Sunday, October 30, 2016

La force tranquille

Alain Juppé appears to hold a commanding lead over Nicolas Sarkozy as the primary of the right draws near. He has run a quiet campaign, preferring to allow Sarkozy to self-destruct by veering hard right. The Sarkozystes have been reduced to whining about the unfairness of the primary rules, which allow voters of the center and left to cross over to vote for Juppé or, more accurately, to block Sarkozy.

Bizarrely, Sarkozy has been lashing out against centrist François Bayrou. Perhaps he thinks this will enhance his credibility with the right wing of his party. Now Bayrou has fired back, and Juppé has come to his defense. Bayrou's statement is worth reading in full. I was particularly struck by one passage in which Bayrou sets forth his conception of le peuple. In this populist moment, with all sorts of politicians claiming to speak for the one and only true people, Bayrou takes care to indicate that the People are never one, they are many. Unity emerges from the blending of the many--e pluribus unum, as the American motto reads--that is, from the reconciliation of numerous divergent points of view, not from the negation of the opposition:

J’affirme au contraire que ce peuple que Sarkozy n’a jamais approché, au milieu duquel il n’a jamais vécu, avec lequel il n’a jamais passé ni une semaine, ni un jour sans caméras, ni en une ferme, ni en un quartier ouvrier, ni en une famille d’enseignants, ni chez des artisans, le peuple chez nous, qui y sommes nés, qui y avons grandi et travaillé, le peuple n’est pas ce qu’il veut en faire. Le peuple, contrairement à ce qu’il croit, n’est pas une masse qu’il convient de fouetter de passions et de prendre par le bas, par les instincts, par les mots qu’on jette avec un rictus, par l’excitation contre les boucs émissaires que l’on livre l’un après l’autre en pâture. C’est le contraire.
It's a salutary reminder in the Age of Trump et cie.

Juppé has thus far taken a line well to the right of center. No doubt he felt he had to in order to win the primary. I hope he makes a course correction before the general, but nothing could be less certain. A lot depends on how the left primary goes. If Juppé finds himself running against a centrist (Valls, Macron, or, who knows? even Hollande, though the president's star has sunk even further in recent weeks), he will probably stay well to the right. If it's Mélenchon or Montebourg, though, he may reconsider. If he's nominated, he will be the odds-on favorite to win, and then we'll see how he chooses to govern.

My compliments to my blogging confrère Arun Kapil, who not only drew my attention to Bayrou's statement but also insisted confidently throughout the campaign that Sarkozy would not succeed in his comeback attempt. I wasn't as sure as Arun, but his confidence now seems to have been justified.

Du rififi chez les Frontistes

The Front National being a family business, it's hardly surprising that it should be the scene of repeated family quarrels. Marine Le Pen, having booted her father, is now having to confront her niece Marion Maréchal-Le Pen, the apple of her grandfather's eye. Marion wanted to do a prime time TV show with David Pujadas and Lea Salamé; Marine said no; Marion complied. For now the rift has been patched over.

The younger Le Pen, restless and ambitious, will bear watching throughout the presidential campaign. Will Marine assign her a role? Will she play it if assigned? She is too canny to think of striking out on her own at her tender age. She needs Marine more than Marine needs her. But she commands the loyalty of a significant fraction of the party, which Marine does not want to alienate unnecessarily, despite her differences with her niece. It will be interesting to watch how they negotiate this pass.

Friday, October 14, 2016

A President Shouldn't Say That!

"A president shouldn't say that." Was ever a book more accurately titled? François Hollande seems to have driven the final nail into his own coffin with the release of this volume of "confessions" to 2 journalists from Le Monde. What was he thinking?

The Socialist Party is not happy. « Imaginez l’enterrement de votre grand-mère alors qu’elle est toujours vivante, et vous aurez une idée du climat général » at meetings of the party group supposed to be planning the president's re-election campaign.

Not long ago I asked a member of the government what the climate was like inside the cabinet. "What climate?" he said. The implication was that there is no longer much communication inside the government, let alone solidarity. It's every man for himself as the ship sinks.

Why would Hollande descend to discussing his presidency and private life with journalists as though he were sharing a coffee at the Café de Commerce? Perhaps it was a botched exercise in pipolisation, an effort to appear once again le président normal he promised to be in reaction against the hyperpresidency of Sarkozy.

If so, it was a miscalculation. What his few remaining supporters need now is a rationale to re-elect this all-too-normal president. He needs to show some grasp of the reasons for his failure to persuade the nation that a coherent strategy underlies the apparent directionlessness of his presidency. Instead, he has provided proof that he spent far more time schmoozing with reporters than with his own ministers.

I think he's finished.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

My Great Depression

New Prospect column here.

Another Useless Poll

Until the field is sorted out, it's difficult to do meaningful presidential polling in France, with its multiparty system, two-round voting, and primarying required of some candidates but not others. So the pollsters resort to asking people which political personalities they have a good, mediocre, or bad opinion of. Paris Match just published one. Alain Juppé, who should be called the Venerable Juppé, not only because of his age but also because of his rebirth as a quasi-saintly figure who stands, de Gaulle-like, above the political fray, tops the charts. He is followed, naturally, by three names who benefit from being literally out of the fray: Bayrou, Raffarin, and Aubry. And then come the surprises: Mélenchon followed by Fillon. Mélenchon apparently enjoys a high rating among those working-class voters who have deserted the left for Marine Le Pen. Not surprising. JLM has been working hard to bring them back. Hollande? He's well back in the peloton, behind Brice Hortefeux (!) and Stéphane Le Foll (!!). How much more bizarre can a poll get. If you don't like Hollande, what would you see in his long-time toady Le Foll? A head of hair and an impressive physique?

But fear not. Hollande is ready!

Monday, October 3, 2016

Pithiest Political Commentary of the Week

The prize goes to J.-C. Cambadélis, commenting on Arnaud Montebourg's decision to participate in the PS primary after all:

« Mélenchon lui a pris ses voix et Macron la lumière, il lui restait quoi comme choix ? » Jean-Christophe Cambadélis, le premier secrétaire du Parti socialiste, résume à sa façon le dilemme d’Arnaud Montebourg. L’ancien ministre de l’économie a annoncé, dimanche 2 octobre, qu’il participera finalement à la primaire organisée par le PS les 22 et 29 janvier 2017.