Friday, September 5, 2008

A Prediction

Allow me to venture a prediction: the European Central Bank will not adhere much longer to its policy of rigor. U.S. unemployment has hit 6.1 pct. German industrial production was off 1.8 pct. last month. The collapse of global demand is accelerating, as is the decimation of Keynes' "animal spirits" among investors. Similarly, the supposed bras de fer between Sarkozy and Fillon, between rigor and voluntarism, deficit reduction and relance, will end in stimulus, and deficits be damned. Indeed, I wouldn't be surprised to see a formal repudiation of the Stability and Growth Pact and its 3 pct. /60 pct. targets for deficit and debt. The accommodation of the past 20 years, otherwise known as la pensée unique, is over. The emergency has broken the logjam--I would like to say not a moment too soon, but I fear that the truth is rather closer to several years too late.

Now, Wouldn't That Be Special?

As Ségolène Royal's poll numbers decline relative to her rivals Aubry and Delanoë, some of her allies appear to be contemplating bold tactical maneuvers. One suggestion is that she not file a motion in her own name at the upcoming party congress. Another, apparently backed by Royal loyalist François Rebsamen and le cavalier seul Julien Dray, is a Royal-Hollande alliance. Now, wouldn't that be special? Absence makes the heart grow fonder, so perhaps this time they will deign to appear on the same platform, as they did only once throughout the 2007 campaign, when their couple was still (nominally) intact.

The Politics of Resentment

Paul Krugman's note this morning got me thinking about the politics of resentment in the United States and what counterpart it might have in France. One had only to watch a few minutes of the Republican convention to feel hated--to feel hated, that is, if one happens to admire "European ideas" (denounced by Huckabee and Giuliani), to aspire to a cosmopolitan rather than a chauvinistic ideal (Giuliani denounced Obama's supposed "cosmopolitanism," no doubt quite unaware that "rootless cosmopolitans" was a phrase commonly used by French anti-Semites in the 1930s to denounce Jews), to live in a large city (authenticity, for Republicans, is evidently to be found only in small-town Gemeinschaft, not urban Gesellschaft--and, yes, I'm well aware that my use of such words, as well as the pronoun "one," makes me unfit to kiss Sarah Palin's hem), to take pride in one's education, to prefer swimming (or, God forbid, wind-surfing) on the Côte d'Azur to ice hockey in Alaska, or to be a member of the "Eastern elites" (denounced by Romney, a founding partner of Bain Capital, former governor of Massachusetts, and owner of a large mansion in that hyper-huppé Eastern enclave of wealth, Belmont Hill, à deux pas de chez moi).

What about France? Sarkozy, of course, has played artfully on any number of strings in the harp of social ressentiment. For instance, his attacks on May '68 could have been translated directly from the American Republican idiom of denunciation of "the angry Left," "the feminazis and bra-burners," etc. His animadversions on la racaille and les égorgeurs de moutons dans leur baignoire demonstrated a pith and pungency in the articulation of unavowable prejudice that an American Republican might envy (although the application of the adjective "uppity" to Obama is in an identical register).

Yet for all the parallels one might draw, I think that France is still a long way from descending into the pit of mindless animosity that right-wing politics has become in the United States. The mobilization of resentment has yet to become a full substitute for political thought, policy prescriptions, and economic debate. In a sense, France is moving in the opposite direction. It has known the politics of resentment in the past, known it in spades, as my example from the 1930s shows. The demise of the revolutionary ideal has moved the core of political debate in France closer to the civil discussion that Americans claim to want for themselves, closer than it has been at many points in the past. The decline of French jingoism has also diminished the virulence of social resentment, which thrives on the idea that, for whatever reason, some who pretend to be one's fellow citizens don't share one's nonpareil love of country or patriotic frenzy. Hence appeals to resentment in France are marginal rather than central, even though they may be decisive in close elections and may indeed have been crucial in 2007.

By contrast, the United States has been moving in the opposite direction: the electorate is so deeply and so closely divided that resentment has become an essential tool for prying the marginal voter from the other side, and the perverse effects of the Electoral College make it logical to claw and gouge one's way to victory by appealing to the basest common denominator in states that may be far from the center of cultural gravity but nevertheless central to the assembling of a majority of 270 electors.

So, still smarting from my wounds and shaking my head in disbelief after four days of Republican invective against me and my kind, I can only say, Vive la différence!