Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Guilty Confession

I've had some fun mocking the "contributions" of the various Socialist courants to the upcoming convention. I feel a little sheepish about it. The exercise requires no great talent. It's like shooting fish in a barrel, to borrow a phrase. No one is likely to attribute to Plato or Hobbes sentiments like these (from Aubry's contribution, not previously ridiculed here):

We want every family to have decent housing, adapted to its situation, not too costly, in a pleasant and respected (?) setting.

We want every child to have the same chance to succeed in school and in life and to be able to acquire basic knowledge and gain familiarity with culture and sports.

And fifty-six pages more of the same. The problem is that when I bash the Left in this way, it's simply used as ammunition by those who dislike either the Left or France or both. So, for instance, my comment the other day on the Moscovici-Montebourg contribution was picked up by mega-blogger Andrew Sullivan, who introduced my comments with a remark to the effect that some things never change, especially the French Left, with the result that French Politics received more hits on Monday (over 3,500) than on any other day in its history, and links decrying the "loony left" ended up on my pages.

This was not my intention. If Sullivan were to read me closely rather than mine my posts for useful nuggets, he would know that I regard the dilemma of the Left as a tragedy rather than a farce. The humor is gallows humor, and if I mock leftist doublespeak and empty verbiage, it's because I am myself incapable of proposing a way out of the current impasse. I do think it would help if the issues were faced more forthrightly rather than evaded by circumlocution and pious wish. In any case I feel guilty that my cheap shots seem to attract attention more readily than more thoughtful reflections, but such is the nature of the blogosphere.

As for handicapping the Socialist sweepstakes, more and more of the smart money seems to be shifting to Aubry, who has the backing of the two largest Socialist federations, those of the Nord and Pas-du-Calais. She is probably also the contender who divides the party least, just as the Third Republic was said to be the regime that divides the French least, and in a contest of this sort the equilibrium position often turns out to be the least divisive rather than the most arresting. But the party contest is one thing, the party's fate is another. Aubry seems to me unlikely to unify the party or quell the factional infighting, which stems from the deeper dilemma alluded to above: how to define the Left for the decades to come. Her father, Jacques Delors, might have imparted a new tone to Socialism had he decided to become a candidate back in 1995. But he didn't, and Aubry herself, beholden as she is to the traditionalist federations that are the base of her support, isn't likely to change the party's direction. If she and Delanoë agree to share power, the influence of Jospin and Hollande will cast its pall over yet another presidential election season. What the Socialist Party needs is new blood. The situation is ripe for a charismatic leader to step forth.


Anonymous said...

In my humble opinion, your point of view is and always has been quite clear. Any reading of your analyses that fails to recognize the well-intentioned albeit frustrated irony in your column would do well to read with more recul.

MYOS said...

I couldn't agree more.
Trolls' eyes read in bad faith, just as their hands write.

want a scooplet?
The current socialist haka should yield ratios of this sort
between the three main contenders. (for verification we'll have to wait past 10pm as some rooms are now equiped with those annoying machines that stop networks hence mobile communication)

Tom Holzman said...

So, who is your candidate for a "charismatic leader"?

Unknown said...

I don't see one. Certainly not Royal or Besancenot. I can imagine the qualities such a candidate would have to have even if I can't see anyone who has them. The Left needs a new tone, a new rhetoric, and a new attitude. Not all good and desirable things are compatible. Hence different people will have different priorities among desirable goods. There is a tendency on the Left to declare one particular set of priorities authentically progressive and to dismiss others as antagonistic to progress. But no party can win the presidency without tolerating a certain degree of pluralism. That shouldn't mean that anything goes, but the range of acceptable bargains needs to be broadened and the impulse to purge, exclude, and excommunicate needs to be suppressed.

TexExile said...

I think your last post, with which I broadly agree, misses the point in one respect. Suppressing the urge to purge, exclude and excommunicate would deprive many on the left of one of the chief pleasures they derive from political activity.

It's a bit like Labour in the early 1980s: there are too many people whose involvement is not primarily motivated by a desire to influence the way France is governed. They derive other sources of social or psychological satisfaction from their political involvement (not the least of which is feeling good about themselves for resisting the craven pressure to compromise their beautiful ideals...), and these will not disappear even if they lose five or ten more elections. It is therefore perfectly rational (alas!) for them to prefer defeat to compromising what they have come to hold as fundamental principles.

Of course, there's not much point engaging in the political process if you have no principles to advance -- I am not fan of pure careerism -- but political parties tend to run into trouble when too many of their activists and supporters do not attach sufficient weight to the goal of actually winning power and governing.

Too many of the leaders of the left would still rather blow the big game in order to win the small one, and too many of the activists would rather let the right govern forever than compromise their own ideological purity. And everyone can have fun going to meetings, blogging, arguing and fighting endlessly to save the PS from drifting in whatever direction the other factions wish to take it.

Twenty years ago, when I arrived in Europe (well, the UK, if that counts as Europe), the United Kingdom could claim, without any real competition, the prize for the stupidest (or, at any rate, the most self-destructive) left in the western world. That mantle has long since passed to France.

TexExile said...

P.S. Don't let people like Sullivan mining your blog for soundbites put you off your stride. I'd really hate to see you give up the cheap shots. I am sure I speak for most of your loyal readers when I say that we come to French Politics for both the serious reflection AND the sharp wit.

Unknown said...

Absolutely spot on with your comment on parties. I totally agree. And thanks for the feedback: it's always useful to know what people want to hear.

Anonymous said...

^^ nice blog!! ^@^

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