Saturday, June 2, 2007

Strategy (reply to Gregory)

Gregory wrote (see comment to previous post):

In the discussion about housing, you noted Allegre's criticism of the "assaut frontal" and seemed to agree with his statement that there are "good ideas" on the right. On the level of tactics, though, the term "assaut frontal" was Fabius's strategy -- that to win, the PS needs primarily to shore up support to its left by clarifying its differences from the right (in effect, a mirror of th e strategy Sarkozy, or for that matter Rove, took on the right). (I believe Fabius adopted this strategy during the time he spent in the States in the spring of 04). One might call this the "base strategy." This is the strategic position taken by Hollande as well.

The alternative, advanced by Rocard, Kouchner and, for a few days after the 1st round of the presidential, by Royal, is to seek out a majority in the center -- in part by signaling a clear break from the supposedly unpopular ideas and constituencies of the left (whose votes one presumes will be there anyway, out of desire to win and fear of the right). One might call this the Blair strategy or the strategy that Kerry pursued in the fall of 04.

I wonder therefore if you are, strategically rather than intellectual speaking, advocating the PS adopt the latter (as Strauss-Kahn advocates at the moment). If so, do you think this is a politically winning strategy (ie, do you believe "anti-liberal" and esp working class voters will come out for a PS, or even MoDem, candidate out of fear of the right -- or do you think this is an intellectual strategy the majority for which will need to be built in the future?

To be clear, my preference intellectually is for the sort of social democracy you advocate but I don't see that as a politically winning strategy, esp at the moment when the greatest menace for the PS is a sharp fall off in enthusiasm among its supporters on the left.
Thanks for the interesting reflection, Gregory. My position is this: I don't think the PS has a winning strategy at the moment. The legislatives will be a wipe-out whether they attack frontally, tack to the center, or run in circles, as they seem to be doing. The more important question is a strategy for the long term, and although there is universal agreement on the need for fundamental change--call it refondation, rénovation, or whatever you will--there is no agreement on what that change ought to be. Nevertheless, I think that Fabius's belief that there is a winning coalition to be put together with what you call the "base strategy" is mistaken, and even if it were correct, I don't believe that Fabius shares the ideas of those whose votes he would court with such a strategy. Hypocrisy may be the tribute that vice pays to virtue, but Fabius's hypocrisy seems to me rather poorly carried off. Viewed strictly in terms of political theater, he can't hold a candle to Sarkozy. It was after all Fabius who said, when asked if he ever thought about being president, "sometimes, when I shave in the morning." Sarko managed to skewer that pretense by being perfectly blunt about his own ambition when asked the same question: "Yes, and not just when I shave."

This is a somewhat facetious answer to a very serious question, indeed the question that lurks behind everything I write in this blog. What should the left do? What should it become? I hope to develop this theme as time goes by. In the meantime I hope other readers will contribute their thoughts. I will be away in Greece for two weeks from June 10, during the period of the legislatives, and I hope that a discussion around this theme will develop in the comments to this post while I'm gone.

With any luck, there will also be some guest bloggers during my absence. In any case, I hope that this fledgling blog doesn't dwindle to nothing while I'm on vacation. The level of interest in the first weeks has been gratifying. Nearly 2,000 people have tuned in at one time or another. Keep reading.

Not Making This Up

Anne-Christine Royal, a cousin of Ségolène's, is the Front National candidate in the Gironde. In the evocatively named town Cadillac-en-Fronsadais, she has chained herself to a grapevine to protest the devastation of French wine growers by globalization. A nearby banner reads, "Murdered vineyards, the FN is with you!" Mme Royal is the mother of ten children. If elected, she promises to appear in the Chamber every day dragging a vinestock chained to her foot. Ça ne s'invente pas.

Press Censorship?

A journalist, Alexandre Lévy, alleges that an article of his that was scheduled to appear in Matin+ was censured on orders of FOS (friend of Sarkozy) "Vincent Bolloré or someone in his entourage," according to an article in Libération and Lévy's blog. The alleged grounds: disrespect for the French police. Philippe Thureau-Dangin, the editor of parent publication Le Courrier international, protests that the grounds for the decision, "failure to respect neutrality," are so vague as to justify censorship of nearly anything. He intends to clarify the "neutrality" clause in his paper's contract with Bolloré so that "this doesn't happen again."

Bolloré is the financier who lent Sarkozy his yacht for a brief vacation following his May 6 election.

University Reform

The Fillon government has begun to move on reform of the universities. Once again the magic words "autonomy" and "selection" are heard. The high failure rate in the premier cycle is said to be a national plague. French universities are a disgrace, far below world standards. No French university ranks in the top 50 in this or that ranking. Et cetera. One has heard it all before.

Count me as a great skeptic when it comes to educational reform, particularly educational reform imposed from the top down by governments. The French often point to the American university model (une fois n'est pas coutume). But as Louis Menand pointed out in a recent New Yorker article, not everyone goes to Harvard; not every university is Princeton; fifty percent of those who attend some college don't graduate (our own premier cycle problem goes disguised because it has no name); and of those who do graduate, 22 percent take degrees in business, 8 percent in education, 5 percent in the health care professions. "There are more bachelor’s degrees awarded every year in Parks, Recreation, Leisure, and Fitness Studies than in all foreign languages and literatures combined."

In educational reform, baby steps should precede great strides. Autonomisation of the universities may facilitate more experimentation, which would be good. I suspect that the innovations that will make a difference a decade or two decades from now are already under way. Take the teaching of Chinese in France. Numerous initiatives have been taken, including this one. The government can give financial support, but ideas about what is useful probably come more often from elsewhere.


Eight historians associated with the National Center for Immigration History have resigned to protest Pres. Sarkozy's creation of a Ministry of Immigration and National Identity. Here is an interview with Gérard Noiriel about their decision. Below is the manifesto signed by the resigning advisors:

*Immigration and National Identity: An Unacceptable Linkage*

* *

Since 2003, we have participated in the development of the National Center for Immigration History. The inspiration for this Center, a key new French historical resource expected to open later this year, came about following the 2002 Presidential election, and the rejection of the drift towards xenophobic politics that election represented. The Center hopes to change the perspective modern society has on immigration, by reminding our contemporaries that over the past two centuries subsequent periods of immigration have helped develop, transform, and benefit France as a whole. By accepting and understanding the diversity of histories as well as individual and collective memories in France, by bringing together a history for /everyone/, including both the proud and shameful moments, will help overcome stereotypes and preconceived notions. This is what is at stake and this is what inspired us to undertake this project.

The creation of a “Ministry of Immigration and National Identity” calls these objectives into question. In politics, words serve as symbols and they serve as weapons. It is not the responsibility of a democratic state to define “identity.” Associating “immigration” and “national identity” in a common ministry has no precedent in the history of the French Republic: [it is by a founding act of the new presidency, defining immigration as a “problem” for France and for the French in their being.

The association of these issues is interwoven in a broader discourse that stigmatizes immigration, and in a historical tradition of a nationalism based on a distrust and hostility toward “foreigners,” particularly in times of crisis. Whereas the goal of the National Center for Immigration History was to bring people together, with a focus on the future, around a common history that everyone would feel comfortable making their own, in contrast this Ministry would create a division and polarization which history has shown the ravages.

Therefore, we resign effective immediately from our official responsibilities with the National Center for Immigration History. Nonetheless, we would like to acknowledge the remarkable work accomplished over the past three years by Jacques Toubon and his entire team. We were associated with this project in a spirit of intellectual liberty and independence. We will continue to support it as long as its founding spirit lasts.

Marie-Claude Blanc-Chaléard, Historian, Paris1
Geneviève Dreyfus-Armand, Historian, BDIC
Nancy L. Green, Historian, EHESS
Gérard Noiriel, Historian, EHESS
Patrick Simon, Demographer, INED
Vincent Viet, Historian, IDHE
Marie-Christine Volovitch-Tavarès, Historian
Patrick Weil, Historian, CNRS-Paris1

A Ministry for Al Gore?

Al Gore and Nicolas Sarkozy have been talking. Sarko reportedly told Gore he wants to take up the torch on behalf of the environment at the G8 (one hopes the torch burns low-sulfur fuel). With Sarko's flair for dramatic openings to his left, may we soon expect to see Gore named deputy to Alain Juppé and Tony Blair assigned to Borloo?

Sarko has also been talking to Bono about Africa. And of course we know that he's been talking for a long time about taxes to France's most notorious tax migrant, the perennial Johnny Hallyday.

A Bridge Too Far

The UMP is so delighted to have Bernard Kouchner and Martin Hirsch in the Fillon government that at least one of the party's candidates in the legislative elections is falsely claiming to have received their endorsement. In the tenth arrondissement of Paris, a district with a high concentration of bobos--David Brooks' shorthand for "bourgeois bohemians" has become part of the standard French vocabulary in a way that it has not in English, which may say something about the comparative sociology--the UMP candidate Lynda Asmani is using the fake endorsements against Socialist incumbent Tony Dreyfus. Dreyfus has gone to court to stop her, so far without effect.