Thursday, March 22, 2012

Bad Speeches

Gérard Courtois agrees with me about Mélenchon's Bastille speech, which he judges to have been frankly bad:
Une fois n'est pas coutume, pourtant : devant les dizaines de milliers de ses partisans rassemblés, ce dimanche 18 mars, place de la Bastille à Paris, Jean-Luc Mélenchon a fait un mauvais discours. Trop gaullien dans le ton, trop mécanique sur le fond, trop court pour être pédagogue, trop solennel pour être mordant. Comme si le moment singulier et la symbolique du lieu l'avaient par trop surplombé. Comme si le succès même de ce rassemblement l'impressionnait, lui qui entend n'avoir peur de rien, y compris de ses propres rêves.
And yet, and yet .... it seems to have succeeded, to judge by the latest poll (see below). Mélenchon is at 13%, far higher than anyone thought he could go. To be sure, he has succeeded by absorbing all of the non-Socialist left: he has wiped out the NPA, reduced EELV to 2% (abetted by an incredibly weak and inept Green candidate, Eva Joly), and incorporated the Communist rump. Can he go higher still? We will see.

And this morning on Facebook I was invited by Arnaud Montebourg, of all people, to read François Hollande's speech about Europe. So I did. Here is the key paragraph:
J’assume des règles. Je revendique la responsabilité. Je reconnais l’obligation du sérieux. Et c’est pourquoi, si les Français m’en donnent mandat, au lendemain de l’élection présidentielle, j’inscrirai dans une loi de programmation budgétaire pour cinq ans le cadre de responsabilité de nos finances publiques conduisant à un équilibre de nos comptes en 2017. Cette maîtrise se fera graduellement, méthodiquement, durablement. Et elle se fera dans la justice, car il n’est pas possible de demander quelque effort que ce soit à nos compatriotes s’il n’y a pas un partage, un partage juste du sacrifice à faire, et notamment du côté des plus favorisés.
Note the prominence of the words "rules" and "responsibility" and "seriousness" (an "obligation," no less--I guess Hollande doesn't catch Paul Krugman's irony about Very Serious People). It's true that this paragraph is preceded by some lip service to a "social democratic union" to take back Europe from the "conservatives," and it's true that it's followed with some blather about financing stimulus via the European Investment Bank, issuing eurobonds (backed by what? and by whom?), taxing financial transactions (Champions of the Tobin Tax, Unite! You have nothing to lose but your blinders!), loosening up structural funds, creating a "European energy community," etc. etc. And this blancmange is typical of the entire Hollande campaign. Another incredibly bad--in the sense of empty--speech.

So, you have two very bad speeches, in my view, and voters have the choice of slipping back and forth between these two vases communicantes. Hollande fails to speak to the structural crisis of the EU, so voters flee to Mélenchon. Mélenchon then gives them the Paris Commune and Louise Michel. But as far as I know, Louise Michel had very little to say about central banks, the austerity consensus, or the problem of igniting growth in a monetary union without a central fiscal authority. Mélenchon has filled that perennial diva role in the Opera of the Left--La Pasionaria--about as well as anyone can in this day and age. Et après? While Hollande, intent on proving what a "normal" president he will be, has forgotten that the presidency of the Fifth Republic was expressly created to be filled by a man of "abnormal" proportions.

Meanwhile, Sarkozy, capitalizing on his "abnormal" ability to monopolize the media in a time of (real or artificial) emergency, is deftly capitalizing on the new threat: domestic terrorism. What a depressing spectacle.


Anonymous said...

I regretfully have to agree with you on Hollande, including what you said in your post on the CSA poll. As for Mélenchon's Bastille speech - which I witnessed - it seemed mechanical. And while there was applause it was not thunderous. He didn't set the crowd on fire.

Yes, this campaign is depressing.


brent said...

There's no accounting for tastes: I found JLM's speech quite stirring, I guess because I am susceptible to the liberation narrative that stretches from 1789 to the Commune and the Resistance ... His encapsulated summary of his platform also struck me as coherent and unequivocal, with increasing emphasis on the need for environmental planning (the régle verte in place of the régle d'or, a neat turn of phrase if you ask me): a useful strategem for absorbing Joly's defectors but also the only meaningful way to talk about environmental policy that is more transformative than cosmetic. Speaking without a written text he may have garbled his image about daylight taking over from the darkness, but the evocation of springtime and the temps de cérises lent a certain warmth.

But who cares what I think, or Art, for that matter, or Arun? I could point you to the 1000+ respondents to JLM's blog post in the aftermath, but what really counts are the poll numbers--and who can deny that a 3% bump=a grand succès?

On a side note, JLM's blog post is interesting for the anecdote it contains: just before going onstage to deliver his 45-minute address, Mélenchon was informed of the dangerous over-crowding in the Place de la Bastille, which threatened harm to the spectators. He claims to have cut his speech in half on the spot, all in his head, retaining the 'poetry' but reshaping the rest--if true, the mark of an extraordinary performer.

Arthur Goldhammer said...

Brent, "Le temps des cerises" was not a reference to the season but yet another cliché of "the liberation narrative":

As for the narrative itself, I am as much a student of history as the next fellow, but I think that the narrative without the critique serves a harmful ideological function, as I tried to explain in this essay, responding to Perry Anderson:

Anonymous said...

Brent, you're right that JLM's speech resonated with many, including my wife and a friend with whom I attended the event. As for overcrowding at the place de la Bastille and JLM cutting short his speech on account, I can believe this, particularly as the turnout was far higher than anyone expected. I thought about the overcrowding while I was there. It was impossible to move and getting out of the square when the thing was over took time. What would have happened if there had been a moment of panic did cross my mind.