Monday, March 23, 2009

Et tu, Vaillant?

Daniel Vaillant joins Manuel Valls (and me) in wondering why Aubry's PS has chosen to attack Sarkozy on human rights and civil liberties:

"Il n'apparait pas que la priorité soit d'ouvrir le débat entre sécurité et liberté", estime l'ex-premier flic de France, plutôt raccord, sur ce coup, avec Valls. "Je ne suis pas sécuritaire, mais pour la sécurité. Et la sécurité n'est pas attentatoire à la liberté. Quand Sarkozy s'en prend aux bandes à Gagny, il a raison. Les délinquants ne sont pas les premières victimes de la société."

French Political Realignment?

Judah Grunstein speculates imaginatively on the potential "populist fallout from the economic crisis" in France. Judah notes disaffection from the main parties on both the extreme left, where the NPA is on the rise, and the extreme left, where Le Pen voters briefly wooed and won by Sarkozy find themselves disillusioned with the result. For Judah, the chief beneficiaries, other than the extremist parties themselves, are likely to be the center-right in the person of Hervé Morin (rather than François Bayrou) and the Gaullist right (in the person of Alain Juppé rather than Dominique de Villepin).

Judah's argument resonates in some ways with the mini-paper I gave at George Ross's retirement fest on Saturday. I, too, emphasized disaffection with and dissension within the two major parties, PS and UMP. To populist disaffection I added elite disaffection: I sense disappointment on the part of business elites with Sarkozy's abortive reforms and failure to adapt or innovate in the face of the crisis, while the PS is no more convincing to this group under Aubry than it was behind (or under the feet of) Royal.

In short, the crisis, if it lingers, and particularly if it worsens and brings further disruption and protest, will act as a corrosive on all the existing bonds within the political structure. The Socialist Party seems to me ever less plausible as a political force. It is on the verge of extinction, though it hasn't yet recognized the mortal peril it faces. I agree with Judah that--assuming the center can hold, despite Yeats's doubts*--the ultimately significant action will be in the center, not on the extremes of the political spectrum, though the media, which always prefer the vivid and colorful to the drab but influential, may try to persuade you otherwise. I'm not sure that Morin is the man to articulate a new centrist vision; Bayrou certainly isn't. I look slightly further to the left, to a vacuum that Strauss-Kahn might fill (on DSK has the man calling the shots behind the scenes, see this). Add Moscovici, Valls, and the long list of center-leftists who have signed on with Sarkozy (Bockel, Besson, Hirsch, Lang, Jouyet, Allègre, etc.) and you've got the nucleus of a new party to the left of Modem and the New Center but to the right of the ever more muddled PS. It's a long shot, but I'm sure that some of these ambitious men see the void and wonder if they might fill it.

And Ségo? She has occasionally made stabs in this direction, painting herself as a Blairist. But she inspires no confidence in the business elites--the managers, consultants, think-tankers, and opinionmakers--who would be the key to getting a party like this off the ground--a sort of Democratic Leadership Council à la française. Would this be a step backward, toward some Third Way God that Failed? Perhaps. But one does have to hope that the center will hold, lest "the blood-dimmed tide [be] loosed."

* Yeats, The Second Coming: "The center cannot hold ... the best lack all conviction, while the worst/Are full of passionate intensity."

Off Target

I said a while back that I thought the Socialist attempt to demonize Sarkozy as a confirmed enemy of human rights and civil liberties was a mistake. Yesterday I noted that Manuel Valls had taken the same position. Today (h/t Boz) Le Figaro reports that Aubry's attempt to launch a new identity for the PS around this theme had failed to attract a crowd to the Zenith for what was envisioned as a grand rally.

Even if you disagree with me about Sarko and civil liberties, you can see why making this theme central to the identity of the PS is a mistake. What voters want now is a response to the economic crisis. They are less worried than they may have been about personal security, French identity, immigration, prisons, and police. They want action on the economic front and evidence of some understanding of how we got here and what is to be done. The new PS message is therefore off-key as well as off-target. It just doesn't speak to the anxieties of the moment. It's a non-starter, and the sooner the PS recognizes that the better. And note, in the Figaro photograph, the vast array of empty seats behind the small knot of leaders massed in the front rows. These make the case for tactical error more eloquently than any words I can write.

See also Causeur.

The Contradictions of Anti-Capitalism

The crux of the implicit if understated dispute between Europe and the United States comes down to this: the Americans want to resolve the existing crisis by massive spending and lending; the Europeans want to prevent the next crisis, and punish the Americans for causing this one, by imposing regulations on the financial system. Guillermo Calvo penetrates to the heart of this contradiction: financial regulation is meaningless without a lender of last resort, and if global regulation is to be effective, there must be a global lender of last resort.