Monday, March 28, 2011

Identity Crisis

The battle lines are rapidly taking shape in the UMP: Copé thinks the laïcité debate is a good idea, Baroin and Fillon don't, and Sarkozy is backing Copé. So the former Séguiniste and the former Chiraquien are squaring off against the former Balladurien and Brutus, who will flatter Caesar while awaiting an opportunity to stab him in the back, gut, or behind. Juppé is quiet for the moment, but I imagine he is squarely on the side of Baroin and Fillon. We await the Night of the Long Knives.

How Much French Contribution?

How much has France contributed to the operation in Libya? As these slides show, more than I might have guessed, but it is still clear that the operation probably could not have been mounted without the US for surveillance, aerial refueling, cruise missile capability, and more than half of all sorties. (h/t Steve Walt)

Normalized, but still losers

Gérard Grunberg argues that Marine Le Pen's strategy, though quite successful in one sense, was in fact a failure in its own terms. Under MLP, the point is to gain power by holding office, he contends, not simply to make a statement or represent a point of view. And despite substantial gains in votes in many cantons, the FN won few seats.

This is true, and yet it somehow misses the point, I think. The Front National can't gain power until it becomes "coalitonable." Despite Sarkozy's refusal to issue a consigne de vote to UMP electors, there is still enough reticence in UMP circles to lock the FN out of any effective alliance. But how much longer can this stance hold? The UMP is in danger of being reduced to one of two major parties on the Right. Already one hears the argument from symmetry: if the Left could win in '81 by making the Communists clubbable, why can't the Right win in the future by doing the same for the FN? There is clear evidence that in some quarters of the Right, the Left--even the Socialist Left--remains less fréquentable than the FN. If the runoff in 2012 is between a Socialist and MLP, the Socialist will not get 80 percent of the vote, as Chirac did in 2002. Too many on the Right simply will not vote for any leftist candidate. The UMP is going to have an identity crisis over this issue: this will be the real national debate on identité, unlike the abortive pseudo-debate of last year.

I failed to see this coming. One of my reasons for following the Sarkozy presidency was to track the evolution of the Right. I thought that Sarkozy had transformed the party, which he totally controlled, and reduce the FN to manageable proportions. I was wrong on all counts. His control was less thorough than it seemed, the party remains as fractious as ever, and the FN, though initially it seemed to be weakened, has only been strengthened by Sarkozy's tactics. The next year should be interesting.

A Party Like the Others

In the cantonals, 55% of the eligible French didn't vote. Fact no. 1. Of the 45% who did vote and who found themselves in cantons where the FN candidate survived to the second round and faced an opponent of the Left or the Right, the FN candidate improved his or her score over the first round by an average of 10%. In short, disappointed voters of both the Left and the Right were willing to vote FN. For many people, the party is no longer taboo. Whatever else the FN represents, this figures marks a significant success for Marine Le Pen. Her strategy of dédiabolisation (de-demonization?) has worked. Or, to put it another way, in France in 2011, it is far more socially acceptable to express overtly anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant, anti-elitist attitudes than it is to be overtly anti-Semitic, deny the Holocaust, or argue that Algeria should still be French. But of course the same (mutatis mutandis) is true in the United States, where among numerous people on the extreme right the curious notion has taken hold that shari'a law is about to be established by a foreign-born chief executive of Muslim extraction abetted by "activist" judges, ACORN, NPR, and a host of other fifth columnists.

A Mug's Job

The job of "spokesperson" or press flack is in the best of circumstances a thankless one. In the US it is therefore assigned to an expendable flunky, who is permitted to feign stupidity, mangle the language, or pretend to suffer from hardness of hearing, the better to avoid unwanted or embarrassing questions from the press. Only on West Wing is the role elevated to one of witty repartee and high-level intellectual fencing with the representatives of the Fourth Estate. Robert Gibbs was no C. J. Cregg (thanks, Kirk, for the correct spelling of C. J.'s last name!)

In France, however, the role is assigned to a working politician, who is obliged to dissemble with grace and intelligence. I can't say that François Baroin fills the bill. His matinee idol looks are supposed to detract from the vapidity of his answers to questions. But who even notices the vapidity, since his delivery is so seductive? He manages to give the impression of an actor playing a press flack who believes himself to be so far above the role that he doesn't need to disguise his contempt for the silliness of the exercise in which he engages daily. Yesterday he was in fine form, fending off the obvious questions with even more obvious answers and with an aplomb that suggested he couldn't wait to get back to the tennis court.

Today, however, Baroin broke with convention and broke news as well by calling for the UMP to suspend the upcoming debate on laïcité. Sarkozy promptly called him to order. But here we have, from the loyal Chiraquien, yet another sign that the UMP is fissuring in every possible direction. Villepin for president, anyone?

Laïcité : "Il faut mettre un terme à ces débats"... by FranceInfo

Sarko Lashes Out

The president is unhappy with centrists, like Borloo, whom he accuses of not having fought hard for a rightist victory in the cantonal elections, and with one of his own, Christian Estrosi, who spoke yesterday of a "failure" of the UMP owing to a faulty "line and strategy." That remark was aimed squarely at Sarko by one of his own former ministers--a minister whom I once baptized here le roi des cons. But I must now take this designation back. Estrosi deserves credit for saying openly what many in the UMP are saying privately: that Sarkozy has led them straight into the wall, and many are now looking at their own elimination in 2012. The gallows concentrates the mind, and Estrosi's mind seems to have been positively illuminated. Being sacked in the last remaniement also probably helped him discover his inner light. So he is no longer le roi des cons. That honor now belongs to Claude Guéant, the interior minister with three left feet, who had the brilliant idea of characterizing French action in Libya as a "crusade." Thanks to M. Guéant for making it easy to decide on a successor to M. Estrosi.