Sunday, March 25, 2012

Bayrou Relaunches

François Bayrou, whose campaign has been struggling, held a major meeting today at the Zénith. Bayrou invariably makes me think of the Mugwumps. For those who don't know American political history, Mugwumps were Republicans who supported the Democratic presidential candidate, Grover Cleveland, in 1884 against the Republican James G. Blaine, whom they considered corrupt, repellent in character, and morally deficient. Bayrou and his MoDem haven't quite crossed over to the left, but it's not out of the question that they would join a left government after the election.

They share with the Mugwumps a certain sanctimoniousness, especially when it comes to fiscal stringency. So, for example, Bayrou proposes to reduce the deficit by €100 billion, with €50 billion to come from spending cut and another €50 billion from increased taxes. There is already something suspect about the neat symmetry of cuts and taxes, and the lack of specificity about which cuts and which taxes is also characteristic.

At the moment, Bayrou is drawing around 12-13% in first-round polling. At this stage in 2007 he was at 18% . In that year he benefited from anti-Ségolène feeling on the left. Hollande seems to be more acceptable to the left Mugwumps, then, but one might have expected the left of the UMP, social liberals of the right, to flee Sarkozy for a candidate deemed to be less mercurial and "abnormal." Apparently there aren't enough of these to make up for the desertion of the left component of Mugwumpery.

Increasingly, European politics, and not just in France, has become a politics of the marais, as one used to say during the French Revolution. The left and right extremes reject the broad central consensus in favor of the EU and globalization and go their separate ways. In the center there is a substantial majority of voters, roughly 60-65% of the electorate, divided between a party which, for historical reasons, is nominally of the left and another party which, for similar historical reasons, is nominally of the right. These parties divide sociologically  along a number of dimensions (private/public sector employment, age, work/non-work status [retirees favor the right], wealth [richer is righter], urban/rural residence, etc.), but these differences lack the deep identity component of the past. A great deal of emotion therefore settles on personalities: Who is tougher? Who is steadier? Who is more predictable? Who is more tolerant/intolerant of differences? Who is more honest or corrupt?

These are Mugwumpish choices. The grand differences regarding projets de société are a thing of the past. The French language needs a translation of Mugwump. Maraîchers?


Merlin said...

Let's not forget that during the revolution, Le Marais turned on Robespierre, then governed through the Directoire and all of that ended up with a "Sword".

Hollande is lazy, he was 10 years leader of the Socialist party and did nothing was respected by nobody and all of that gives us today a fractious party, devoid of intellectual coherence or of any programme of any remote intellectual value. Future is predictable: Crap followed by inaction.

It juts beats me that this guy could even be electable.

But on the other hand, this guy intuition has always been that it's buggin's turn. He may well be the smartest politician for a nation of ostriches.

DSK should have stayed put at the FMI. He would have run France after all. Now it may well be Christine Lagarde.

FrédéricLN said...

That's typically an analysis of the center, or Bayrou's perspective, I wouldn't support — but as a matter of fact, I'm in this party, I shouldn't be trusted as an observer.

As a card-carrying French Democrat, I don't feel the situation as if we were in a fuzzy and soft "marais", some middle-of-the-road compromise between a soft left and a soft right.

If we were that kind of people, some political leaders from the left of the right would actually take advantage in rallying us — why not Valls, Boutin, Villepin, Hulot or Joly?

During this meeting at Zenith, the audience booed the UMP and the PS equally — unsurprisingly: we (militants, for sure, not all the voters) hold the for responsible of the present bankruptcy situation, and of the disastrous performance of France compared to its neighbours in many areas, from GDP to education including social balance (riots), takeover of State goods by private interests (Tapie, the buyers of our motorways, and so on). We wouldn't consider ourselves as people moving from the right to the left.

The agenda Bayrou exposed to the audience ( ) doesn't appear as "marécageux" to me in any sense. (esp. the agenda of the first 4 months, from the words "Le 10 juin, jour du premier tour des élections législatives," onwards)

If we had to make comparisons in the English-speaking world, I would suggest Lloyd George's leadership in the 1929 general election in the United Kingdom.

Or, of course, the early stages of the Obama campaign, at a time when the Democratic establishment was behind either Mrs Clinton or Mr Edwards.

Of course, if we fail, our voters of the first round will have contrasted behaviours at the second round: some of the will vote for Sarkozy, some for Hollande, some for Bayrou again (an invalid vote, but you can physically do it, as it is a paper vote), some "blanc" (no paper in the envelope), some will not go the the poll.

But we try hard to prevent this sad situation ;-)

FrédéricLN said...

Let's keep the pace… so, twitter: you'll find the tweets on this meeting here:!/search/realtime/%23rassemblement (this indication as of March 25th, 2012, is perishable of course)

Arthur Goldhammer said...

OK, I went to twitter, which directed me to Rue89, "The 25 most applauded lines of Bayrou":

Pure Mugwumpery! Not one in there that is anything but Mugwumpery. I particularly like this one: « Je règlerai de manière définitive la question de la moralisation de la vie publique française. [...] J'organiserai le 10 juin. [...] un référendum de moralisation de la vie publique en France. » Right. And just after that, we can have "un référendum sur la tarte à la crème."

Anonymous said...

On the other hand...

Bayrou was good today but I doubt it'll be enough to double his score and qualify him for the second round. Melenchon has a chance at influencing Hollande so that makes his voters bold, whereas people tempted by Bayrou don't know who he'd try and influence. Many of them, as far as I can tell, detest Sarkozy and what he stands for. Some would go to Hollande and others would vote "nothing", but few would choose Sarkozy. So in the end the question is: is Bayrou willing to try and influence Hollande in the second round to mitigate Mélenchon's pull, or not?

FrédéricLN said...

@ Art : I fully admit that there IS an anti-corruption stance in our party, and that's not new (at least 100/150 years old, your comparison with Mugwumps is quite relevant under this regard! but not as old as la Révolution française, I don't remember it was a specific fight of "les Girondins" ?).

But we consider this as a matter of institutions, Constitution, not at the level of individuals.

That's why we disqualify Hollande's and Sarkozy's attacks against "several greedy bank CEOs" as fuly hypocritical and uneffective.

We consider the way politics are financed, the way politicians are employed, their mandates, as key issues if progress of society is to be expected, predatory behaviours to be fought, and so on.

That's by no way tarte à la crème, imho; that's burning news in Sarkozy's Republic as well as inside Parti socialiste. That's a matter of Constitution.

And all that is also Obama's constant publicy expressed opinion as long as he was not running for President (was he a Mugwump?). I understand quite well that Presidential race is not, in the United States, the place where you can comment about the way legislators work. But in France, it is: the President is the only person who can push constitutional amendments. When you choose the President, you don't choose policies (that's for "les législatives"), you choose the way the Republic will be run.

Gregory Brown said...

Wow, Art, thats a level of snark we've rarely seen -- its appealingly serious and appropriately derisive, but I wonder if its a widely shared perspective in France?

I'm inclined to expect a bit of a late Bayrou surge. He has all the attributes of a late finisher -- familiar enough to pick up some late waverers who had been hoping to fall in love elsewhere, but new and unobjectionable enough to pick up a lot of second-choice voters who fall out of love with Hollande, Sarok, Joly or even Melenchon.

Also in the past his strength has been not in grand meetings but on tv in one-on-one interviews and he'll have more of a chance for that in the final weeks when we get into the "equal time" phase of the campaign

Finally there's history -- Barre's late surge in 88 at Chirac's expense, Balladur's late surge in 95 at Chirac's expense (recall Jospin was surprise winner of the first round!), and Bayrou's own rapid surge in 07 that came too early for his own good and allowed the PS enough time to make a "voter utile" campaign that worked in the wake of 02.

In short there's a share of the electorate in the center that has a history breaking late and breaking away from the front-runner(s). I can readily see Bayrou picking up that electorate in the final 10 days before April 22. But only if those are not already the 12% supporting him....