Monday, March 15, 2010

A Challenge

Electoral sociologists and party strategists will now pore over the numbers looking for the key to the 2012 presidential elections, but their task won't be easy. How much of the vote for each party represents real support and how much a "sanction" vote against le pouvoir? And I mean of course le pouvoir central, not the incumbent regional governments, since the Socialists are in and will remain in in most regions. And how much of the vote against le pouvoir is a vote against Sarkozy? Impossible to say.

One possible interpretation of the voting pattern is that voters are throwing down a gauntlet. We are not happy with our situation, they are saying. We weren't happy in 2007, and we asked to be shown ways in which the power of government might be used more effectively than it had been by le président fainéant, Chirac. At that time, a majority of us found Sarkozy's proposals more persuasive. He was, in a sense, following the recommendations of the OECD for maintaining the welfare state to which we are attached: make us work more, tax us less, free up our labor markets. But he proposed to do so without capitulating entirely to neoliberalism. Conditions have changed since then, however. Something else is needed. We haven't yet heard what we would like to hear from anyone.

Both the PS and the UMP therefore face a challenge. They must develop persuasive new policy packages. The Right's message has been rendered incoherent by the crisis. The Left's remains as incoherent as it has been for a decade. MoDem's is inaudible, and Europe Écologie's still hasn't grappled with the central issues of economic management. Its "vision thing" is too lofty and remote: sustainable development is a philosophy, not a policy.

As for the FN, some of its buoyancy undoubtedly reflects a protest against Sarkozy's governance, but what is being protested? The fact that he is not the racist xenophobe that he occasionally pretended to be? Or the way he has managed the economy, foreign policy, European affairs, etc.? It was always something of a stretch to say, as I occasionally said myself, that Sarkozy's greatest accomplishment was to have weakened the FN. Does one really weaken a nativist party by pandering to its themes? And as Cohn-Bendit pointed out last night, Eric Besson (whom he confused with Patrick!) only proved how inept the UMP is at playing the FN. Le Pen showed how it is done by holding up his party's anti-Islam poster, filched from the Swiss, with a "censured" label pasted over it. The aggressor as victim: a patented FN tactic.

On the left, the Front de Gauche is just the old left wing of the PS by another name; Mélenchon now has a bigger platform, but he will fall into line. And voters sanctioned the NPA for its decision to remain what its members want it to be: an extra-governmental party. This is a perfectly consistent position for a party that calls itself "anticapitalist," since to govern today means to participate centrally in the operation of the capitalist system. NPA is consistent with itself, and the voters are consistent with themselves: this is not the position they want the Left to take, no matter how appealing they find Olivier Besancenot.

1 comment:

Kirk said...

What strikes me is that the left is setting up a situation where they are governing (albeit only on a regional level) as coalition. While the socialists have the larger share, they have two other players to deal with. Given their incompetence politically in the recent past (ie, post-Mitterand), I don't see how this can be a success. Of course, Europe Ecologie won't go join the right, but the divisions that are bound to appear will turn the left into a failure as they spend more and more time infighting. It's been bad enough in the past couple of years, but with people with big egos in EE, I only see this as being more of a problem in the future.

I'm glad, however, to see the NPA get smacked down. You don't to politics by being "anti-". You do it by offering solutions within the context of the current situation. They were dreamers, and that kind of dream - the totalitarian kind that is not far from their ideas - is dead, at least in Europe.