Monday, April 30, 2012

Pandering to Labor

Last time around it was "la France qui se lève tôt," and the panderer was Nicolas Sarkozy. This time it's François Hollande, who is assuring workers of his "attachment to the values and principles of May 1," by which he means, presumably, not the Haymarket Massacre whose anniversary will actually be celebrated tomorrow but the principle that labor needs to be organized and fairly represented in order to achieve an equitable balance of power with capital. Unfortunately, rather than elaborate on precisely what his attachment to the values of labor might entail in the way of policy, he contents himself with a remarkably bland restatement of what he has already said about the inadequacy of a pure austerity policy as a means of resolving the problems of the euro:
François Hollande affirme vouloir "créer très tôt les conditions d'un retour à la confiance, notamment en renégociant le Mécanisme européen de stabilité pour y introduire un volet de croissance et d'emploi. Rien ne serait pire que de nous lier à une logique d'austérité",
For a man who is within a week of--possibly, even very likely--becoming the next president of France, such a mantra, intended to be soothing, has the opposite effect, at least on me. Because after May 6, it will no longer be enough to intone this reassuring formula. He will actually have to do something, and to be responsible for the success or failure of his proposals. I would like to believe that Hollande's studied vagueness is merely a campaign tactic, but I find myself worrying that he has actually given very little thought to what comes next.

That said, I'm not naive enough to think that any national leader is actually master of the current economic agenda. All of them, Merkel included, are playthings of the gods, and events will surely upset the best-laid plans. So I'm not really looking for a program; I'm looking instead for some sign of intellectual life, for a flicker of intelligent thought about the various contingencies and possible responses to whatever comes to pass. Sarkozy has long accustomed us to governing by the seat of one's pants: what he says today has no bearing on what he may do tomorrow. His inconstancy is characterological. Hollande's is different, or, rather, it's undetectable, because he never pins himself down firmly enough to know when he's changed his mind. Keeping options open is a fine idea until it isn't. Hollande has made a career of indecisiveness, but a week from today, unless the polls are seriously wrong, he becomes "the Decider," to borrow a phrase from George W. Bush (une fois n'est pas coutume). Hollande's slogan is le changement, but somehow I keep coming back to that old saw, "Plus ça change ..."

Pisani-Ferry on the Euro Crisis

A sensible point of view, especially this:
Second, the eurozone still shies away from a comprehensive approach to its internal rebalancing. Price competitiveness is a relative concept, not an absolute value, yet the policy discussion still ignores this basic fact. This is paradoxical, because the ECB’s policy framework provides clear guidance. The ECB is committed to 2% inflation in the eurozone as a whole, which implies that lower wage and price increases in southern Europe arithmetically mean higher wage and price increases in northern Europe. The wider the gap between the two, the sooner the rebalancing will be achieved.
CommentsIt is time to say loud and clear that the ECB will fight hard to keep average inflation on target, and that northern Europe – especially Germany – will not attempt to counter higher domestic inflation as long as price stability is maintained in the eurozone as a whole. This would help significantly in mapping out a sensible rebalancing strategy.

"Une soirée de cons"

Given that a sex scandal nearly doomed the Socialists this year, you'd think that Julien Dray would have known better than to invite some of the top brass of Hollande's campaign to a birthday party in a former sex shop on the rue Saint-Denis, a bar known as "J'ose." And you'd think that DSK, the original sin himself, would have had the sense to stay away. But to think these things would be to underestimate the PS's gift for shooting itself in the foot, head, and less mentionable parts of the anatomy. Ségolène Royal, who came with her daughter, fled as soon as she heard that DSK would be among the guests, as did several other luminaries. But the damage was done.

And sure enough, with a new IPSOS poll out showing Sarko picking up a point (mere statistical noise to a mathematician), Rupert Murdoch's WSJ is trumpeting a shift in "momentum" and a last-minute surge by the incumbent. Somehow I doubt it, but if the PS manages to lose this election, the "J'ose" Affair will surely figure in all the retrospectives. Quels cons!


Sarko celebrates "le vrai travail," whatever that is, and of course it's in the 16th arrdt. (h/t Arun Kapil for the photo):

Political Cartoons from the Campaign


Opinions Will Vary

The Financial Times' columnists seem to like the Socialist: Wolfgang Munchau outright endorses him as the start of a "progressive insurrection." Larry Summers, staying above the fray, nevertheless calls for a shift from austerity to growth in Europe. However, Christopher Caldwell, a sometime FT columnist, writes in another publication, the American neoconservative paper The Weekly Standard, "Hollande’s platform is nugatory. Next to it, Bill Clinton’s 1996 “micro-initiatives” look like the Sermon on the Mount. Hollande wants to cut ministers’ salaries." Arun Kapil takes Caldwell on here. Meanwhile, the Economist has a leader this week (and a cover headline) calling Hollande "a rather dangerous man." Stuff and nonsense. Or, as Henry Farrell puts it:

I’ve no idea what Hollande is going to be like (except that he’s certainly going to be disappointing). But I do know that this [the Economist leader] is one of the most exquisitely refined examples of globollocks that I’ve ever seen. It’s as beautifully resistant to the intellect as an Andropov era Pravda editorial.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Still Traveling

Apologies for the light blogging, but I am still on the road (currently in Chicago). I return home  tomorrow for 1 day, then off to DC on Tuesday, followed by a trip to California on Thursday. I will be on-line when possible, but feel free to continue your discussions in the comment threads.

Operation Eyewash

Angela Merkel took another step toward modifying Germany's intransigent image on the Eurozone budget pact.  Growth, she now says, will be part of the agenda at the upcoming European summit, set for late June. The European Investment Bank will figure in this agenda, just as François Hollande said it should. So she has now pre-empted Hollande's not very challenging proposals for a modification of the Merkozy pact. Tant mieux. Maybe Hollande will now be emboldened to ask for a little more, taking advantage of Merkel's pre-emptive surrender. Or perhaps Germany simply recognized that Hollande was asking for so little, and now seems so likely to win, that it made no sense whatsoever to oppose him.

It hardly matters. Events will soon force both leaders to reevaluate their positions. Timidity will not resolve this crisis.

Did Sarkozy Take Money from Qaddafi?

So, Mediapart, which has been after Sarkozy on the Libyan connection for months, finally claims to have a smoking gun. Sarkozy's camp in turn calls Mediapart une officine de gauche. It is the last week of the campaign, when low blows are historically a commonplace. On the other hand, this particular case has been smoldering for some time, occasionally flaring, then subsiding again. Take the news for what it's worth. As for me, Anne Lauvergeon's comments on Sarkozy's relations with Qaddafi are damning enough, with or without a $50 million bribe. Still, that's a lot of fric.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Electoral Geography

I'm still on the road and with an iffy Internet connection to boot (right now in a Starbucks, because the hotel connection is hopeless), but I wanted to call this IFOP study to your attention. I won't have time to delve into it myself for the next few days, but some of you might want to do my work for me! Thanks in advance.

Villepin Speaks Out

Revenge is sweet. Dominique de Villepin must be enjoying the opportunity to lambaste his nemesis Nicolas Sarkozy for "crossing all republican redlines" and betraying the Gaullist heritage in a headlong "electoralist" rush after the 6 million votes of the Front National, without which Sarkozy will be condemned to making the money he craves for the rest of his life. Still, even allowing for Villepin's ulterior motives, his words should be heeded:

La première exigence, c'est de regarder plus loin que cette élection pour affronter les grands défis à venir. Notre réponse au chômage, au déclin industriel, au défi énergétique, notre réorientation vers une économie de la connaissance par une éducation nationale plus juste et plus efficace, notre place en Europe, nous ne les trouverons pas dans l'idéologie. La clé de ces urgences, c'est le rassemblement, c'est l'action, c'est le sens du devoir.

Austerity Consensus Crumbling

Paul Krugman notes that the austerity consensus seems suddenly to have crumbled with the collapse of the Dutch government and the success of Hollande's campaign. I made the same point yesterday. Now Mario Monti has also joined the chorus. Unfortunately, while it's a good thing that the crew has finally recognized that the good ship Europe has hit an iceberg, the vessel may go down before the pumps are started. Spain was downgraded yesterday to triple-B and Spanish and Italian spreads are rising again on fears that the LTRO money has run out and banks are no longer propping up southern sovereign debt.

Meanwhile, Hollande's pro-growth proposals are, as I noted yesterday, a wet squib, mere window-dressing in the face of Europe's colossal problems. With this program he may survive the next week, which is his immediate objective, but he will then have to face governing for the next five years. Still, it's important that he has put the idea of a collective euro bond on the table. This could mark the exceedingly cautious beginning of a process that will eventually lead to the kind of institutional changes that are necessary at the EU level to make the single currency work. I remain pessimistic, however.

Why Mélenchon Failed?

David Djaiz attempts to explain why Mélenchon failed but to my mind succeeds only in reproducing the incomprehension.

Jean-Luc Mélenchon a offert des réponses plutôt convaincantes à l’insécurité économique et sociale des Français comme le montrent plusieurs enquêtes. Malheureusement, et comme le rappelle Laurent Bouvet dans un texte publié le 24 avril dans le Monde, sa campagne a été beaucoup moins percutante s’agissant de l’insécurité culturelle, à quoi l’on pourrait ajouter l’insécurité affective qui est un déterminant important du vote FN.

L’insécurité a bel et bien été le thème central de cette campagne, tellement massif et protéiforme que les commentateurs ne s’en sont pas rendus compte. Cette insécurité a pris mille visages et n’est plus la seule insécurité « policière » qui avait occupé la campagne de 2002 : il y a l’insécurité économique (peur du chômage et des délocalisations dans un contexte de crise de la mondialisation), l’insécurité sociale (peur de la casse des services publics et des commerces de proximité), l’insécurité culturelle-identitaire (peur de l’immigration et de la dissolution de l’identité française-occidentale) et enfin l’insécurité la plus difficile à appréhender pour le sociologue, l’insécurité affective, qui est le sentiment de voir ses points de repères habituels se dissoudre ou se rétrécir dans un monde où tout s’accélère. Force est de reconnaître que le Front de gauche n’a pas su répondre à ces deux dernières formes d’insécurité qui sont moins discursives mais qui pourtant surdéterminent les autres.
This is doublespeak. Deciphered, what Djaiz is saying is that Mélenchon offered protectionism, like Le Pen, without xenophobia and racism, which added punch to the protectionist message. Since the left cannot support the latter, it must rely on a slow process of cultural improvement and collective education.
Jean-Luc Mélenchon a affirmé vouloir mener une bataille culturelle contre Marine Le Pen à trois mois du premier tour. La stratégie était la bonne : c’est bien l’imaginaire collectif que la gauche doit reconquérir à l’hégémonie de la droite, par l’action militante et syndicale, par l’éducation populaire, par la formation politique. Mais cela ne peut se faire que sur le temps long et dans un climat apaisé.
This is just the kinder and gentler form of the revolutionary romanticism that Mélenchon so eloquently embraced. But what is needed is not a revival of the "collective imaginary" of the left but rather a commitment to "collective realism," which recognizes that the globalized economy cannot be rejected, reversed, or "protected" against but must be conquered by abandoning old ways and taking advantage of France's comparative advantages. That means change, and it means bucking the conservatism of some segments of the working class. Mélenchon failed because he reinforced that conservatism, because he fed the fantasy of revolutionism rather than the reality of politics, which as Max Weber said, is the "long, slow boring of hard, dry boards."

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Hollande Outlines His "Renegotiating" Position

In the first news conference of his campaign, Mr. Hollande said that he would propose four modifications to the European Union treaty, favored by Germany and approved in March but not yet ratified. Most significant, perhaps, he called for the creation of collective euro bonds, but to be used to finance industrial infrastructure projects, not to consolidate debt, which the Germans oppose.
He said he would also call for a financial transaction tax, as his rival, President Nicolas Sarkozy has done, and for loosening up regulations to allow unused European Union structural funds to be spent on growth. Finally, he urged the European Investment Bank to place a greater emphasis on job creation in its allocation of financing.
This is a very modest package, and I see no reason why the Germans shouldn't throw him this bone for the sake of comity. It won't, however, do a thing toward resolving the euro crisis. Let's be frank: it's a very, very modest effort to put the smallest of positive glosses on the bitter pill of austerity policy. Of course, some may see the issuance of collective euro bonds for a limited purpose as the thin end of the wedge, which, in the long run, will eventuate in a federal Europe with its own treasury and taxing authority. But that is one giant leap from what Hollande is proposing, which is a small step indeed.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Consternation in the UMP

How to win the FN vote without normalizing the FN? The UMP hasn't yet squared the circle.

Austerians Surrender? Or Is It a Feint?

A sure sign that things have changed since the collapse of the Dutch government and Hollande's victory in France is Mario Draghi's statement that "we have a budget pact ... now what we need is a growth pact." Even more surprising is Angela Merkel's assent! But is this "growth" in the sense that the word was added to the title of the old "Stability and Growth Pact," that is, as window-dressing? Or is it a real commitment to doing something--namely, putting German money on the line--to stimulate flagging European economies?

One hopes for the latter but strongly suspects the former. The austerians will not capitulate this easily, but we may infer that they are indeed alarmed by the clear rise of nationalist sentiment across Europe and recognize that some modification of their strategy is necessary. In the short run, this will reinforce Hollande in his debate against Sarkozy: "You see," he can say, "I was right along. Now the others recognize it. Why are you lagging behind?" But on May 7 he will need a more far-seeing strategy if he is not to be outplayed.

Cohn-Bendit to Bayrou: Get Off the Pot

Daniel Cohn-Bendit has urged François Bayrou to follow the lead of several members of his party and endorse Hollande, for to do otherwise is to favor the re-election of Sarkozy. Meanwhile, Frédéric Martel reminds us of Bayrou's detestation of Sarkozy, which makes his hesitation all the more puzzling.

Hollande Bids for the Youthful Suburban Vote ...

... with an ad that uses the N word (from Jay-Z and Kanye West) (h/t Zach):

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

The De-Demonization of the FN

Marine Le Pen has succeeded: the barrier to cooperation between the "respectable" right and the FN has crumbled. Although 64% of the French oppose an accord between the UMP and the FN in the legislative elections, 64% of Sarkozy's voters favor such an agreement.

Krugman: The Austerity Multiplier

Paul Krugman shows how European austerity policies have contributed to European economic contraction.

Sociological Data on the Vote

From IPSOS, here:

Comme d'habitude, les plus forts taux d'abstention sont relevés
  • chez les plus : 27% chez les 18-24 ans, 26% chez les 25-34 ans, 28% chez les 35-44 ans, contre 17% chez les 45-59 ans et 14% chez les "60 ans et plus".
  • dans les catégories populaires : 29% chez les ouvriers, 32% chez les "sans diplôme", 34% dans les foyers dont le niveau de revenu mensuel est inférieur à 1200€
François Hollande
L'électorat de François Hollande se caractérise par son homogénéité. Il est en tête dans la plupart des catégories socio-démographiques testées, à l'exception des soutiens traditionnels de la droite, + de 60 ans, retraités, indépendants. Il obtient 30% des voix chez les salariés, 28% chez les personnes à leur compte ; 39% chez les sans diplômes, 31% chez les plus diplômés ("au moins bac +3") ; 30% dans la tranche de revenu la plus basse (revenu du foyer inférieur à 1200€), 31% dans la tranche la plus haute (revenu du foyer supérieur à 3000€) . Deux motivations principales chez ses électeurs : "l'incarnation du changement" (65%) et la stratégie de vote utile pour qu'il obtienne le meilleur score possible au premier tour (80%).  François Hollande a convaincu 71% des électeurs de Ségolène Royal et 27% des électeurs de François Bayrou en 2007.
Nicolas Sarkozy
S'il reste en tête au sein des soutiens traditionnels de la droite, on observe tout de même un recul par rapport à 2007 : -8 points chez les retraités (33%), -2 points chez les artisans, commerçants, chefs d'entreprise (42%). Son électorat s'est prononcé d'abord en fonction de la stature du Président sortant (86% de citations). Mais Nicolas Sarkoy ne retrouve que 73% de ses électeurs du premier tour 2007, 13% ont préféré voté cette fois ci pour Marine Le Pen.
Marine Le Pen
Marine Le Pen est troisième chez les 18-24 ans (18%), assez loin derrière François Hollande (29%) et Nicolas Sarkozy (28%). Elle obtient en revanche le meilleur score chez les ouvriers (29%), devant François Hollande (27%). Sa candidature a attiré 13% de l'électorat 1er tour de Nicolas Sarkozy en 2007, et 9% de celui de François Bayrou. Les deux tiers de ses électeurs l'ont d'abord choisie parce "qu'elle répondait à leurs préoccupations" (67%). Elle est ainsi avec Eva Joly la seule candidate pour laquelle cette motivation est citée en premier.
Jean-Luc Mélenchon
Jean-Luc Mélenchon réalise ses meilleurs scores auprès des professions intermédiaires (14%), des salariés du public (14%), des chômeurs (19%) et des non diplômés (14%). Il récupère 15% des électeurs 1er tour de Ségolène Royal en 2007, et 8% des électeurs de François Bayrou. Au total, 23% des sympathisants de gauche ont voté pour lui, moins pour qu'il soit élu que par souhait que "ses idées pèsent dans le débat" (59% de citations).
François Bayrou
François Bayrou ne rassemble que 39% des électeurs qui l'avaient choisi en 2007. Il fait un peu mieux que son score moyen auprès des plus diplômés (12%), des personnes "à leur compte" (13%)  et des "cadres et professions libérales" (12%).

Monday, April 23, 2012

More Travel Coming Up

I will be traveling to Wisconsin tomorrow in order to speak on Wednesday at this event at the EU Center of Excellence there. Later in the week I'll be in Chicago, where my son is a student at the university. So blogging over the next several days may be lighter than usual. Sorry to leave you in the lurch just as the campaign swings into high gear, but please use the comments section to carry on your conversation. Or the Friends of French Politics page on Facebook.

IFOP: Debates Don't Do It

IFOP says that debates have never changed the outcome, Sarkozy has fewer reserves than in 2007, and the MLP report des voix is 48/31/21:

Jérôme Fourquet : Actuellement, les reports que nous observons dans les intentions de vote pour le second tour indiquent que 48 % des électeurs de Marine Le Pen ont l'intention de voter pour Nicolas Sarkozy, 31 % François Hollande, et 21 % sont tentés par l'abstention au second tour.
Don't take this to the bank, however. They got round 1 wrong!

A Question about the Polls and the Vote

Several commenters have suggested that the discrepancy between the FN vote and the polls shows that people are still reluctant to own up to voting for the extreme right (a version of "the Bradley effect," as it were). But no one has explained why the polls overstated Mélenchon's vote. Were left-wing voters perhaps ashamed to say that they were voting for the bland Hollande rather than the fiery Mélenchon? Is it prerferable on the left to be thought a revolutionary rather than a pragmatist?

A different sort of explanation would look at the polls themselves. French pollsters rely on a method of quotas, which requires considerable understanding of the structure of the electorate before sampling begins. Since the parties in France are unstable, especially the minor parties, that knowledge, based on analysis of previous elections, may be incorrect, leading to biased sampling. I don't know enough about the methods used to say why there might have been systematic errors in favor of Mélenchon and against Le Pen. Perhaps the urban concentration of JLM voters as opposed to the periurban concentration of MLP voters has something to do with it, as demographic patterns have been shifting too. In any case, I am skeptical of the "Bradley effect" stories and would suggest that the flaws are in the polls instead. And this raises doubts about the round 2 polling. The polls were actually quite accurate for the top-tier candidates in round 1, but round 2 depends on getting the transfer of votes right, and the poor results for the second- and third-tier candidates indicates that the polls may not have a good handle on this. So I'm not ruling out a significant surprise on May 6.

Girard on the FN Vote

Bernard Girard has a brilliant analysis of the FN vote. It is not the "popular classes" in general that voted for the extreme right, he argues, but the periurban classes living near smaller provincial towns:
Ces classes populaires ont en banlieue, dans la région lyonnaise, en Ile de France, massivement voté à gauche. Ce sont les classes populaires installées dans la périphérie des petites villes de province qui ont apporté leurs voix au Front National. Or, ces électeurs ne sont pas confrontés à l'immigration mais à un triple défi :
- la dégradation des services publics dans les zones rurales qui rend leur vie quotidienne beaucoup plus compliquée, beaucoup plus chère (il leur faut prendre la voiture pour poster une lettre, emmener les enfants à l'école, faire des courses…),
- l'effritement du tissu industriel : ces salariés travaillent dans des PME qui connaissent de vraies difficultés de financement, qui n'ont pas de perspective de croissance, dont la compétitivité s'étiole. Lorsque dans l'une de ces villes, une usine ferme, ce sont des dizaines voire des centaines de salariés qui sont condamnés au chômage ou au déclassement (travailler dans un supermarché quand on a été ouvrier est vécu comme un déclassement professionnel),
- l'effondrement de leurs stratégies de promotion sociale largement basées sur l'achat d'une maison individuelle dans un lotissement bon marché, donc éloigné des centres ville. La perte d'un emploi, un divorce, la perte d'allocations du fait du départ d'un enfant… sont autant de catastrophes économiques dont ils ne peuvent se sortir.

UPDATE: More on this theme from Le Monde:
Une étude Ipsos sur la sociologie des électorats, réalisée du 19 au 21 avril, confirme le pouvoir d'attraction de Marine Le Pen sur les 25-44 ans, qui sont le cœur de la population active. La candidate du Front national réalise son meilleur score (29 %) chez les ouvriers, où elle devance légèrement François Hollande (28 %) et largement Nicolas Sarkozy (18 %).
Géographiquement, c'est dans la France rurale et l'agglomération de Paris qu'elle est la plus forte. Lorsqu'on interroge ceux qui ont voulu voter pour elle, ils répondent à 67 % "qu'elle répond à leurs préoccupations" et à 55 % "qu'elle représente le changement". Ceux qui ont voté pour elle l'ont d'abord fait par"soutien à un candidat" (64%) plutôt que "par opposition" à un autre candidat (36 %). Et parmi les thèmes qui comptent le plus pour eux figurent l'immigration (62 %), l'insécurité (44 %) et le pouvoir d'achat (43 %).
Le 22 avril 2012 signe l'échec de Nicolas Sarkozy, son incapacité à rééditer l'OPA sur l'électorat lepéniste qu'il avait réussie cinq ans plus tôt. Le président sortant a tout fait pour le reconquérir, allant très loin sur les thèmes de la sécurité et de l'immigration, mais rien n'y fait : la déception suscitée par ses promesses non tenues sur le pouvoir d'achat apparaît rédhibitoire. "Il y a comme un sentiment de trahison", constatait, il y a quelques mois, Alain Mergier.

Bloomberg Radio Appearance

I just did a Bloomberg Radio interview on yesterday's results. I'm not sure if it will be available by Podcast, but this is the Web site.

The FN and the Legislative Elections

Gérard Grunberg argues that the FN's score will allow it to maintain its candidate in the second round of the legislative elections in a large number of districts. Hence there will be many triangulaires, and the UMP will be forced to negotiate, adding further to the strength of the FN.

What's more, I see that my friend Gérard has been influenced by my own interpretation of this election:
Cette situation nouvelle ne concerne pas seulement l’UMP. La gauche elle-même y sera confrontée. En effet, le premier tour de l’élection présidentielle peut être analysé de deux manières différentes. À première vue, il s’agit d’un combat gauche/droite qui devrait s’achever le 6 mai par une victoire de la gauche. Mais en réalité il s’agit aussi et peut-être même surtout, même si elle a été volontairement caché par les deux grands partis de gouvernement, d’une opposition entre d’un côté ces deux partis qui savent que l’avenir de la France est dans une Europe de plus en plus intégrée et donc dans l’acceptation de règles budgétaires contraignantes, et d’un autre côté ceux, FN et FG, qui pensent que la France peut échapper aux contraintes de la mondialisation, des marchés et des règles européennes et qui estiment que la France doit refuser son intégration à l’ « Europe libérale » et reconquérir sa pleine souveraineté.

What's the Matter with the Vaucluse?

What's the matter with Kansas? asked Thomas Frank. I ask, What's the matter with the Vaucluse? That's where Marine Le Pen obtained her highest score (27%). Such a beautiful part of France, yet so perverse in its political choices. MLP did worst in Paris, which the Socialist won for the first time with over 30% of the vote.
La candidate du Front nationale obtient plus de 20 % des suffrages dans onze régions métropolitaines sur vingt-deux (Alsace, Bourgogne, Champagne-Ardenne, Corse, Franche-Comté, Languedoc-Roussillon, Lorraine, Nord-Pas-de-Calais, Haute-Normandie, Picardie, Provence-Alpes-Côte-d'Azur). Elle obtient son meilleur résultat dans le Vaucluse, avec 27,03 % des voix. Au total, elle franchit la barre des 20 % dans quarante-trois départements. C'est à Paris, avec 6,20 % des suffrages, qu'elle recueille son plus mauvais score en métropole.

Hollande Will Recover FN Votes in Working-Class Areas

François Hollande knows full well that there are votes to be had among those who favored Marine Le Pen in the first round. The electoral geography alone shows that there are in particular many working-class voters to whom the Socialist candidate can appeal in terms of republican solidarity:
Un argument qu'il entend faire fructifier dans la lutte finale: "C'est aussi une conception de la République qui sera en cause dans ce scrutin." Mais si le résultat du FN est utilisé comme repoussoir, il fournit également, selon les socialistes, des marges de progression. "Vous avez vu les scores dans le Pas-de-Calais ? C'est énorme", s'inquiétait, dimanche, Aquilino Morelle, directeur adjoint de la campagne et plume du candidat, pour qui "l'idée, c'est de ne pas laisser à Sarkozy les électeurs de l'extrême droite: il y a aussi, parmi eux, des électeurs de gauche égarés."
Cet électorat, quel est-il ? "C'est celui de la France rurale et périurbaine, de la France des villages et de celle du RER, la France qui souffre le plus durement de la mondialisation", explique Olivier Faure, secrétaire général du groupe socialiste à l'Assemblée nationale et conseiller opinion de M. Hollande.

The Morning After

OK, people, time to sober up. The first thing to say, as TexExile pointed out in comments, is that we should stop hyperventilating about the FN results. Yes, it's an historic high, but it's only 1 percentage point more than her father managed in 2002 (albeit on a significantly higher turnout, so this somewhat understates the FN's increased strength). But the Brown Shirts are not about to sit in the Chancellery. The initial reports of a 20% Le Pen vote did us all a disservice by distracting from the other historic event of the evening: the loss of a sitting president in the first round. This should have been the headline, and the bizarrerie of Sarko's supporters chanting "On a gagné!" when in fact they had suffered a crushing defeat should have attracted more derisory comment than it did.

Second, Hollande is well-placed to win in round 2. The Le Pen vote is not an anti-Socialist vote or a right-wing vote. It is an anti-Sarkozy vote. Buisson's strategy of droitisation dure only strengthened the extreme from which he sprang; it undermined Sarkozy's principal strength, which was and remains his experience. Hollande still has to traverse the minefield of the next two weeks without a major misstep, but he has shown that he knows how to play his own game and avoid forced errors.

Third, no matter which candidate wins, France will be difficult to govern. The constraints imposed by the state of the economy are severe. To be sure, the electorate's expectations are low. The deep divisions over globalization, Europe, and the euro revealed by the vote will remain, and a solution remains elusive and not within the power of the French president alone. There is much missionary work to be done, especially with Germany, and success is not assured. But Hollande's election will signal the need for change, and if the Germans are wise, they will recognize this.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

What Will Become of the UMP?

Mediapart may be making the wish father to the thought:
Le Front national a presque doublé son nombre de voix depuis 2007 ! L’étape suivante, à l’occasion des législatives de juin, sera sans doute de provoquer l’éclatement de l’UMP.

Rue89 Is Less Worried Than I Am

See here:

Aucun scénario ne donne Sarkozy gagnant

Nous avons généreusement accordé 50% des voix du premier tour de Bayrou à Sarkozy contre seulement 20% à Hollande et 30% d’abstention (alors que les derniers sondages montraient que l’électorat centriste se divisait en trois tiers à peu près égaux entre ces trois positions).
Nous avons encore attribué au Président sortant 60% des votes lepénistes (45% dans la dernière enquête Ipsos), 10% votant Hollande et 30% d’abstention. Le report des autres électorat de gauche a été limité à 80%.
Malgré toutes ces conditions, Hollande l’emporterait, dans cette simulation basée sur les résultats effectifs du premier tour, avec 50,7% des voix. C’est dire si le vote du 22 avril annonce une victoire, sans doute large, du candidat socialiste le 6 mai.

Le report des voix lepenistes

Via Greg Brown:

From Rue89

L'institut CSA donne lui aussi son estimation des reports de voix de Marine Le Pen : 52% vers Sarkozy, 27% vers Hollande, 21% qui ne se prononcent pas. Rappel : chez TNS Sofrès, 45% Sarkozy, 29% Hollande et 26% ne se prononcent pas. Chez Ipsos, 60% Sarkozy, 18% Hollande, 22% ne se prononcent pas.


Further Thoughts

Sarkozy has called for three debates in the next two weeks instead of one. He clearly has confidence in his ability to put Hollande's back to the wall. He looked more confident than Hollande, and his supporters shouted "On a gagné," even though this is the first time in the history of the Fifth Republic that a sitting president has lost the first round. Hollande made the Left's best score since '88, but the Left also came in first in '95 and then lost in the second round (although, as Jospin noted, that was after 14 years of Mitterrand, and the right-wing vote was divided between two candidates in the first round).

Le Pen declared that her ambition is to marginalize the UMP and make her party the major party of the opposition, and she is within striking distance of that goal. Her strategy was obviously more successful than the polls predicted, and she has every reason to continue her anti-Europe, anti-globalization, anti-euro, pro-protectionist, anti-Islamic line. How will Sarkozy try to counter this? Perhaps by playing up the anti-Europe rhetoric he has adopted, hypocritically in my view, over the past few months.

I had thought that this election would be won in the center, and Hollande's centrist strategy was successful enough, but the actual center, represented by Bayrou, is much diminished. Where will Hollande's reserve votes come from? Mélenchon, Arthaud, Joly, and Bayrou aren't quite enough. How many Le Pen voters will he get? I am no longer sure what to believe about the Le Pen vote. The pollsters clearly don't have a good handle on it, so their estimates of le report des voix have to be eyed skeptically.

In short, I think this election is far from over. Hollande will have to define himself more clearly, or will be forced to by Sarkozy, and what effect that will have on both those who backed him in round 1 and those who didn't but who must be enlisted for round 2 remains to be seen. Everything is in play, and I'm frankly worried that I'm not going to like either the direction the campaign takes or the outcome.

Random Thoughts

We thought we had seen la droitisation dure of Sarkozy's campaign, but the results suggest that he will have to veer even further to the extreme right if he hopes to win. He must win over Le Pen's voters, and clearly they're not going to be easy to get. The large underestimation of the Le Pen vote by the polls suggests that Hollande's lead in round 2 is not as comfortable as it might appear. And the Mélenchon phenomenon seems to have been significantly overestimated: his total is less than the sum of the votes of the extreme left parties he decimated.

As much as I dislike Mélenchon, I had hoped that his supporters would provide Hollande with a comfortable reserve. At 15, this would have been the case; at 11, it isn't. And the Le Pen vote is obviously very difficult to interpret. The pollsters all underestimated, as usual. We therefore can't trust their estimates of the likely report des voix. If I were Hollande, I would be pleased to have come in first but very, very worried about the next two weeks and about what tactics Sarkozy might now employ in the debate. Immigration will obviously be THE hot-button issue, despite France's low actual immigration rate.

As for the Mélenchonistes who have enjoyed the disarray of us "social liberals," I can only say that populist passions, as we see, can blow from the right as well as the left.

First Round Results

FH 28.4 NS 25.5 MLP 20 JLM 11

The big turnout seems to have favored Le Pen above all, and the Right is now in a stronger position than one might have thought. Hollande's lead is unprecedented for a challenger to a sitting president, but Mélenchon is weaker than thought, and that will hurt Hollande in Round 2.

Turnout Higher Than Expected

Le Monde: 1er tour de l'élection présidentielle : 70,59 % de participation à 17 h (ministère de l'intérieur)

This means that the ultimate turnout will probably be close to 80%, much higher than expected. Could this upset polling predictions? Possibly. But there's no point speculating. We'll know soon enough. Certainly the #RadioLondres reports that I've been seeing don't suggest an upset, but who knows how reliable how any of the supposed leaks are?

"Anesthetized" Markets

Gavyn Davies notes, rightly, that global securities markets have decoupled from the eurozone crisis. As the graph shows, peripheral eurozone bond spreads have increased even as global equities have risen. Investors may be in for a rude shock as it becomes clearer that austerity cannot continue and political unrest blocks the technocrats' attempt to decide unilaterally who will bear the heaviest burdens.

Pictorial Election Essay

Here. (h/t Myos)


If you're on Twitter and want to amuse yourself with clever "legal" pre-reporting of election results, follow the hashtag #RadioLondres. An example:

St. Pierre et Miquelon : Le gouda est à 33.75€ du Kg. La Rolex se négocie à moins de 19€.

Or this:

#RadioLondres Le profil Facebook de Carla vient de passer de mariée à c'est compliqué ?

Disappointed Sarkozystes

A conversation among people who voted for Sarkozy in 2007 but who, for the most part, are disappointed and feel the need for a change.

Election Day

Not much left to say. On s'engage, puis en voit, dixit Napoléon. On verra. It's been an unimpressive campaign, in which the major issues have been avoided rather than confronted. Worse, the mettle of the candidates has not really been tested. It's hard to judge how they think or what they might have up their sleeves, other than effets de manche, which have been abundantly on display. Hollande can do the required platform gesticulations and mimic the histrionics that pass for passion on the hustings, but it's not his natural element. I prefer his quiet quips. Sarko has mastered the whole gamut of public postures, from good-sport affability (watch him laugh at Laurent Gerra imitating him) to fulminating demagogue ("Il ment! Il ment! Il ment!"). Mélenchon is in a class by himself, a relic of another era and useful for imagining what the great revolutionary orators might have sounded like. Le Pen comes and goes, sometimes up to playing her part, at other times looking odd in a suit tailored for her father. And Bayrou remains Bayrou, true to himself, not playing a part, other than the part he has been playing for the past 20 years, the virgin who has somehow wandered into a bordello and is shocked to discover what goes on there.

It's a democratic spectacle and as such an accurate reflection of the incoherent nation in which some of you live and which I observe--and no more or less incoherent than my own. It's a spectacle that is no doubt destined to disappoint me, since politics lacks the neatness of a theorem and I have a mathematical cast of mind, but this year the disappointment is particularly acute, because I think the stakes are enormously high. The euro crisis is far from resolved, the fate of the EU depends on its resolution, and social pressures are building. Yesterday the Dutch government fell apart, and there will be early elections at the behest of the extreme-right party there. Spain cannot continue in the status quo, with 45% youth unemployment. So something is soon going to give. It probably won't be France that cracks first, but inevitably France will be caught up in the ensuing maelstrom, so it would be reassuring to think that the person in charge knew what he or she was doing. But even a person of the utmost competence would be hard-pressed to know what to do, because the difficulty of the issues far exceeds the powers of the French president, as vast as they are. What is needed is not only the breadth of mind to grasp the situation but the tact, determination, and persuasiveness to get others to see it the same way. I wish I believed that the eventual winner would have those qualities, but I see little evidence that this will be the case. If I were French, I would vote for Hollande, but without much of a sense of what I was getting. It would be a familial duty: my family is the moderate left, and he is definitely a member of the family. But is he the boring uncle who turns up year after year at family gatherings, or the familiar relative whose true genius has been hidden from the view of his kin for all these years? Point n'est besoin d'espérer pour entreprendre ...

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Winner in Reporting Code Contest

All the entries in the contest for coded ways of reporting tomorrow's results early without breaking the law were excellent, but this is my favorite:

Anonymous said...
Asperges sauce batave : 29 €
Goulash : 26 €
Salade de fruits rouges : 16 €
Crèpe au sarrasin : 15 €
Congratulations to Anonymous.

Kapil Takes on Mélenchon

My blogging confrère Arun Kapil dislikes Jean-Luc Mélenchon a good deal more than I do, and I don't like him much. I know that Mélenchon has many supporters among my readers, and they will no doubt be incensed by Arun's post. They should nevertheless read it. He states his position forthrightly and invites debate. I found this passage noteworthy:
The political scientist Marc Lazar said recently that the Communist party in France may be all but dead but that a communist culture still exists on the French left, and that Jean-Luc Mélenchon has achieved the singular feat in his presidential campaign of awakening this culture and giving it a unified political expression.
I would take some issue with Lazar's formulation. Mélenchon revives one aspect of French Communist culture,  but that culture was far more than Georges Marchais's sneering attitude toward journalists, which Mélenchon shares. Communist culture would never have survived as long as it did if it hadn't provided a structure of support, solidarity, and community for its adherents. Mélenchon has resurrected the cult of personality, the combative spirit, and a good deal of the nasty invective as well as the high-flown historical rhetoric of that earlier period, but one might speculate that a part of the enthusiasm he has aroused comes from a yearning for a restoration of that community on the part of a mostly older group of leftists who found in May 68 a solidarity that no "modern" political party--and certainly not the French Socialist Party--can supply.

To my mind, such solidarity, which grew naturally out of the experience of the shop floor when labor was regimented in battalions and treated like cannon fodder, is not a natural part of today's society. It can flare up briefly in specific settings: the counterculture of the 1960s and 70s bore some, though not all, of its earmarks. And since I was a part of that counterculture, I can attest to its attractions. But such fellow-feeling, however pleasurable, is not a sound basis for the kinds of political decisions that we face today. It leads almost invariably to a division of society into friends and enemies--a distinction that is the basis of the thought of Carl Schmitt more than that of Karl Marx. It is no longer possible to wish that "demain l'Internationale sera le genre humain." We have become too diverse to believe that any one class of society is called by its very nature and essence to become "the universal class." And for me that is the essence of Mélenchon's error and the illusion under which his supporters labor.

The rest I leave to Arun, along with the responsibility for his remarks.

Le Flan Est au Four: Lawbreaking with Laughter

Around the Internet, netroots folks are working out their codes for reporting Sunday evening's results ahead of time without incurring a fine for breaking the law. "Le flan est au four": Hollande is ahead. "Les Pays-Bas mènent la Hongrie 29 à 27." "L'armée Rouge écrase la Marine." Feel free to post your suggestions here. I'll post the best ones with credit to the authors.

It's a stupid law, and il n'y a que le ridicule qui tue.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Analysis of 2007 Polling


Brad Plumer Interviews Me in the Washington Post


Christina Romer Pleads for Less Austerity, More Stimulus

Add another voice to the chorus calling for European nations to rethink their disastrous commitment to austerity before it is too late.

Incidentally, Romer shrewdly notes that Sarkozy's retirement reform is a back-loaded fiscal consolidation of the type she recommends and further observes that Hollande will retain it with only minor modifications, both points I have made repeatedly.

Election Laws

A lawyer explains for those who are interested in the details.

Sarkozy's Degraded Image: An In-Depth Survey

Here. (h/t Myos)

Possible Surprises?

Éric Dupin speculates.

Hollande and American Campaign Tactics

An interesting article here. (h/t Tom Holzman)

Tax Reform and the Election

A special issue of the Revue de l'OFCE is devoted to the topic.

Joly's Last Stand

I don't think this was well-judged, but I suppose it was no worse than the rest of her campaign:

Hollande Supports Intervention in Syria

With the US government now hinting openly that it may support armed intervention in Syria, François Hollande wasted no time in declaring his support for a UN-led mission.

The Unions and the Election

Médiapart tries to get Jean-Claude Mailly of Force Ouvrière to throw his weight behind Hollande, but Mailly insists that the unions will not have an easy time of it no matter who wins the election. The constraints are in the country's economic situation, not the policy of either leading candidate:

La CGT estime que réélire Nicolas Sarkozy« ouvrirait, à coup sûr, une nouvelle séquence de lourds reculs sociaux ». M. Mailly, êtes-vous d’accord ?JCM. Je ne dis pas que ça n'arrivera pas demain si Nicolas Sarkozy est réélu. Je ne dis pas que si un autre candidat est élu il n'y aura pas de programme d'austérité. Moi, c'est ma plus grande inquiétude. Quel que soit le résultat de l’élection.

Le vent en poupe?

The final IPSOS poll before the blackout shows Hollande opening up a substantial gap of 3.5 points over Sarkozy in the first round. In the close second-tier contest between Le Pen and Mélenchon, Le Pen is now placed ahead, 16 to 14. Are these shifts real? Who knows? Sunday will tell the tale, and I can stop this mindless horse race reporting, which somebody with a Ph. D. in mathematics ought to know could well be statistical noise. Still, it's only human to speculate, and in these final days of the campaign, perhaps the polls are picking up early signs of a bandwagon effect: Hollande looks like a winner, so some who were going to give their protest vote to Mélenchon may be choosing to go for the gold.

Blanchard, Lagarde of IMF Are Nervous

Olivier Blanchard, chief economist of the IMF, is nervous:

The fund this week upgraded its estimate of global growth in 2012 and 2013 from estimates made in January, but did so with major caveats. “An uneasy calm remains,” said Olivier Blanchard, the International Monetary Fund’s chief economist. “One has the feeling that any moment, things could well get very bad again.”
Christine Lagarde, director of the IMF, darkens the metaphor from "uneasy calm" to "dark clouds on the horizon":

There is a “light recovery blowing in a spring wind” with “dark clouds on the horizon,” Christine Lagarde, managing director of the International Monetary Fund, said Thursday, at the start of meetings here that will focus on Europe’s troubles and global growth. Ms. Lagarde implored world leaders not to become complacent.
Will such warnings, coupled with a Socialist victory in the French elections, be enough to shift the balance of thinking in Europe, and especially Germany, away from austerity and toward emergency measures to fight a relapse into deep recession? It's not at all clear, but "Point n'est besoin d'espérer pour entreprendre, ni de réussir pour persévérer" (William of Orange).

The Youth Vote, Redux

Young people 18-24 are not terribly excited about any of the candidates, according to the latest IFOP survey, and many are still undecided or will abstain. Of those who have made up their minds,
According to the IFOP study, Hollande is the presidential hopeful that young French voters would most likely vote for in the first round (30%, topping Sarkozy’s 28%). “There’s a real right-left split, because the right does well among graduates of the most selective business, management, and public policy schools. Sarkozy also does well among medical and engineering students,” Kraus assessed. “Hollande does better among technical students and those studying humanities.”
As for other candidates, the study found that far-left Mélenchon would get 15% of all student votes, whereas far-right National Front candidate Marine Le Pen would get 11%. A different poll, carried out by leading market research firm CSA for daily newspaper Le Monde, surprisingly had Le Pen leading the pack of candidates among young voters with 26% of the vote.
(h/t Greg Brown)

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Macroeconomics for the Eurozone

An excellent discussion of  what Eurozone macroeconomic policy should be, as opposed to what it is, by Simon Wren-Lewis, here. One can hope that the election of François Hollande will move European and especially German thinking on these questions. If Hollande, as promised, calls for renegotiation of the Merkozy agreement, Merkel, whose thinking may be evolving toward recognition of the need for structural rebalancing, could seize the opportunity, and Rajoy and Monti would probably welcome the opportunity. But German opposition to any suggestion that Germany must sacrifice in order to provide life support to the euro remains strong.

Prediction is hard, especially about the future, as Yogi Berra said, but if I had to guess, I would say that it will take a substantial scare to move the Germans away from the status quo. Perhaps the markets will overreact to Hollande's election and provide such a scare. The danger is that fear initiates a self-fulfilling prophecy, resulting in a downward spiral rather than progress toward a sustainable rebalancing. It's a Scylla and Charybdis moment, which may end on the rocks.

An Attack Video Deconstructed

By Rue89: here.

Campaign Finance

Sophie Meunier on French campaign financing:
Money is a good thing to have in a French electoral campaign, to be sure, but there is not that much money can buy: a good Web team; campaign posters; computers; t-shirts and gadgets; airfares; tolls and fuel for the cars of the party operatives who criss-cross the country; and the organization of campaign rallies -- some small, some massive -- such as Sarkozy's recent meeting on the Place de la Concorde and Hollande's big rally in Vincennes. That's about it.
And yet we keep hearing all these stories about kickbacks from Pakistan, money raised from fake invoices, no-show jobs to finance campaign staffers, suitcases full of cash from Qaddafi, etc. etc. Surely this doesn't all go to finance collections of Japanese prints, post-election fêtes at Fouquet's, or luxurious holidays. So where does the money go?

Looking Ahead to Sunday

Polling will soon be blacked out, so we are near our final glimpse at what the pollsters think the French will do on Sunday. The candidates fall neatly into four tiers: Hollande and Sarkozy virtually neck and neck at about 28 apiece, give or take a point; Mélenchon and Le Pen also neck and neck at around 15; Bayrou by himself in the third tier at 10; and a fourth tier comprising the rest of the field, who will split 4 or 5 percent of the vote among them, so they are non-factors.

So the serious cleavage this year is not between the right and the left but between the first and second tiers. The second-tier candidates both reject the status quo vis-à-vis globalization, Europe, the euro, financial capitalism, etc. They are resisters. The first-tier candidates, despite their differences of emphasis, are adapters. And Bayrou calls them all on dishonesty: he (rightly) insists that the first-tier candidates are not coming clean about their commitments while assailing the second-tier candidates for the irrealism of their proposals.

The fly in the ointment is the large number of undecided voters and self-declared abstainers who may in the end decide to go to the polls: as many as 32% of the the voters fall into this group, an unusually high figure for France, and if they change their minds and vote massively in favor of one candidate or another, Sunday could hold a surprise in store. But this seems unlikely. The abstainers are motivated, I think, by a general dislike of how things have gone over the past five years, so they're not likely to break massively for Sarkozy, and Hollande, with his low-profile campaign, has not given them a reason to think that his government will differ significantly from Sarkozy's except in style, in which respect it will mark a sharp break with current practice. But that's not likely to turn out the disaffected.

So I think that Sunday's result will put Sarkozy and Hollande into the second round, where current polling gives Hollande an almost insuperable advantage. The fear factor does not seem to be jelling into an anti-leftist backlash. Indeed, the Right's effort to portray Hollande as a weak-kneed milquetoast oddly undermines the simultaneous effort to revive fears of a "Socialo-Communist putsch" that will fill the place de la Concorde with workers carrying pikes and calling for the guillotine. A larger than expected Mélenchon vote might alarm a few excitable provincials, but the friends and colleagues of the Mélenchonistes know that most of them are schoolteachers and civil servants committed more to social justice than to hanging the last aristocrat from the nearest lamp post in the bowels of the last priest. Vive la France révolutionnaire et éternelle.

And so François Hollande will become the next president of France without having spelled out very precisely what he intends to do about the most serious immediate problem, the euro crisis, or the most serious long-term problems, restoring French growth and competitiveness and integrating a society whose centrifugal tendencies have become increasingly evident. A 30% anti-Establishment vote is a serious problem for any society, but I think John Vinocur is a bit hyperbolic. Compare France and the US: if you estimate the strength of the Tea Party at 30% and the left-wing critics who think Obama is a Republican in disguise at 25%, you have a much larger "Rejectionist Front" in the US than in France.

The IMF Is Worried

The IMF's annual Global Financial Stability Report is entirely devoted to the parlous state of European finances and particularly to the weakness of European banks. According to the report, those banks will be obliged to "deleverage," that is, reduce the ratio of loans to equity, by €2.6 trillion over the coming year, a bit more than the GDP of France. They will do this by selling assets and reducing lending, and how they go about this will determine how much of a brake on European economic activity will be applied. The combination of reduced lending with reduced spending by governments enforced by the Sarkozy-Merkel agreement is a recipe for a fairly severe recession. It is therefore imperative to rethink the Merkozy accord before it is too late. François Hollande's election could provide an impetus for this, but it is difficult to assess whether Germany is prepared to change course. We shall see, but I fear that, even though German thinking is evolving, change is coming too slowly to avert disaster.

If you don't have the patience to read the report, see the executive summary here.

Back in the Saddle

I am back at my keyboard for the next few days after a very pleasant excursion to Nevada, where I lectured on French politics at the University of Nevada at Las Vegas. I want to thank my host, Prof. Greg Brown, whom I came to know through this blog. Indeed, the connections I've made through the blog have been one of the most rewarding aspects of this activity, and one that I did not anticipate when I began writing on French politics for the Internet five years ago. I also want to take this opportunity to welcome any new Las Vegas-based readers who may have discovered the blog through my visit there. I'm glad to have you with us. And it was instructive to visit your city, a reminder for this life-long Eurocentric Easterner of the diversity of American ways of life. Let a hundred flowers bloom, including the flowers of the desert!

"Ordinary People"

I was struck by this observation by Arun Kapil on his evening among the Le Penistes:
One reason to attend an FN event is to look at the people and talk with a few. There is a long held, widespread view on the left that FN rallies are frequented mainly by neo-Nazi skinheads or other lowlifes and that one risks physical aggression, if not worse. Lefties seem to think that the FN is a French version of the Ku Klux Klan. Even yesterday, before going, an academic friend (and centrist in her political views) wondered if I would have problems taking photos, that I would be met with hostility. But what strikes one almost immediately at an FN event is how ordinary the people are. They’re just regular French people—des Français moyens—, who one crosses on the street and encounters every day. And they’re no less polite or civil than anyone else. They’re mostly middle class, petit bourgeois and even bourgeois. They are utterly non-threatening. [italics added]
Indeed. This was perhaps the most striking thing to me when I once attended an FN rally in Paris. How sedate they seemed, for the most part. Nothing like the venomous mobs that one saw in Mississippi--or Boston, for that matter--during the civil rights struggles in the United States. And certainly far less colorful and vociferous than a Tea Party rally today. Ordinary Frenchmen--and Frenchwomen: I was also struck by the number of women who attended.

But of course the very phrase "ordinary Frenchmen" reminds us of Christopher Browning's "Ordinary Men," a book about a German police battalion involved in the killing of Jews in Eastern Europe. This is an odious amalgame, to be sure. Indeed, the point of Browning's book is that one doesn't need to be an ideologue motivated by racial animosity to become a perpetrator of crimes against humanity. So it's quite mistaken to believe that Marine Le Pen's adherents, who cheer her diatribes against the "immigrant invaders," are dangerous people. The danger is political, not individual. It arises when a faction motivated by ethnic hatred gains control of a state with a monopoly of the means of violence. The discipline imposed by that state can then turn the most of ordinary of men into the systematic killers that Browning describes.

It begins, however, with the different sort of  "ordinary people" whom Arum observed at the Zénith, many of them apparently having come straight from the office, as he remarks, still clad in their workday attire. Many of the men are in suits and ties. These are not marginals, lowlifes, or the dregs of French society. This should give us pause, as similar right-wing populist parties gain adherents across Europe in response to the seriousness of the economic crisis and the seeming inability of national governments to devise a credible way out.

"Ordinary people," when not well-served by governing elites, can become the instruments of the most extraordinary of political regimes.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

The Young and Le Pen

It seems that the poll published in Le Monde showing a dramatic increase in support for Le Pen among voters 18-24 was based on bogus data. The paper has published a correction. This is a relief. (h/t Greg Brown)

Chirac Will Vote for Hollande

Even here in Las Vegas, this news item made waves. Revenge is sweet. Chirac and all his family except Bernadette will reportedly vote for Hollande on Sunday. The final nail in the coffin?

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Bayrou in Marseille

François Bayrou in Marseille rightly observed that large crowds have often been misinterpreted as signs of strong support. He also accused the two leading candidates of conspiring to avoid the real issue facing the country, and again I think he's right, although I don't think Bayrou has faced it either. Because the main issue is not balancing the national budget but restoring French--and European--growth. On that point, Bayrou has no more to offer than the others:
"Ce n'est pas à la dimension des foules qui assistent aux meetings que l'on mesure la vérité des discours qu'on y tient", a raillé François Bayrou. "Il est même assez souvent arrivé dans l'histoire que plus nombreuses soient les foules, plus gros soient les mensonges et plus graves les désillusions", a-t-il ajouté sous les applaudissements de ses supporters. "C'est d'autant plus vrai dans cette campagne présidentielle qui évite la vérité", a-t-il expliqué. "Nicolas Sarkozy et François Hollande mentent de concert, dans une entente implicite. Nicolas Sarkozy ne veut pas que l'on regarde son bilan de près et François Hollande a choisi de multiplier les promesses intenables", a-t-il accusé.

Kapil's Scoops

Arun Kapil follows the action at Vincennes and Concorde. (h/t MYOS)

Resistance Again

See my previous post on the prégnance of the resistance theme in French political culture. After Mélenchon, Sarkozy:
Au terme d'une semaine qui a vu sa dynamique de campagne s'affaisser, devant une marée de drapeaux bleu, blanc, rouge, le challenger Sarkozy, qui jouait là une de ses dernières cartes avant le premier tour, en a donc appelé, dans de grandes envolées, à la "résistance" du peuple français. Multipliant les références historiques, le président-candidat a appelé les quelques dizaines de milliers de personnes présentes (100 000 selon Jean-François Copé, 50 000 officieusement), à "renouveler l'exploit qu'ont accompli les hommes de l'après-guerre".


Blogging will be reduced in coming days as I travel to Las Vegas tomorrow for a lecture at UNLV on the evening of April 17. Readers in the Las Vegas area are cordially invited to attend. After a brief return to Cambridge, I am on the road again next week, to Madison, WI, and Chicago, and then the following week to Washington, DC, Stanford, and finally UCSD. I will try to keep up the blog while traveling, but output will undoubtedly be reduced.

Tiens! Sarkozy Isn't Happy with Eurozone Governance Either

Nicolas Sarkozy, who has mocked François Hollande's pledge to "renegotiate" the "Merkozy accord" imposing a tighter watch on the spending of EU member states, has now launched his own call for a rethinking of the way business is done in the Eurozone. To be sure, Sarkozy aimed his fire at the European Central Bank rather than at the balanced budget treaty, but the thinking is similar: without steps to stimulate growth coupled with accommodation by the ECB, the Eurozone's troubles will increase.

The Resistance Metaphor

Another thing struck me in the reports from Mélenchon's Marseille rally: at several points the large crowd changed "Résistance! Résistance! Résistance!" What the chanters proposed to resist, of course, was the forces of globalization, even more than the Sarkozy government. The metaphor of "resistance" is a very powerful one in French political culture, for obvious reasons. Resistance was not only the raison d'être of Gaullist politics, it was also the chief claim to legitimacy of the Communist Party, "le parti de 75 000 fusillés" (it would be bad form to quibble about the precise number).

I have no wish to quarrel with the legacy of the Resistance. But "resistance" is not a political program, as even the actual Comité National de la Résistance discovered in 1945, when the unity imposed by the existence of a common enemy disintegrated in the face of the problems of postwar government. This is the essence of my quarrel with the Mélenchonistes. Resistance may stem from good instincts, but those instincts must be educated by sound analysis. And legitimate pride in standing in solidarity with the victims of wrongheaded policy must not be allowed to veer toward overweening arrogance toward those who cannot march in lockstep with the resisters. A genuine political program must recognize the existence of choices, not between good and evil, which is the stark choice to which resisters want to reduce every conflict, but between better and worse: "Gouverner, c'est chosir," said Mendès France, and that dictum still holds true.

On the Extreme Left Vote

Jean-Luc Mélenchon's political skills have enabled him to monopolize the extreme left vote, claim the allegiance of many who might have voted Green had the EELV fielded a stronger candidate, and reclaimed some working-class voters who had drifted toward the extreme left. The accomplishment deserves recognition, as do his forthright pronouncements on certain controversial social issues. Yesterday, for example, in Marseille, he praised the France of métissage, the univeralist France that welcomes foreigners and extends to them (in principle) the rights and benefits of citizenship (as commenter Brent rightly reminds me).

Still, his achievement should not be overstated. Suppose he gets 15% of the vote. Here's what I wrote (with George Ross) about the extreme left back in 2009, when Besancenot was its preferred candidate:

The Common Program of the 1970s transformed [the Socialist Party] into a party interested in governing but did not entirely dissipate the conviction of a part of the population (and of the PCF itself) that the best way to protect the interests of the “people of the left” was less to influence government policy than to oppose it. This sentiment, though less powerful than it once was, continues to motivate perhaps 10–15 percent of voters, who cast their votes for the parties of the extreme left, the extreme right, the Communist rump, and even the Greens, in the hope of demonstrating a disruptive potential sufficient to inhibit governments from pursuing reforms deemed to be aimed at dismantling the French social model.
Mélenchon has merely consolidated this vote and achieved, according to polls, its consistent high-water mark of 15%. If he goes beyond that, if he wins 16 or 17% on April 22, I will have to reconsider and suggest that something significant is stirring in the depths. But at the moment, I see simply a reshuffling of the deck.

The quote if from What's Left of the Left: