything but a monumental error. Jospin, along with Rocard, is the elder statesman of the party. He was Mitterrand's designated heir and a presidential candidate. He has a reputation for stolid probity. Yet now, with his own words, he denounces the party's representation of itself to the people of France as a fraud. He indicts himself as a party to that fraud and a man unscrupulous enough to have endorsed, however tepidly, a woman he considered to be incompetent and, reading between the lines, morally unfit for the presidency. Yet he begs us to believe that his endorsement of a future leader of the party should matter.

I can't believe that this book will help Jospin, the Jospinists, or the Socialist Party. In fact, I'm not sure that the Socialist Party can or should survive this profession de manque de foi. I had somehow been persuaded that the mauvais caractère in this past election was Sarkozy. I see now that I was wrong. Les mauvais caractères abounded. It's a sad day for the Socialist Party and a sad day for France.

Libé's editorial comment is here, slightly more measured than mine.

Other reactions:
Hollande: It's time for the PS "to put an end to the settling of scores." The party's failure "cannot be reduced to a question of personalities."
Gilles Savary: The book "dishonors" Jospin and "insults the 16.7 million French men and women" who voted for Royal.
Arnaud Montebourg: "What's the use of this permanent venting?" Jospin's own poor performance in 2002 "should have encouraged somewhat more modesty in his criticisms. We could turn some of the criticism back on Jospin, who is one of our great wise men."
Still more:
Jean-Marc Ayrault: "Polemics do not facilitate the work of the Socialist Party." "Renovation is not just settling of scores among friends and endless rehashing of old bitterness."
Benoît Hamon: "If we put another euro in the machine every month, this is never going to end."


Anonymous said...

Jospin had revealed a moral flaw on that night in 2002 when he walked out on the party, all the people who had voted for him and, in fact, all "républicains". For many of us he was already classified as a weak and egotistic character, one could even say a traitor. This book is a confirmation of our perception and takes him one step further - he becomes the assasin of the already agonizing Socialist party.

Anonymous said...

It seems to me that Jospin is basically just trying still to "matter," to still exist politically,even if it means playing entirely out of character. And even if it only means something inside the Socialist party and electorate (he now has no national audience to speak of)-- But it's too little too late. Jospin missed more or less all his chances to be decisive. perhaps this is his "last service to the party" and his political au revoir, perhaps adieu.

Ron Tiersky