Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Change Is in the Air

It's a subtle thing, but one feels it nonetheless. There were demonstrations early in Sarkozy's presidency, and large ones too, but the general feeling surrounding them was one of resignation. The Left had lost the election of 2007 decisively, despite deep disappointment with Chirac's 12 years in power, so no one could deny that the Right had a certain mandate.

How it lost that legitimacy is the story of the past 3 years (if you're in the Boston area, come to the Center for European Studies at Harvard on Nov. 4, 4:15 PM, to hear my take on this). But the mood has certainly changed. One senses this in all the commentary on yesterday's events. The quarrel over numbers is irrelevant (though not uninteresting: see Eric Fassin's illuminating history). What matters is the qualitative change, the sense that amorphous discontent has at last crystallized into something like a nascent political will. Nascent but not yet coherent, organized, or articulate.

For that, the Left will need to discover some leadership. And here we immediately run into a problem. It is widely assumed that the candidate of the Left in 2012 will be Dominique Strauss-Kahn. But DSK remains hors de combat. Until now this absent presence may have been a shrewd strategy. Just as Sarkozy trivialized la parole présidentielle by overexposure, DSK might have reduced himself to a François Hollande-bis had he felt compelled to comment with a quotable one-line quip on every fleeting blip of the news cycle. But at some point the would-be leader of the Left must, well, lead. And since we know that DSK isn't exactly whole-heartedly behind Martine Aubry's (second-thought) insistence that the legal age of retirement must never change, we would like to hear from him on the issue of the day. If we did, however, I suspect that what we would hear would not be much different from what Sarkozy has proposed. And then what would become of that nascent but not yet coherent or articulate political will that was evident in the streets yesterday?

Anti-Sarkozysm failed as a strategy in 2007. It could fail again in 2012. And if it does, the newly hopeful mood that one detects in the atmosphere could rapidly turn dark and ugly.


Anonymous said...

Yesterday in the protest I noticed anti-DSK signs. Just in case the PS had the idea to choose him.
There's a definite "anti-DSK left" that isn't very perceptible but which runs rampant. DSK is very popular among the highly educated, wealthy, left-leaning urban elite. The more you stray from the upper class, the more you find DSK rejection.
I actually believe that if the PS candidate were to be DSK, there'd be an alternate candidate on the left because there's such strong rejection of what he stands for (including some policies Sarkozy started) among some socio-economic groups.

His high ranking in the polls reminds me of Bertrand Delanoe's back in 2008: then also I was quite surprised, because outside of Paris he seemed to generate a mild interest at best yet he scored so high in the polls. Based on the actual votes, one must imagine that the previous polls skewed urban/CSP+ for the PS sample.

Once again, although he leads in the polls, I see no traction for DSK at ground level. At all. I guess my area is peculiar, but if it were up to the people here, the battle would probably be between Aubry, Hollande, and Royal (+ Hamon if he were to be a candidate against Aubry.)

The retirement issue being a key element in the future campaign, one can understand why it's a problem for DSK: as you said, he's likely in favor of the reform. (Moscovici is pretty ambivalent about it, for example.) But he won't be able to run if he doesn't convincingly support something else. In the meanwhile he's not allowed to speak, so whoever speaks on the left will gain momentum at his expense.

In my opinion, DSK won't run, though. Why would he leave his powerful IMF job for a messy primary he's not even sure to win, and then for a presidential campaign he's not going to like? (While he likes large meetings, debates, and speeches, he doesn't like campaigning and he doesn't like having to meet lots of different people, most of whom will ask him stupid question - that's almost a verbatim quote.) The risks are too high, the benefits not clear enough.
My bet is that Aubry will run with his backing.
Of course, the "eye" problem may change some things.


Anonymous said...

Other analyses about PS candidates and the DSK hypothesis

FrédéricLN said...

The protesters in the street are clearly from the "one third at the left" of the opinion, not DSK fans neither Aubry-ists.

But that's the very reason for this nascent hope.

People have now understood that there is a second possible way, that they are not compelled to choose between Sarkozy's chaotic "volontarisme" and the systematic "anti-systems" phraseology of the far left.

This second possible way - for the pensions system, namely - is not understood by the general public. But its existence is now known.

(And for those who want to know, all of the substance is published online since many years).

The very fact that neither DSK, nor MoDem leaders or CFDT, are neither with Sarkozy nor in the street for "retirement at 60", is a ray of light.

Anonymous said...

In the meanwhilen LCP/Public Sénat (French Cspan) has this little bit between Dominique Voynet, mayor of a town where a kid on a picket fence got his face fractured in three places and may lose an eye from a flashball, and EricWoerth, still there:

A writer, Yves Pagès, reports:
«Et là, devant le lycée, poursuit-il, j'ai vu des policiers surarmés, en tenue de robocop, un déploiement de force complètement disproportionné par rapport à la situation. Je suis parent d'élève de ce lycée, j'ai interpellé un des policiers. Il m'a mis sous le nez son flashball et m'a dit: “Ces morveux n'ont qu'à rester chez leurs parents, connard.” Un autre, qui était muni d'une gazeuse, m'a dit qu'il fallait bien qu'il se défende. Il y a eu des tirs de lacrymogènes et de flashballs. J'ai vu le blessé dans le camion de pompier. Il y a eu aussi un gamin qui a été arrêté et menotté devant ses camarades. Des jeunes filles ont pris leur premier coup de tonfa. Qu'on lâche, comme ça, des CRS sur des gamins, grévistes, en plus, c'est inadmissible.» Et il dénonce l'«hyperbanalisation» de l'usage du flashball dans les banlieues, «là où les flics ont un sentiment d'impunité. Jamais des policiers n'interviendraient comme ça en plein Paris!»