Friday, April 14, 2017

Jamais Deux Sans Trois: France Slouches Toward the Unknown

When I woke up this morning, I reached for my tablet and was confronted with a bulletin from Le Monde announcing that the top four candidates are converging toward a dead heat on April 23. There is no longer any certainty about what the final round will look like, and all the momentum is with Mélenchon. Fortunately, I will be away from my computer for the rest of the day. I need a little respite from the anxiety.

At Harvard recently, the French political analyst Dominique Moïsi evoked the expression "Jamais deux sans trois" and asked whether France would fit into the Brexit-Trump-? scenario or the more heartening Austria-Netherlands-? scenario. With its usual orneriness, France seems headed for something sui generis: a match between populisms of the left and right, not yet seen anywhere. Sans pareil.

But for Americans who wish that Clinton-Trump had been Sanders-Trump and believe that Sanders would have emerged victorious, make no mistake: Jean-Luc Mélenchon is no Bernie Sanders. And he's no bumbling Jeremy Corbyn either. Since he seemed out of the running for so long, his program has received very little scrutiny, and with strict equal time limits now in force on the media and no more debates before April 23, it's unlikely that late-coming Mélenchon enthusiasts will receive much in the way of an antidote to the heady elixir they've been drinking. This election is veering into unknown territory.


bert said...

Look at his surete du choix number. Worse than Macron's.
That makes me cautious about whether this is real or not.
I remember Cleggmania in 2010. There's absolutely no reason anyone else here should - but I mention it as an example of a candidate-specific poll surge, triggered initially by a good debate performance, with the polls and the media narrative mutually reinforcing one another, that utterly failed to turn up in the actual voting results.

That's not a prediction, I hasten to say. But 10 days is a long time to talk about nobody but Melonballs. Another twist before the first round is highly possible.

Anonymous said...

Implicit in the recent "dans un mouchoir" polls is a possible Fillon win. Media reports quote his campaign team as saying a Trump-type hidden vote could vault him to victory in the first round. I don't know how others feel about this hypothesis.

Should Fillon pull it off, however, he would take office as the politically weakest head of state/government anywhere in recent memory. Hard to feel optimistic about his term under such conditions.


Michael Lejman said...

A few of the analysts, like Harry Enten and Nate Silver, here who follow the methodology of polling and data collection (ex. contrasting the media narrative of disbelief with the more predictive history of effective polling on Brexit and Trump) have noted the convergence of French election polls and are suspicious of a "herding" effect. Recent polls that show the election so close among the four candidates are far more similar than their sample sizes and margins of error should allow. This happened with Brexit and the most accurate polling came with the sudden shift to a slight "leave" majority a few days before the vote.

Anonymous said...

Realistically, do Le Pen, Macron or Melenchon have enough people to win control in the legislative elections as well? Or are we looking at an immediate co-habitation in mid-June (and thus who allies with whom?)?

Anonymous said...

Point taken on the sûreté du choix numbers; nevertheless if I had to bet I would bet that Mélenchon comes in first. His numbers are going in the right direction while the frontrunners' are falling and equal coverage rules make it almost impossible for anything to shake the race up between now and the round one vote. (I notice Le Monde is giving prominent coverage to the Venezuelan opposition, however!)

I agree that JLM is different from Sanders. I don't think that he is too terribly different from Corbyn, except that he cuts a much better figure in the media and that he might actually win power.

brent said...

With all due respect to M. Moisi, "Jamais deux ..." is not the greatest analytical tool. Nationalists in Austria, Britain, and the US represented about half the vote--a little more, a little less--and probably a lot more than half in the Netherlands, where VVD and the CDU veered sharply right into Wilders-land to co-opt a fraction of his nationalist voters. In all these elections the anti-nationalist side was represented by a neo-liberal centrist position (Clinton, Remain/Cameron, Rutte/CDU/D66, the Austrian labor and conservative parties), and also a left alternative: Corbyn, Groenlinks, Sanders, the Austrian Greens. In France the proportions are different, with the neo-liberals Macron and Fillon presenting very different faces, and the left showing surprising strength, but the central question remains: as the centrist status quo fails large numbers of voters, variously, in all 6 countries, will they retrench around a shrunken nationalism, or reach forward toward a progressive, eco-friendly, egalitarian alternative? That still inchoate alternative may not win office (beyond the Austrian presidency) this year, but in the long run it's the key to defeating the disastrous nationalists.

Anonymous said...

You consistently seem to do this when writing; however I'm interested in what your qualms with JLM actually are. It seems you have some pretty large opinions and points against him, yet you never seem to actually say what they are.

bert said...

JLM is a protest candidate. That's where he lines up most comfortably alongside Corbyn and Sanders.
Piketty found a nice way to gently suggest his approach on Europe is a carcrash waiting to happen. Europe and tax (100%? Really?) strike me as two good reasons to view a vote for JLM as a protest vote. And, in the current circumstances, a self-indulgence.

jules said...


That's what you got out of that Lemonde article ? are you sure you posted the right link ?

And, I think jlm's plan b gets muddied in the press. Remember, plan a is to stay, plan b is, i think it's clear, leverage. He's not a straight 'frexiter' like mlp, and claiming that is glossing over the details.

The 100% tax thing does indeed seem nutty... I'm all for higher taxes on the rich, but that's not the same ballpark. Presumably a mix of appeal to the poor and a place to bargain from. Believe that, or believe that jlm wants to turn france into cuba, as many people seem to ...

In light of the heavy criticism of France insoumise in this election, I have no idea how people of the blogosphere can call Macron such a reasonable candidate. The guy is the status quo in the flesh. And the status quo is more of a nightmare than i think gets credit on here, maybe because most of us (myself included) have good jobs...

One of the main ideas of this Roger Cohen nyt oped is that France just doesn't know how good they have it, and should quit whining. How original. Talk about out of touch, I don't think columnist has spent much time outside of the Trocadéro. This is the kind of Macron supporter that makes me feel it's a camp with insufficient empathy or understanding.

bert said...

You might have to explain to me why a bolivarian populist is outsourcing his EU tactical thinking to the finest minds of the Bullingdon Club. In fact it doesn't even rise to that level. It's Cameron, but orders of magnitude worse.
His demands would require the rewriting not just of Maastricht but also of the Single European Act and large chunks of the founding treaties too. He's wanting to overturn decades of ECJ precedent on state aid and protectionism, and simultaneously force the Germans to swallow a very public defeat on fiscal policy. His leverage for doing this is the threat to cause a crisis?

It was a bit tongue in cheek for me to ascribe my views to Piketty, whose purpose was after all to give Mélenchon a second-round endorsement. But the kindest reading of his comment about Plan A needing more work is to see it as constructive criticism. It certainly wasn't praise.

I hadn't seen that Cohen piece. Krugman wrote a couple of things this past week about French eurozone membership, along the lines of 'always keep tight hold of Nurse, for fear of finding something worse'.

Jules said...

There's a view that I find a little bit cynical that changing Europe is unpragmatic. But one must remember that the ECB is accountable to no-one. Not a single European elected official has power in the ECB. That's a serious problem.

A lot of energy is spent talking about JLM and tax rates, his populism, how he's a protest vote in the style of Trump and MLP. And that's worth talking about. But 2 big parts of his programme don't get the coverage they deserve:

1. how energy and climate are at the center of his plan- could any issue be more important than this one?

2. how he aims to address France and EU's problem with democracy. The presidential monarchy and the EU's gross abuse of unaccountable power are a problem in their own right, but also part of the reason we find ourselves in such a torn Europe.

I agree as I have before, this point 2 sits unfortunately next to a nostalgic and creepy affinity for fatigue-wearing Latin American revolutionaries.

Bert, may I ask, do you live in France or the US? I live in the US, and I find it difficult to get a sense of what his French voters 'feel' like. He very well might be a more burn-it-down candidate than I'm giving credit.

bert said...

I'm British, Jules.
I post here fairly regularly - hard not to at the moment with a campaign like this one - and more than once have chipped in about the problems of current eurozone management, and the inadequacies of Macron's response. If I had a vote, it wouldn't go to Macron for this reason. I don't see anyone else I'd be happy supporting, however, certainly not JLM, who would take problems - domestic and continental - and turn them into crises. He'd be fighting on several fronts simultaneously - against Parisian elites, against European partners, against EU monetary, administrative and judicial authorities, against domestic and international business, and against the bond markets. The mercy perhaps is that his capitulation would likely be swift. What kind of mess there'd be left behind though we can only speculate. Not a Sixth Republic, I wouldn't think. Perhaps not much of a Fifth one either.

Regarding 'feel', I was last in France just before new year so discount my reading accordingly. Looking back in the thread, I don't think Brent was helped by the one-dimensional nature of the left-right approach. The anti-establishment message of the candidates on the extremes suggests to me there's more of a potential crossover between their supporters ahead of the second round than one might suppose. Particularly among more downscale voters.

Anonymous said...

Where do Harry Enten and Nate Silver discuss French polls? I'm curious to see what they make of the current polls...

Anonymous said...

Paraphrasing, but 'glow from Paris, doom from the province ' is a big clue.

Anonymous said...

The reasoning 'we've tried everything, let's try something else ' that benefited Lepen is now benefiting Melenchon. Fed up, beat up working class voters don't care what the platform is, they want to get rid of the same old same old' Both MLP and Melenchon would do the job.
Someone explained to me 'they never do what they promise anyway'.
'they gonna make you spit blood' had much impact.

France2 tried to highlight his 'union bolivarienne' which evoked some kind of tintin album to me; based on the short report, it is something entirely different, but due to the 'equal time ' rule they didn't have time to explain why it should worry me more than a fondness for Peruvian hats.

Melenchon is like a well-read grandfather who happens to dislike the US and have a suspect fondness for Putin. Since the Hollander tax wasn't constitutional, the Melenchon confiscation will not be either.
Here, people are trying to find 'procurations' (absentee ballots??) , some in a desperate scramble - and how many more will realize this too late? Western France, which traditionally votes left or moderate, and has resisted the siren calls of the FN, will be on Easter Holidays (Spring break). I bet quite a few people there will not vote because of it.

jules said...

Do you really believe that ? Really ? Nobody has any idea what would happen if the Euro were to change, and pragmatists of the professional class who insist things would burn if things were changed ignore the fact that the elites are doing a piss poor job as it is. For most people the building's already on fire.

Like an anon commentor above, I get frustrated when folks don't even talk about the policies and politics of non-majority candidates, but rather write them off with contempt. What is your vision ? As probably one of the foule you think is being duped, all I hear from your corner is the ras-le-bol but nothing underneath.

I mean this honestly because I am in a place of serious fear about the future for France but I also feel some serious bewilderment.

bert said...

Hitting the bookmark for Frederic's link, looking at the three columns next to each other - Mélenchon, Hamon, Macron - if you compare the numbers at the beginning of March (11%, 15%, 24% respectively) with the numbers now (20%, 8%, 23%), then it looks like you might get a reasonable answer to the question of Mélenchon's ceiling if you can answer the question of Hamon's floor. Easier said than done of course. I said earlier that I'm cautious about how these poll numbers translate into votes. For one thing it's surprising, in such an important election, how often you hear from people that they won't be voting at all.
The latest real-world results put the Dutch Labour party at 5%, for what it's worth.

Anonymous said...

Perhaps you'll hear the PS brass as well as Hollande lauding Hamon a bit when they realize he may not hit 5% and thus bankrupt the party. All the party brass want to be in the 'legislative' elections and while they want the Hamon branch destroyed, they don't want the party destroyed.
Of course, one week before the election may be too late for this to dawn on them.

I did notice that Segolene Royal praised Melenchon's rising success.
And what if the Hamon branch joined 'Never Down France*', despite obvious key differences, on Europe especially, then there'd be a problem for all the elephants** that threw their lot with Macron. Macron won't take former ministers but has said nothing of old senators, old mayors, etc.

The 'front bolivarien' thing is getting some play in the news and on facebook but it's so weird that I don't think it truly scares people. The reaction I most often read on FB is 'they don't even know what's in their platform ' rather than on the actual point.

* 'Unsubmissive France' sounds good in French but dumb in English so I tried to find some equivalent.
** love that old socialists are called elephants (old, slow, heavy but supposedly wise-?-.) In the US, our mascots are all trying to look lithe and fierce, even seagulls. The only exception is Santa Cruz 's Banana Slugs :).


Anonymous said...


Never Down France? That isn't idiomatic English. I suggest: Mighty France, Indomitable France or France Unbowed. But Foolish France would be the best translation.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, I was thinking 'Never Down' but 'France' was missing, so I added it in. And upon re-reading (post-posting) realized it made no sense.
I like 'France Unbowed '. I'll thus adopt it if you don't mind.
It's not 'mighty' that's for sure. Basically they mean always ready to rise and fight. Less incendiary than 'revolution ' but still the same idea. A song I studied was 'ma France' by Jean Ferrari and that's it exactly.
'foolish ' isn't it, in that all political parties'ideas sound foolish to those who belong to another group. All people who believe in a politician during elections are foolish but it's better to believe and be foolish, than believe in nothing and be bitter :)
For the record, I don't support Melenchon.

brent said...

@ myos, anon re: English translation of la France insoumise

Tricky problem. I am surprised to find a wealth of unflattering connotations: refractory (child), draft-dodger, or even 'rebellious,' which some on the left are choosing but to me suggests an attitude without a plan.

I like 'France unbowed'--dignified, pretty literal, but perhaps more negative in English--and I also like 'Indomitable France' (but fear it sounds as old-fashioned as JLM himself at times).

So I vote for 'Insurgent France', which I feel captures the spirit of the 'citizen revolution'--but I would really like our Master Translator to weigh in on this, quick, in case the Anglophone world needs a definitive answer next week.

Art Goldhammer said...

I like indomitable, but perhaps France Undaunted would also do. When Fadela Amara's Ni Putes Ni Soumises was in the news, I used to translate as Neither Whores nor Doormats, but that was a bit flippant. There was a time when people referred to "plucky little Czechoslovakia," but I think la Grande Nation would not stand for being referred to as "Plucky Little France." To capture the actual character of a lot of JLM's sallies, I would suggest "Insolent France." And for his unspeakable assertion that electing any of his rivals would force France to "cracher du sang," I would say that falls under the head of France Unhinged. I do like the symbol phi for the FI movement, although my ultimate hope is that la France fera bientôt fi du mouvement FI ainsi que du candidat FI-llon.

bernard said...

re-translating, what Melenchon's people really had in mind, I suspect, was Asterix, le village des gaulois. I know it makes it sound a bit MLP but that's no coincidence if you ask me.

Nathaniel said...

American living in France here.

I'm surprised by how many people (including Art and Bert) have been dismissing JLM as a "protest candidate" à la Le Pen. While this may certainly play a part in his rise, I think there's something else happening: the swelling of a grassroots leftist tendency that is oriented against the technocratic liberalism that marked the Hollande quinquennat. In other words, it's not just "ras le bol," but rather a concerted leftward shift against the predominant centrist policies (and the political elite who enact them), as happened in Greece with Syriza, Spain with Podemos, and as almost happened in the US with Sanders.

The victory of Hamon in the primaries represented this reaction: the left decided, clearly, en masse, to give left-populist politics a chance. Hamon's fall was precipitated not by anything that Hamon did himself, but by it becoming clear that the PS was going to do nothing to support this candidate, and if elected to power would not be able to shift from the tangent Hollandaise neoliberalism. To me, the PS was tone-deaf to their voters, and to the momentum that amassed behind Hamon, much in the same way that the Democrats ignored Sanders's popular support and insisted on their own centrist candidate (and we all know how well that worked out). As can be seen clearly in the polls, JLM's rise has coincided with Hamon's fall: he is profiting from the PS's inability to support a genuinely leftist program.

These are just some of my thoughts, and an attempt to voice my disappointment at the lack of recognition, in the media and elsewhere, of what appears to me to be an organic leftist grassroots rassemblement--challenging the neoliberal cap of France and Europe--rather than an unthinking, aleatoric selection of a candidate that represents the ras-le-bol annoyance with conventional politics.

Anonymous said...

I'll add to the general anxiety :
Went to a holiday party. Several more reports of 'procuration', this time thwarted. Half a dozen people voting moderate or on the left who won't vote because they'll be away that weekend. (that's added to the previous ones so we're nearing fifteen just in my immediate circle, all people who always vote and pay attention to the news.)

More announcements of vote switching, mainly from Macron and Hamon to Melanchon. (All deride his fondness for Russia and Venezuela but think it's small potatoes compared to daily life issues.)

MUCH anxiety over Trump vs. Kim Jong eun, along the lines of 'the clueless toddler tyrant vs. The Bloody mad-baby play with atomic bombs'. Much anxiety over Donald Trump confusing Syria and Iraq as the place he bombed (during an interview).
This may push more people toward Melenchon since he dislikes the US openly. 'quand tu vois trump, tu comprends Melenchon, quoi'.

Try to find Joann Sfar 's latest rzaction/post.

bert said...

One definition of a protest candidate is someone who campaigns on the basis of not achieving power. It's a very liberating thing - allows you to say all kinds of things.

Corbyn is a good example. His little group of parliamentary dead-enders put up a candidate for the leadership, same as always. His friend from the next-door constituency had stood the previous time there was a leadership contest. She came dead last. This time it was his turn. Some rightwing MPs took pity on him and gave him a nomination, in order to make the race look a bit more representative. He didn't expect to win, and had made no plans. To have made plans would have been ridiculous, after all.

For JLM, 2017 was his last campaign. The PS was what he measured himself against. Outpolling the official Socialist candidate would have been at the extreme upper limit of his ambitions. The second round? Dream on.
His programme, his rhetoric, his whole approach was defined by this framework.

There are people who respond to this kind of politics.
Susan Sarandon for example.
Very fuckable as a lipstick lesbian opposite Catherine Deneuve.
Highly slappable now.
Slapping people is wrong.