Friday, March 18, 2011

The Consecration of the Front National

Jean-Luc Mélenchon makes a good point:

Dimanche soir vous verrez une soirée d’un genre nouveau : pas d’émission sur l’élection sur les plateaux des deux plus grandes chaines de télé. Le service public est le premier à avoir annoncé qu’il y renonçait ! Bravo pour l’encouragement civique ! Mais le plus dommageable est l’annonce qui sera faite a vingt heures. A ce moment là, seul seront annoncés les résultats globaux, de la façon suivante : droite gauche et Front national ! Sa soupe est servie. 

This manner of announcing only global results, without breaking down "left" and "right" by party affiliation, in a year when many candidates of the Right are hiding their UMP affiliation for fear of suffering from Sarkozy's unpopularity, really does play into the hands of the FN. It is now officially consecrated, at least for televisual purposes, as the third political force in France. MoDem, les Verts, the NPA, the PG, and all the other points on the political spectrum are folded either left or right, leaving the FN seeming as though it occupied the center, or as Marine Le Pen would prefer to say, la position ni droite ni gauche, left and right in fact being the same in her vision of the world. It is a pity to have this idea endorsed by the mass media.

France Goes to War

Sometimes boldness, foolhardiness, or whatever it is pays off. Sarkozy is a hero in Benghazi as French warplanes prepare for combat. I'm not at all sure that this will end well, but it is hard not to feel elated that in the short run a massacre may be averted. What happens in Libya after that is impossible to fathom. We have yet to see who exactly will get into the act of toppling Kadhafi. I can envision all sorts of scenarios and am not sufficiently expert to speculate. But if Kadhafi is overthrown, Sarkozy will deserve credit, and even BHL, much as it pains me to admit it. The Lord works in mysterious ways (and sometimes chooses unlikely agents).

WAIT, Hold the presses! Libya just declared a unilateral ceasefire. So now what? Does France attack anyway? Clever move on Kadhafi's part: he's got the oilfields back, Benghazi is isolated and can be strangled by Tripoli, and if outside powers attack, they're "colonialists" ganging up on a Libya whose leader can turn out large crowds chanting their support. Your move, Coalition of the Willing.

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.