Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Caldwell on Le Pen

I linked a few days ago to an interview of American neoconservative writer Christopher Caldwell with Rue89. The piece he was writing on France, which led to that interview, is now up at The Weekly Standard, the flagship publication of American neoconservatism. For Caldwell, the primary reason for the FN surge is the EU, "The French people have more Europe than they want," he writes:

Once Europe is identified as the problem, a political program comes into view—one aimed at restoring powers, formal and informal, that have been relocated abroad. Ms. Le Pen likens her movement to the Tea Party. To an extent that would surprise those familiar with the old FN, Ms. Le Pen is comfortable talking about economics. She would withdraw from the European Union and from the euro, which she rejects on the grounds that it is not an “optimal currency area,” in the sense laid out by the economist Robert Mundell. Who can dispute that? Her reading of the austerity plans being imposed on Greece and Ireland is that “they are destroying the peoples to save the currency.”

But this seems to me rather limited as an explanation of the current situation. More interesting is an observation he makes earlier:

The number of French people who don’t naturally gravitate either to the Socialists or to Sarkozy’s UMP is large, and there is reason to believe it is growing. Hannah Arendt wrote somewhere that right-wing movements appeal to the “déclassé of all classes,” and Marine Le Pen is frank about wanting those votes. “The working class, the unemployed, young people” is Marine Le Pen’s first description of who votes for the FN, but she is quick to note that women are backing the party in greater numbers. 

The "déclassé of all classes" is an excellent formula, although MLP's account of the demographics of her party oddly leaves out the elderly, which I think is one of her core constituencies. Older voters, fearful of demographic and cultural change, set in their ways, with limited contact with new elements of French society: such people are in evidence at FN meetings. Marine Le Pen naturally prefers to emphasize the dynamism of youthful adherents to her party, and no doubt this bears watching. But the fearful older voter is one who is, as it were, naturally "déclassé," no matter what his or her class of origin. Displaced by the young and with more to protect from "insecurity" and the claims of the "state," this is a group that has been tapped by recent populist movements everywhere. A Times survey of Tea Party supporters showed that they were older and wealthier than the general population. Does anyone know of a similar study for France?

The "Grave Secret"

Libye : entretien avec Saïf Al-Islam Kadhafi by euronews-fr

With Qadaffi's forces ready to retake Benghazi, the dictator's son is losing no time in letting it be known that those who urged his downfall will be made to pay. France and President Sarkozy are first in line. Saif al-Islam Qadaffi has revealed the "grave secret" that his father claimed to hold in reserve: the allegation that Libya financed Sarkozy's presidential campaign:

«Il faut que Sarkozy rende l’argent qu’il a accepté de la Libye pour financer sa campagne électorale, a déclaré Saïf Al-Islam Kadhafi. C’est nous qui avons financé sa campagne, et nous en avons la preuve. Nous sommes prêts à tout révéler. La première chose que l’on demande à ce clown, c’est de rendre l’argent au peuple libyen. Nous lui avons accordé une aide afin qu’il œuvre pour le peuple libyen, mais il nous a déçu. Rendez-nous notre argent. Nous avons tous les détails, les comptes bancaires, les documents, et les opérations de transfert. Nous révélerons tout prochainement.»
Marine Le Pen will have a field day with this.

Why study English?

French parents: if you want to motivate your kids to study English, read the illuminating saga of the man the Élysée tried to get appointed to the European Court of Human Rights in order to create a safe deputy's seat for one of its own, Franck Louvrier. The court insists on fluency in English, but the Élysée's man only just signed up for a crash course in the tongue of Shakespeare upon learning of his nomination. The court wasn't amused and rejected him out of hand.

The story has a bit of fin de règne whiff about it. Could it be that les Sarkointimes like Louvrier are beginning to worry about how they'll earn their livings after the 2012 elections?

Polls, polls, polls

Yet another poll has DSK with an astounding 31% in the first round and Marine Le Pen by a nose over Sarko, 19-18. Now, OK, before you all start hurling brickbats about the inanity and meaningless of polls so far in advance of the elections, yadda yadda, let me be the first to say, as my comrades and I used to say in Vietnam after suffering the latest indignity at the hands of the brass, "Don't mean nothin'." But that initial reaction is also somewhat excessive: in fact, it do mean somethin'. And in this case, I think what it means is that voters on the Left, stunned by the results of earlier polling showing Le Pen in the lead, have decided for the moment to rally around the man who looks to be their strongest standard bearer, like him or not.

Now, note that I say, "For the time being." This temporary unity may not survive during a campaign that reveals more of DSK's positions on the issues--assuming he decides to run, which remains a question mark. But it is, if I am interpreting the result correctly, an interesting sign that there are limits to the Le Pen surge: the stronger she gets, the more sober the Left becomes, and the less likely the velleities of protest are to disrupt the broad gauge of sentiment that a presidential election is supposed to be.

Now, the relatively poor showing of Aubry and Hollande, more or less ex aequo with Le Pen, might be taken to indicate that this shift in left-wing sentiment is relatively fragile. I read it differently: to me it says that the sampled voters want to signal with their response their choice as the strongest candidate of the united left. So they votent utile with DSK but continue to indicate other allegiances when other candidates are in the mix. If DSK were out and Hollande or Aubry were the actual candidate, they might benefit from the same "left unity" sentiment that now boosts DSK. Royal, who loses to both MLP and Sarko in this poll, seems to have been written off, however.

That said, it's just one poll, it's March 2011, and "it don't mean nothin'." Or maybe it do.