Friday, January 27, 2017

C'est la faute de la fatalité

Les vertus farouches font les moeurs atroces. -- Saint-Just

François Fillon, the candidate whose attempt to make himself the incarnation of virtue propelled him past his LR rivals Sarkozy (qui traînait des casseroles) and Juppé (ex-con for peculations not unlike those of which Fillon now stands accused), is sinking like a stone in the polls (h/t Arun Kapil). His decline began even before the scandal broke, as the harshness of his platform entered the consciousness of voters outside the LR circle and he began to backtrack on the more radical elements of his program, thus alienating even some within the circle. And then the scandal--the deliciously named Penelopegate (pronounced in French pen-uh-lopp-gate, which to the English ear lends a certain jocular touch to the whole business).

It's hard to see how Fillon escapes from this trap, since even if he can persuade investigators that his wife did in fact "faire des synthèses de l'actualité" for him while he was a deputy, his suppléant will have to explain why he continued to pay Penelope nearly 100,000 euros a year, far more than parliamentary assistants are normally paid, after Fillon became a minister.
En effet, il faut bien préciser : Mme Fillon a travaillé pour son mari en tant qu’assistante parlementaire entre 1998 et 2002. Puis, quand il est devenu ministre, elle est restée l’assistante de son suppléant, devenu député, M. Joulaud. C’est à ce moment que sa rémunération a atteint 7 900 euros brut, ce qui est très au-dessus du salaire standard des assistants. M. Joulaud est resté pour le moment très discret sur la réalité de ce travail et sur l’importance de la rémunération. C’est l’un des aspects les plus flous de cette affaire, que la justice devra élucider.
And then there is the matter of the three book reviews she wrote for La Revue des deux mondes for another 100K (as a sometime book reviewer, I can attest that this is above the normal pay scale).

So Penelopegate is likely to have inversé la courbe of the Fillon meteor and brought it back down to earth.

Which leaves the presidential race where?

Three hypotheses:
1. LR recognize the extent of the disaster, somehow manage to disencumber themselves of the candidate, and nominate, say, Juppé, who had been their best hope (?) to begin with. I don't even know if this can be done under the party by-laws, but it would saddle the replacement candidate, whoever it might be, with enormous baggage (of which Juppé has enough of his own). Or again, Fillon might voluntarily remove himself from the race (as he has said he would if he is mis en examen).

2. Fillon stays in, but his voters desert him in large numbers, mainly for Le Pen but some for Macron. The net result is likely to be a big boost for Le Pen in the first round.

3. Bayrou is tempted by Fillon's mortal wound to get into the race, creating even further chaos.

Meanwhile, the Socialist primary debate on Wednesday was of remarkably high quality. This has to be said, because until now I have been quite critical of Valls's apparent lack of preparation for the campaign. But on Wednesday he was excellent, in command of himself as well as his dossiers and demonstrating a gift for sustained argument and forensic skill not previously on display. But Hamon was also superb, adroitly defending his novel eco-socialism with studies and statistics galore. It may be that both men are campaigning not for the presidency but rather for the right to define the future of the Socialist Party, which is going to have to rebuild itself after the Hollande debacle. There were two sharply different visions of the party on display: a conventional party of government and responsibility rather more forcefully and articulately embodied by Valls than by Hollande, or an unconventional and even utopian party of conviction designed to govern a future of low-growth, increased leisure time, and ecological sensibility coupled with a barely adumbrated scheme for combining a modicum of redistributive justice with a multiplication of riches thanks to the genius of homo technologicus. If it all sounds rather farfelu, Hamon nevertheless made it seem almost seductive, while Valls managed to restrain his pugilistic instincts long enough to appear uncharacteristically warm if not altogether fuzzy. I could almost remember the days when I felt warmly about le Parti socialiste.

Another thing that emerged from the debate is that Macron will not be allowed to get away with the vagueness of his current program for very long. He will have to take on one or the other of these two Socialists at some point, and both showed themselves to be formidable debaters, who will not allow him to coast along behind his friendly face and appealing smile. Fillon's apparent collapse makes it clear that the left is not at all barred from making the second round against Le Pen. But it is still not clear which of the three elements of the left and center-left--Macron, the eventual PS candidate, or Mélenchon--will prove more effective in advancing the flag.

Penelopegate has suddenly changed the complexion of the race. And there may be still more surprises to come.


bernard said...

Well put. I would only add to your review of the debate that, in contrast to hopes and predictions of the press which is 90% conservative, both men were also quite civil.

Anyhow, the Beatles used to have a song about presidential elections: the long and winding road!

Lois said...

Thank you for your blog, mr. Goldhammer. I am a Spanish national who only very recently started to follow french politics and I have found your blog to be a great companion.

So what's your take on Macron? His unflinching support for the European project seems to me exceptional in EU politics. In general, politicians from the left and right seem to distance themselves from the EU, partially siding with popular discontent when they see fit. Spanish politicians have been using Brussels as a scapegoat for years.

So what is it about Macron that made him so successful? He supports more integration, refers to "true sovereignty" as EU sovereignty, and uncompromisingly praises Merkel's border policy (something that not even Merkel herself dares to do at this point) Isn't it interesting that he is sweeping votes on a discourse that was supposedly extremely unpopular? Or are we perhaps wrong to assume that discontent about the EU is widespread? Macron's "globalism" will certainly be a target of Le Pen, but perhaps Macron has insured himself by embracing his globalism so explicitly, wearing it as a badge of honor rather than something to hide (which is arguably Fillon's position, a "globalisme honteux" in the words of Marine. However, there is no doubt his campaign is built on contradictions, no least among them that of being a classical member of the elite fashioning himself as an outsider. There is no doubt he will have to be more clear as to what is it that he wants to do, but it seems remarkable to me that a candidate has managed to gather crowds around the EU flag.

Rédaction Contreligne said...

I dissent. The debate was good by usual French socialist standards - that'all. Valls has guts, that's à fact but he is doomed to lose as Hamon is closer to the gravity center of the PS. At any rate, none of them will reach the second run, and they will never have a direct debate with Macron. I bet on a Macron / Le Pen. St. A.

Rédaction Contreligne said...

I dissent. The debate was good by usual French socialist standards - that'all. Valls has guts, that's à fact but he is doomed to lose as Hamon is closer to the gravity center of the PS. At any rate, none of them will reach the second run, and they will never have a direct debate with Macron. I bet on a Macron / Le Pen. St. A.

Tim said...

As I have said before there are definitely parallels between Macron and Justin Trudeau. So yes a pro Globalist candidate can win.

Anonymous said...

I agree, the debate was excellent -in fact, astounding compared to the (US) Republican campaign's "debates" and the American presidential debates too - but even compared to usual French political debates, it was better than expected, well-articulated, and clear, just like the Fllon/Juppé debate. Both debates were "primaries done right" in my opinion.
People around me say the Fillon reveal came from Sarkozy, who will expect to be called back now that Juppé has said he had no interest in being also-ran-swoops-in.

Tim said...

After watching the coverage of this on France 24 I am convinced that if this is some type of dirty tricks by Sarkozy(And that is what several commentators on FR 24 have alluded too) whether or not the allegations are accurate or illegal this will not help any of the "establishment" parties. In particular while I think it is too early to make any predictions about Macron you are definitely starting to see what a path to victory "might" "might" be for Macron. I also make note of Macron's statements attack Trump and Theresa May earlier today.

Cincinna said...

@Tim et al: No dirty tricks, IMO. The French electorate has extremely limited choices, Marine Le Pen and whomever comes in second. If it is any of the candidates already in the race, or a wild card like Bayrou, MLP will come in first, and then defeat any of them in the second round.

If you all have had your eye on social media recently, the trending is obviously with Sarko. Faced with a conventional politician, now viewed as a corrupt uber-functionaire, Fillon, and the Matador, and assorted unconventional or far leftists like Macron and Melanchon, there is the obvious. Marine Le Pen, whose father, the even more odious, but politically smarter JMLP, who is using Twitter in a very concise manner of targeted military strikes, and there is Sarko.

Bernadette Chirac, one of the most powerful political forces on the Right, presciently predicted after Sarko's defeat in the LR primaries, that the french would be crawling to him, begging him to save France from an ignominious Socialist catastrophe or a trip into the uncharted neo-fascist world of Marine Le Pen.

I have always been a Sarkozy supporter, since he was Mayor of Neuilly-sur-Seine and exhibited a sang-froid and nerves of steel, in the Kindergarted hostage/ child rescue tragedy. After reading his book, La France Pour La Vie, I am even more so. He has an unconventional mind, an intellectual flexibility and ability, a non-politician way of analysis and thinking outside of the box, to find solutions to these 21st century problems that plague and threaten our civilization.

We are living in a new political reality, with new challenges and political/party cleavages, and alliances built on quicksand.

I think Nicolas Sarkozy is the only candidate who could win against MLP. No guarantees at this point, but he would definitely have the best shot.

Cincinna said...


Sorry I missed your comment before I wrote my post.

Juppé is "a convicted felon" in American legal parlance. Fillon is sinking like a box of rocks. In this game of musical chairs, there are only two seats. Every poll tells us that, as of today, MLP will be in chair #1, and her star is rising. The question is who gets the second chair, and who could possible wipe her out.

FWIW Nobody is seriously watching Macron, and Theresa May's stock is rising. Since his inauguration, Donald Trump's popularity has risen to 57% and still rising. Mainly, IMO, due to the shock of people who watched him hit the ground running, and start acting to fulfill his campaign promises, something we haven't seen before,

Bernard said...

only Fillon can remove himself from the race, though there can be political pressures of course. To do so would be an admission of guilt and thus he will not at least until the investigation is finished. By then it will be too late to mount a serious presidential bid even for your hero. He could of course stage an outside run now but knows only too well his unfavourables.besides, where would the financing - sensitive subject where Sarkozy and presidential elections are concerned - come from? Lovely Carla perhaps? Truth is, your hero is much better off sitting this one out. Drones are a plenty.

Anonymous said...

Fillon was caught unawares by shifting public mores. There is an interesting parallel here with Polanski who quite unexpectedly had to retract from presiding the Césars -the very same week. Four years ago these issues about Fillon and Polanski would have been brushed aside. Its a form of americanization (moralization) of public life accelerated by the increasing discontent of the French with their elites. To the extent that this leads straight to Trump (or Le Pen) this is not a welcome development.


Art Goldhammer said...

Philippe, No, you've forgotten that there was quite an outcry against Polanski some years ago. You can even read about it on this blog. Just do a search. And Fillon himself denounced Xavier Tiberi for seeking a fake job for his wife and demanded his expulsion from the party in 1999. Look it up. The Tiberi case was one of his claims to being a more ethical politician than the rest.

Art Goldhammer said...

Cincinna, Your defense of Sarkozy is rather amusing given the number of cases he has hanging over him. If Juppé is a "convicted felon," the best you can say for Sarkozy is that he is an unconvicted one. I find it hard to imagine him being brought in as Mr. Clean if Fillon goes down.

Cincinna said...

Art, I understand what you're saying, and a disgraced and culpable Fillon, in the eyes of the french electorate, presents just another complication in the selection of a not very dynamic, innovative thinking, conventional candidate. A sort of Murphy's Law candidate. He's obviously an extremely experienced, competent technocrat, but with no new ideas, really doesn't seem to understand the problems facing France and Europe at this time.

NS has been tried in the press, examined in the French judicial system ad nauseum, and they still have nothing. I don't find that people are looking for someone "purer than Caesar's wife, " but someone who can defeat MLP, very real threat to the Republic.

My main concern is who, if anyone can beat Marine Le Pen.

Our own election is over. Nothing can, or will change the results. Donald Trump will be President of the United States for four or eight years. Of course, we don't know at this point how a Donald Trump presidency will turn out to resolve the problems facing America economically, internationally. and socially, but he is undeniably a powerful force, an indefatigable leader, who has shown a willingness to discuss with everyone, even those who don't agree with him. He has the ability to play chess, if you will, and think and act outside the box, not a common quality in a traditional political leader. The fact that he's not a politician, is, IMO, an asset not a default. I view him as a transitional President. I think most people were willing to give them a chance, because of he is basically a pragmatist, not an idea logic. The lack of any candidate on the other side, who could be viewed as dynamic enough, and relatively honest, and a rejection in general, here, of both the Democrat and GOP elitist parties. For the most part a Democrat party that has moved to the far left, and a GOP out of touch with regular people. Looking at an Electoral map of the US, this is not where the American people are, nor where they wish to go.

I am surprised every day by people that I work with, mostly high-level scientific medical and forensic people, like doctors and surgeons, with whom I never discussed politics, but now are admitting they voted for Donald Trump.

My heart is with my own country, the country of my birth and roots, but also with the country of my heart and heritage, where I have family and friends and colleagues.

I'm praying that people will not be seduced by the unrealizable promises of the siren call of MLP.

I truly fear, in the absence of a powerful candidate on the right, that MLP will be able to win, and will change the face of France, and all of Europe as well.

Anonymous said...


Re. Polanski :

Pourquoi la polémique éclate-t-elle en 2017, alors que Roman Polanski a été primé 4 fois aux César depuis 1977 ? [...] Pendant des années, les demandes extradition de la justice américaine se multiplient mais échouent. Roman Polanski enchaîne les films, les succès et les prix. Le monde du cinéma et le public ne semblent pas prendre en compte cette affaire. En 1991 il est nommé président du jury du festival de Cannes et personne n’y trouve à redire. [..] Le réalisateur sera encore primé une quatrième fois pour "la Venus à la Fourrure " en 2014, devenant ainsi le seul réalisateur à avoir été primé quatre fois dans cette catégorie. Là encore, ce prix ne suscite aucun tollé.

Re. Fillon : I see no better explanation for the recklessness of his action than his belief that they wer taciltly accepted.


Tim said...

The issue as I see it is it is almost inevitable Trump will start baring his protectionist fangs towards the French aerospace sector. Simply put there is too much bad blood between the US and France in this area even among people who consider themselves pro free trade. When this occurs who is going to stand with the Airbus workers in Toulouse and Bordeaux. I can't see it being MLP with her praise of Trump style protectionism. Will it be Macron? Or either Fillon or Sarkozy?

Additionally the odds are very high that China, Mexico, and the Middle East are going to send some orders Airbus' way to send Trump a message. Again what will MLP's response be to this obvious degree of good luck for France.

Passerby said...

*** RANT ON ***

I can't blame the anonymous person who started this scandal. Most likely it wasn't motivated by noble reasons, but as a citizen I'd rather by informed of any abuse by public servants or elected officials.

I'm not naive. I realize that whoever rose at the top of a party's leadership certainly has an over-inflated ego and probably accumulated their share of skeletons in the closet. So these scandals are not new, nor is it surprising that politicians run for office despite murky backgrounds.
Yet, these scandals drive me absolutely mad. Particularly when the political consequences could be so disastrous.

I never thought that Marine LP had any real chance of winning this election. Especially once Sarkozy had been kept away from re-running. In my view her only (but very) possible success was be to grab the first place in the first round. But with the left's farce and now this Fillon scandal, one has to wonder if the republican parties are not actively trying to get her elected...

To draw a parallel, it's like powerlessly watching notorious drunks driving away. You may understand the process that drags someone into alcoholism, but you can only be enraged by their reckless behavior that will inevitably lead to a drama.

*** RANT OFF ***

FrédéricLN said...

Well, comparisons with the USA are fine. Let us imagine that a duller Bernie Sanders won the Democrat primary, that some John Kasich with more old-fashioned, pro-business agenda, won the GOP primary, and that both parties' candidates sum up to 30% of the vote prospects, leaving 70% to wild uncertainty.

And that's why I stand with a candidate polls just ignore, and still think, 3 months away from the vote, he is a serious outsider. I was surprised and happy to hear the very seasoned André Bercoff think the same.

All players in the previous round have been knocked out (but François Fillon — so far).

New round starts off.

Bernard said...

I heard fleetingly on a radio that Tuesday evening is teaser night and Wednesday morning is coming out day for a certain weekly well worth reading these days. ..

Bernard said...

500K? Sorry, I mispoke, I meant 900K...