Sunday, September 4, 2011

Hollande, Social Liberal?

Laurent Mauduit has an interesting analysis of François Hollande's positioning in Mediapart. It's a long article, whose richness I will diminish by summing it up brutally as a complaint that Hollande is in the process of "Strauss-Kahnizing" himself. That is, he is taking increasingly "social liberal" (and Mauduit sometimes uses the terms "conservative" and "reactionary," not to mention "third way," as if these were all synonymous with "social liberal") positions on key economic issues such as taxation, deficit reduction, the wisdom of a balanced budget, and the role of the state. Indeed, Hollande's use of the mantra "l'État ne peut pas tout" leads Mauduit to compare him to the Jospin of 2002 and to conclude that Holland is making the same error as Jospin: running in the second round of the presidential election before securing solid support from his left in the first.

I have noted some of these points of Hollande's program in previous blog posts, and one in particular, the idea of enshrining decentralized wage negotiations in a constitutional amendment, led me to wonder if Hollande wasn't attempting the very strategy that Mauduit lays out. Bernard Girard alludes to this point in his post today on Mauduit's article.

That said, I share many of Bernard's questions about Mauduit's analysis. I have already noted the amalgame of "social liberal," "conservative," and "reactionary." Being something of a social liberal myself, I recognize genuine political differences on matters such as the proper role of the state and the advice of economists, whose influence on Hollande is, I think, more difficult to evaluate than Mauduit allows. Nor am I sure that his method of inferring their politics is the right one. He notes, for example, that Jean-Paul Fitoussi has advised Sarkozy and that therefore his presence at Hollande's side connotes une droitisation of the candidate. But Fitoussi's advice to Sarkozy has generally been on the side of more stimulus, opposition to the ECB, etc. I think it's unfair to characterize him as "a reactionary."

Still, in spite of all of my real differences of opinion with Mauduit, the core of his analysis remains: Hollande is trying to occupy the space left vacant by DSK's fall; he has increasingly emphasized the need for "rigor" in his economic discourse; and he is neglecting to appeal to "the people of the left" and instead tilting his campaign rhetoric in the direction of a more centrist electorate.

Now, I believe that the presidential election will ultimately be won in the center, as I have said a number of times, but I'm not at all sure that that is where the Socialist primary will be won. The polls seem to contradict me, since Hollande currently enjoys a comfortable lead. And perhaps the voters to whom his new positioning will appeal are precisely the ones who will turn out to vote in the primary. But maybe not. There may be an October surprise in store only slightly less stunning than the surprise of 2002, and traceable to similar roots: the isolation of the political class from its base, and a consequent tendency to organize a candidate's message around policy positions that may seem coherent and correct to advisors yet remain unappealing to the party's traditional base of support.

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