Friday, March 18, 2011

Put a Sock in It

I had assumed that removing Brice Hortefeux from the ministry of the interior could only lead to improvement. I was wrong. Claude Guéant, who had seemed for the most part cautious and careful when he was locked up inside the Élysée, now sounds like Le Pen--and I mean the old Le Pen, Jean-Marie, not the new and much slicker Marine. Here is Guéant:

 "Les Français à force d'immigration incontrôlée ont parfois le sentiment de ne plus être chez eux, ou bien ils ont le sentiment de voir des pratiques qui s'imposent à eux et qui ne correspondent pas aux règles de notre vie sociale", a-t-il lancé. "Nos compatriotes veulent choisir leur mode de vie, ils ne veulent pas qu'on leur impose un mode de vie", a insisté le ministre.

This is about as raw and crude as it gets. Next thing you know, we'll be hearing about sheep being slaughtered in bathtubs and unpleasant smells in staircases. The suggestion that Guéant was dispatched to make sure that the "debate" about laïcité would suffer no dérapages now seems off base. Clearly, he is going to make things worse, whether by design or by clumsiness. This will be disastrous.

It's interesting in this light to read Gérard Grunberg's comments on the UMP's dilemma, which he compares to the dilemma of the SFIO at the beginning of the Fifth Republic. I don't think this is quite right. The SFIO's problem was structural, whereas I think that the UMP's is conjunctural--to a greater extent at least than Grunberg seems willing to admit. His analysis in general strikes me as somewhat strained, which perhaps accounts for the fact that it also seems less clear and more convoluted than most of his commentary. Still, it's worth pondering, if only for the suggestion that while many of us were worrying about the historic demise of social democracy, we were neglecting the concomitant decline of what I am tempted to call "the rational right." In the US, this process has gone very far indeed, resulting in impasse, paralysis, and a self-destructive spiral that leaves the state unable to govern rationally and hence vulnerable to the mindless mantra pioneered by the Great Communicator: "Government is not the solution, government is the problem."

France had been protected to some extent from similar degeneration, despite decades of feckless political leadership, by a tradition of government service as a high calling. Men and women of talent did not hesitate to become functionaries and were prepared for their roles by rigorous training and ruthless selection. But the politicization of the civil service and the lure of big money in the private sector have taken a toll. Claude Guéant is a graduate of the ENA, but he was drawn into the orbit of Charles Pasqua early in his career and then gravitated toward Nicolas Sarkozy. Now that he has been unleashed in a political role, we see that when forced to shed the circumspection of the énarque working behind the scenes as an éminence grise, he has absorbed the worst instincts of his two political mentors. His metamorphosis is a symptom of the degradation of the core of the French state.


AlexB said...

"Next thing you know, we'll be hearing about sheep being slaughtered in bathtubs and unpleasant smells in staircases."

A subtle reference to Chirac in 1991?

Kirk said...

That comment by Guéant was amazingly callous and crude. I'm stunned that he would say something like that. I find it hard to believe that it was in any way a mistake...

Anonymous said...

I believe that the UMP is scrambling to get FN votes back in any way they can - what am I saying? Not just FN votes back, but also people on the right who traditionally voted for the UMP and are ready to vote for the FN.
They're trying everything and Guéant's sentence demonstrates that. Like Kirk, I doubt it's a mistake. Whether it'll be successful is another matter, as it may push away some middle-ground voters; but if his goal was to appeal to older voters, he must have succeeded, since by definition older people 'don't feel like they used to in their own country', regardless of immigration, simply because things aren't the way they used to.
I don't think the cantonales will be the big test for the FN, they're clearly shooting for 2012; furthermore, as far as I can tell some people don't even know there are elections; but the slide from UMP-leaning to "considering a FN vote" is quite big apparently. The level to get to a triple-choice second round has been upped, which means that either the FN will jump a lot or it'll be right v. left as usual almost everywhere. However, if the FN were to come in second in "blue" (UMP) areas, that would be a big deal.

Anonymous said...

C dans l'air had an interesting program yesterday about Le Pen Junior, Senior, and Wannabe. The actual topic was Les Cantonales and it's worth listening to.

Current predictions suggest that the left would get 51%, UMP 28%, and the FN 15%; but in my opinion 200 different local elections aggregated into one national average make no sense; analysis of key areas would be more relevant. For example: Nord/Pas de Calais where MLP is taking root, South-East because it's the area where the border between UMP and FN is the most porous; Charente Maritime which has been a UMP stronghold forever and is now snipped at by Royal; Corrèze because it's a mix of red and conservative farmers hence giving indications about whether, as it seems, the farmers' vote is no longer to be taken for granted by the right; Sarthe, because it's so associated with Fillon and it's another solidly UMP stronghold that may switch.)
The program makes interesting points about both the election and the FN proper.

It's available online for 5 days for free.


Anonymous said...

And if anyone's interested in the UMP-FN-Cantonles topic, here's a handy summary, a friendly version "Les cantonales for dummies", i.e., explained in English by Alliès, free access:


FrédéricLN said...

"while many of us were worrying about the historic demise of social democracy, we were neglecting the concomitant decline of what I am tempted to call "the rational right.""

-> oh, it's very clearly so.

I don't think that the rise of the FN is based on rising rejection of foreigners (or muslims, or Black people…). I think that foreigners are used as a symbol, as an example giving evidence that beautiful people at Paris just do not live in our world. They benefit globalization, they live in planes, they negociate with Arab leaders, they do not loose their jobs when factories close, and so on.

Ségolène Royal has been pushed forward by all Socialists (well, 65% of them) just because she didn't use at all the old ideas (including socialism, communism and social-democracy).

Nicolas Sarkozy has been pushed forward by all right-wing supporters just because he promised "la rupture" from all the reasonable and comtemptuous leaders ("baronets") of before.

But Royal as well as Sarkozy are, when they come to practice (at national or regional level) very classical leaders of the TV era, using the legal instruments most at hand just in order to give "des signes forts" of their commitment about any topic that may strike public opinion.

I can't draw a true conclusion from that. I guess that if the French reject the present political class, they will not make a big difference between the Left and the Right. What I'm sure of (from Argenteuil experience): if there is a still difference in public minds, this difference is 10 or 20 times smaller than 15 years ago (and I write 15, not 30).

And I must reluctantly admit that we at the center, as hard as we may have fought these two kinds of "bad shepherds" (Bayrou used the word some days ago…), will probably be thrown away in the same pack as Socialists and UMPists. Well, things will perhaps not go for the worst!

Anonymous said...

Guéant as model for the new UMP candidate:
"Repérée par SOS Racisme mercredi, Josaine Plataret, suppléante de François Arsac, publiait des blagues racistes sur sa page Facebook (en accès libre), du style: «Comment appelle-t-on un arabe tombé dans une bassine d'eau bouillante? Un gris bouilli.» Jean-François Copé s'est contenté jeudi de suspendre cette militante, sans plus. Tandis que le candidat, François Arsac, loin de se séparer de sa coéquipière, reconnaissait une simple «maladresse», certainement pas une «faute», et suggérait qu'on n'en fasse «pas une affaire d'Etat». On a déjà vu dénonciation plus radicale de la xénophobie..."
(read in a Mediapart article)
The joke is hard to translate but it contains an expletive used during the Algerian war implying subhuman status and the verb "boiled" which put together in French means "scribble".