Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Vanneste Verdict Overturned

Christian Vanneste, the UMP deputy whose conviction for allegedly homophobic speech I discussed previously as an example of the divergence between French and American understandings of free speech guarantees, has had the verdict in his case overturned on appeal.

A French Obama?

Laurent Bouvet ponders the possibility. A key point of blockage in the French system is the political parties. For Bouvet, a French Obama will become possible only

lorsque les partis auront changé de nature, lorsqu’ils ne se contenteront plus d’être des clubs d’élus cumulards qui cooptent au compte-goutte leurs successeurs pour devenir de larges mouvements en prise avec la société qu’ils prétendent représenter.

There is some truth to this and to other points that Bouvet makes in developing his argument. I think, nevertheless, that he underestimates the magnitude of Obama's achievement. It's true, as he argues, that American political parties are decentralized and that local and state parties are relatively open to newcomers and serve to nurture political talent. It's also true that the national party created an important opening for Obama when it made him the keynote speaker at its 2004 convention. But party leaders were not intentionally creating an African-American présidentiable for the next election. They were pursuing politics as usual in a multiethnic society, showcasing a black man of talent as one way of honing their appeal to important constituencies. It was the man himself who recognized the opportunity when the odds against success were still very long.

Bouvet's analysis to my way of reading smacks of a wish, common among Socialists, that some tinkering at the grass roots might somehow galvanize a moribund party of élus cumulards into a movement party united by a new face. I think that's a misreading of what happened in the United States. There was no change in the nature of the Democratic Party that made Obama possible. After the 2004 elections, there were many opinions about what the party needed to do in order to become competitive again: it needed a network of think tanks to compete with the conservative think tanks, talk shows to compete with right-wing talk radio, links to evangelical churches to mobilize values voters, a better system of voter identification to turn out the vote on election day, etc. Obama did mount a good ground game, but in the end none of the other factors was essential. In the media age, a candidate with the right talents can compensate for a host of party deficiencies.

Socialist Geography

This map of the geographical distribution of votes by PS militants for the various motions shows a surprising number of départements in which Benoît Hamon came out on top. If anyone can explain the inner logic of this highly variegated map, I'd be glad to hear your thoughts.