Sunday, June 5, 2011

Meanwhile, In the Center ...

Thierry Desjardins evokes the several overtures, or rumors of overture, that have emerged in recent days about possible alliances in the center of the political spectrum. Borloo reaches out to Villepin and Hulot, etc. Of course this is an exceedingly amorphous political space. Desjardins is right that there are a lot of votes here, but it's hard to see any way to bring those votes together on a single candidate. And a lot depends on what the PS does. If, in line with my previous post, Aubry is tempted to run hard to her left, rejecting the social-democratic wing of the party, there will be even more voters who might be tempted by a centrist candidacy of some sort. But I doubt that any of these three men can fill the bill. Hulot is an amateur, as his handling of the Borloo overture revealed. Borloo himself is a novice in this high-stakes game. And Villepin hasn't much of a base and has a gift for alienating potential allies with his quixotic sallies. For the moment, all I see is turmoil without motion.

If Ségolène Royal had run a better campaign in 2007, she might have a shot at rallying center-left, center-right, and greens. Although she comes in for more criticism than she deserves, I think she deserves enough of it that it will be hard for her to build a credible candidacy in the center, particularly since she has committed herself to the Socialist primary.

What about Bayrou? Perhaps my friend Frédéric L-N will give us an insider's view. We need one, because if there is a "media wall," as someone suggested the other day, Bayrou hasn't broken through it. I'm not sure why he hasn't emerged with a higher profile in this year's presidential sweepstakes. His showing in 2007 should entitle him to a certain consideration. To be sure, his party has suffered setbacks since then, and he did himself no good by striking a low blow at Cohn-Bendit in a televised debate. But presidential politics are very different from politics in regional and European elections, because in the end the race has to converge on two candidates. In 2007, there were some who anticipated a swing to Bayrou as "the anybody but Sarkozy" candidate as Ségolène faltered. In the end, it didn't quite happen, but "anybody but Sarko" is again a leading contender, and if the Socialists cannot overcome their post-DSK disarray, ABS could be even stronger in 2012 than it was five years ago.


FrédéricLN said...

Thanks for considering our candidate, and me as an insider! Of course the point in your post is a key issue for me: I feel uneasy in answering quickly.

Three very short points:

1- I think Bayrou's pros are at least stronger than in 2006 - hence my post

2- I think Bayrou's agenda and arguments are basically the same than in 2006: that explains why the media, and even more the public opinion, wouldn't pay much interest to "news" from Bayrou: they already know.

3- That may be a very strong position once dust has fallen, a little bit like Mitterrand's at the end of 1980, or Chirac's at the beginning of 1995.

4 (well, that's four)- Gathering "le centre" is not a goal per se. That has no meaning for the country. You can gather "le centre" if you give an orientation the public as a whole (even left- or right-oriented) will find valid and hope for. And after all, that's a definition of "le centre".

MYOS said...

From an outsider's point of view, I'd say that Bayrou made a few disastrous choices, especially during the Regional elections. But that was all the media needed to consider he was politically dead and thus they'd no longer echo what he said. The "petit journal" joke was cruel and hit him hard personnally, but successfully attacked the remains of his credibility - in my opinion, unjustly so: after presenting him as a fool and a delusioned, tinfoil hat quality guy living in an alternate universe, they proceeded to prove it by excerpting little bits of a speech. Bayrou did not recognize the collated bits and denied saying these, and of course Yann Barthez had a ball "proving" that Bayrou "did not know what he was saying", literally.
IMHO, Bayrou would have a strong ideological and political point if he hadn't been silenced by his own errors and media cruelty.

gregory brown said...

I think both of the above comments are quite right that they key to Bayrou's charge in 07 -- and why he will be hard-pressed to repeat it in 2012 -- is that whats needed, politically, is less than just "occupying the center" or even "anybody but Sarkozy" but appearing to be a real alternative to established institutions and practices.

As Bayrou himself said repeatedly in 07, "il faut renverser la table."

That almost by definition requires a candidate who appears to be a fresh face and to be an "outsider" to established political culture. I am not yet following the race too closely but my read is that this description to this point is most apt for candidates who will bring despair to anyone hoping for a true centrist alternative, namely Melenchon and Le Pen.

But I think a late charge by a radical of the center is probable, even likely, but I agree that none to this point seem likely to incarnate that role.

I think the later the entrant the more likely to appear fresh and outside politics. That said, elections are generally won in the preparation and Bayrou's years of work at defining himself as an outsider, and the current media fascination with others, may well provide an opportunity for him a bit like Barre in 1988 to make a late charge from the center.