Monday, April 10, 2017

Nail-Biting Time

I am beginning to get seriously worried about this election. It is now possible to envision any combination of the four front-runners in the final, and most of the scenarios would have entirely unpalatable outcomes from my point of view.

My two chief desiderata are to preserve both the European Union and the French welfare state. Le Pen and Mélenchon threaten the former, Fillon the latter. On the other hand, I wouldn't be averse to a measured transition toward a Sixth Republic and a redistribution of a reasonable portion of powers from the executive to the legislative--not as a panacea but rather as a recognition of the flaws of the monarchical presidency. That said, I have no confidence whatsoever in Mélenchon as the steward of such a transition. And to elect Fillon in the state of turpitude in which he finds himself would be to deepen the distrust in which government is already held.

Although for me, therefore, There Is No Alternative to Macron, I can't say I'm happy with his campaign. When asked to specify his differences with the Hollande regime, he named two. First, he had quit the government, but this owed more to his ambition than to any difference of principle (a fact that his answer blithely left unacknowledged even as a possibility), and second, Hollande would not let him go as far as he thought necessary, which only reinforced the critiques of his opponents that his presidency would be Hollande bis. By this point he should have been able to articulate a more detailed critique of Hollande's approach to governing, even if he shares the president's general philosophy of what needs to be done (which is debatable, while the failure of the approach is not).

In addition, though capable of being affable, Macron has come across recently as a sort of Valls lite, perpetually pissed off about something or other for no good reason. While it's true that the picador style of many French interviewers would be enough to irritate even the most patient of men, Hamon, whose detailed incoherencies should require far more defending than Macron's vague ambiguities, handles even hostile questioners with dignified calm and aplomb, much more to my liking than Macron's annoyed and annoying hauteur. But perhaps Hamon's dismal place at the back of the pack is yet further proof that my instincts are out of sync with those of le bon peuple.

So, like Brexit and the US election, this one looks as though it's going to be decided in the home stretch, and I don't like the look of things at all as the field rounds the final bend.


Anonymous said...

I couldn't agree more: both on style and on substance Macron seems dangerously shallow, yet there is no alternative. Art: if things came to it, could you bring yourself to support JLM over Fillion? An incredibly disagreeable choice, although I suppose either is better than MLP...

Hotashina Wasabi said...

It seems your main issue is with change...

brent said...

As the improbable Mélenchon surge advances, here are a couple consolatory thoughts:

1) As I've tried to note here, JLM is not really anti-EU (as MLP clearly is). He has long been an internationalist, pointing France toward the Mediterranean basin, Africa and Latin America (instead of a North Atlantic orientation), but he also has also advocated for a different kind of EU that would advance a progressive agenda in place of the deadly German/CDU/austerity one. Chancellor Schulz might well agree, as does Hamon.

2) If it's actually time to cash in the failed monarchy of the 5th Republic for a more legislative 6th Republic, then it's only fair to note that Mélenchon was all over this issue years before anyone else on the political stage, writing tirelessly for it and convening citizens' forums to advance it. His France insoumise is an example of an incremental, grass-roots construction--exactly the sort of process that would be necessary to build popular support for a Convention. I can't imagine better credentials for leading the nation to a 6th Republic.

I still don't see where the necessary votes are coming from, but if Macron is going stale--and if JLM's holographic spectacle comes off as planned, highlighting his oratorical talents and marking him as the high-tech candidate--I would agree that all bets are off.

Art Goldhammer said...

Yes, Mélenchon is an "internationalist" with an eye to the Latin America of the late Hugo Chavez and the Russia of Vladimir Putin. These penchants disqualify him in my eyes. Macron will get along far better with Schulz, if he should win, than JLM. And yes, a different kind of EU, who doesn't want that, but easier said than done. As for the 6th Republic, Hamon and (yes) Montebourg were there before JLM, but in addition to the "credentials" to which you refer some gift for compromise will be needed to pull it off, and I don't think compromise is JLM's long suit. As for his oratorical talents, I must be tone deaf. I recognize his gift for historical allusions, rhetorical complexity, and a rich and imaged vocabulary, but his whole style seems to me bombastic beyond belief, a relic of another era. He's better in less formal settings where his humor and gift for repartee can be revealed, but I find his high oratory repellent.

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Realist Guy said...

As a dual French-American citizen living in America for almost 40 years, I am horrified by JLM's proposal to tax the income of French citizens living abroad. France's taxation system is much more confiscatory than America's.

Art Goldhammer said...

And JLM would make it more confiscatory still, taxing all income over 400K euros at 100%.

Realist Guy said...

And there is no mechanism under French law to give up one's French citizenship (unlike American citizenship). French citizens worldwide could end up trapped like rats, hoping their local non-French jurisdictions do not cooperate with French tax authorities.

Caden Tacot said...

In fact, only one candidate (F. Asselineau) clearly advocates for a Frexit through Art. 50 of the TEU.

All the others including JLM and MLP vouch for a renegotiation of the treaties which is pointless since Art. 48 section 4 of the TEU requires a common accord of all member states which will not happen. Why would any member state jeopardize their national interest to please France?

Here's the lay-out for the French Presidential elections. Out of 11 candidates :
- 8 agree with the EU as it is or state they want to renegotiate the treaties
- 2 pretend they want to leave the EU but in fact (as stated in their respective programs) advocate for a renegotiation.
- 1 supports a clear FREXIT.

So choice is :
- Choose the FREXIT candidate
- Keep going with any of the 10 others and have the French policies dictated by the guidelines of the economic policies (GEP) of the Member States (Art. 121 TFEU), i.e. lower minimum salary, higher sales tax, privatization of the public services, massive deregulation of the regulated professions and work contracts.

By the way, the latest GEPs have been issued in May 2016 for the 2016-2017 term, which clearly shows that the outcome of the French elections, in the EU's mind, is absolutely irrelevant.

Welcome to dictatorship ;-)

Massilian said...

This campaign sucks. Most of the candidates are totally "hors sol".
Some still speak the old "langue de bois" and others stick to the sterile "novlangue" of the millenium.
The ideas remain very broad and vague. In or out of Europe. In or out of the Euro. All austerity or "demain on rase gratis". Valets of the MEDEF or trotskite dreamers. Old bullshit.
Not one program can make the voter's heart beat a little faster because he feels truly understood and the measures proposed are understable, seem consistent with the needs and one can believe will bring the expected effect.
If all the economists completely disagree among themselves about all the programs, how can the layman trust any of these programs ?
Macron appears to me more and more as a bionic creature, a sort of more trustable version of Kubricks's HAL. Financial ghost in the electoral shell.
This morning an old song from 1993 came back to my mind and still seemed a good resumé of the situation ...:

Foule sentimentale
On a soif d’idéal
Attirée par les étoiles, les voiles
Que des choses pas commerciales
Foule sentimentale
Il faut voir comme on nous parle
Comme on nous parle...

The human factor, it is Melenchon's strong point, and Philippe Poutou's (Regardless of their program).
Luckily I believe MLP is loosing so much ground now that she won't make the tiercé.

bernard said...

Well, I went to watch his meeting in Marseille yesterday, out of curiosity. A few observations
- If there were 70,000 people attending, I must have attended 50 multi-million people demonstrations in my life. Being new to a JLM meeting and not knowledgeable of Marseille, I walked around quite a lot in this outdoor meeting. My impression was that there were something on the order of 10,000 people present at the very most. An impression reinforced by the constant appeals to people to mass themselves close to the stage (supposedly for security reasons...), where the TV cameras were...
- I was struck by an atmosphere of personality cult with former sayings (hardly any songs) of the dear leader re-broadcast for, like, an hour before his arrival,
- the crowd itself was dominated by the red flags of the CGT and the PCF (in another hint that there were not that many people), not by French flags as was apparently the case at his Republique- Paris meeting from images I saw,
- the crowd was not very multi-ethnic, which surprised me (Macron has more ethnic people...),
- JLM throws an excellent show, great speech talent, cultured, the lot. Pity he says so much crap such as labeling the recent US bombing of the airbase in Syria where the chemical attacks originated a crime. Another fun thing was how he came with an olive branch on a specific christian holiday where devotees are supposed to carry an olive branch, of course in his case it was for peace, not at all of course to confuse some electors. Well JLM enjoyed himself, that's all that matters and if he is contributing to people returning to Fillon, who the hell cares, right?
- I thought at times I was listening to the PCF campaign slogan for the 1978 elections (or was it the 1977 municipals): "produisons français". Really vintage PCF, no surprise Robert Hue supports Macron.
- All in all, I had a good time, though listening to him, any thought that I might consider voting for him were firmly out after listening carefully to what he had to say: definitely paleo-trotskyst, definitely sectarian, definitely voodoo economics, very popular.

Tim said...

Taxing French citizens living in the US is legally impossible without approval of the US Congress and some members of Congress such as Freedom Caucus chair Mark Meadows and Rand Paul oppose JLM on this matter.

**I am involved personally behind the scenes on this very issues.

Tim said...

Second I wonder if the recent Trump strikes on Syria and Theresa May's moves towards a "soft" Brexit are pulling down Macron's poll numbers. A month ago Macron seemed more like the rebellious anti Trump anti Brexit candidate. However, as Trump and Brexit move mainstream some of Macron's shine is wearing off.

bert said...

I've pointed this out before, so I'll be brief.
Newsflash: Martin Schulz is running for election in Germany.

Passerby said...

Today, I started pondering for whom to vote shall we have JLM and MLP in the second round. An unlikely but possible scenario.
It never crossed my mind that one day I may have to make this decision, and I'm not looking forward to it...

Anonymous said...

For all the Melenchon bluster, this can't happen because it's require cooperation from too many states that won't cooperate and won't have any incentive to.

Anonymous said...

(hate auto-correct..)

Anonymous said...

You may have been in the wrong place. Tomber LA chemise was sung/danced/memed as well as an Italian fight song and other stuff. There were plenty of French flags too (you can check the AFP pics) alongside the union flags. I agree turn out was not 70,000 but large nevertheless, some surely attracted by noise and sun.
As to his odd appeal to non-credit leftists :
Some traditionalists like him for his ability to quote history and poetry. Uniquely French appeal.
And others for his ability to overthrow the (moneychangers?) tables either literally or figuratively, including former sarkozy fans.
On TV, he was shown walking around with an olive branch - which French Christians use on Palm Sunday, it was an odd image after the creche/nativity scene ruckus at the debate. That symbol, albeit meant against the US strikes, delighted some Catholics I know to no end.
Marseille is an odd city.
I don't think the melenchon moment will last. In the end, he always scores lower. Also, as long as I can remember watching French news, he's shown no interest in actually governing - until this year perhaps. His one Chance of keeping numbers at that level is Hamon staying low and his picking up undecided voters. I'm pretty sure in the past PS voters tempted by Melenchon ended up voting PS out of reason and in 2012 people would have voted for anyone predicted to beat sarkozy. Who knows if this time people ditch Hampn for Melenchon?
Right now, Macron seems like a good rempart against LePen but here he's seen as 'candidate of the rich ' and people who vote left will vote reluctantly, along the lines of 'doing my bit for the country '. If they think Melenchon has a chance, they may like him better.
The MLP sentence may have been an attempt at firing up the base, but it's leaving a sour taste... And, with the rule if 'strict equal time', it means her daily TV time was used up by that.

Anonymous said...

Even if you don't like Melenchon, you can't seriously think he'd harm as many people and France 's international standing as much as LePen would? Based on what's happened in Hungary and to a certain extent Poland, I'd say Europe will intervene to stop economically dangerous stands but won't budge much on social and civil rights issues.

Jules said...

on JLM, his fondness for Putin I find confusing and unsettling. Is it just old commie sympathizing ? or a case of the enemy of my enemy is my friend ? I'm not old enough to know what french PCF admiration for the soviets looked like. But it's one part of JLM's programme that I find creepy.

Nevertheless I think I'm going to vote for him. This blog seems to be read by a lot of centrists who are as terrified of JLM as they are of MLP, which I find baffling. I think it probably has something to do with the size of their bank accounts... I assume also the usual criticism of the far left, that it' utopian. In any case, what is it youre looking for ? Somebody between Hamon and Macron ?

Anonymous said...

The flaws of a "monarchical" republic are nothing in comparison to the flaws of the predomoninantly parliamentary Third and Fourth Republics: ministerial instability, indecision, incompetence. Fillon observed in the last debate that it is odd that several of the candidates want to change the constitution. In what other "comparable" country would that be an issue in an election? As for those who think that France would be better off outside the EU... they are as stupid as the Tory brexiters. If France wants to continue to exert influence in Europe and the world, it must remain in the EU.

I am going to vote for Macron le Jupitérien, not to be confused with Juju le Jupitérien.

baronniesereinedecaux said...

You are to be commended on cleary stating what you want but is it not also the case that both the European Union and the French social model need reforming? From your comfortable corner of the academy you are perhaps not in such close contact with the concerns of peoplewho do not write for Le Monde. One poll that I do believe because it comports with empirical evidence says 90% of French people are not happy with the direction of travel. Do not be surprised if they do not behave as you wish them to.

Massilian said...

I like Jules's : " what is it you're looking for ? Somebody between Hamon and Macron ? "
I hammer my feelings again :
the homeless followers of the old left behave as a nonplussed chicken in front of a knife.
I am so tired of the same old scared "Le fascisme ne passera pas" chant. And twisted analogies with Trump !MLP is no more dangerous than her father ever was (and he NEVER EVER stood the ghost of a chance to be elected,- 2002 was another boner from our beloved PS !), her future is behind her, she is loosing ground. Watch Marion in the future...
The people (whatever that means depending on who uses the word)are worn out, burned out, pissed off, by the ongoing flow of meaningless bullshit they are fed daily during this long, so long, campaign : affairs, insults, fake news, dumb promises, manipulated polls, incomprehensible programs, stupid television shows.
JLM will not make it to the second round but he may come close to it, not because of his program or international politics, but because of the way he talks to us, and that is a message to all the other candidates.
I have no faith, trust or admiration for Macron, but I am not worried if he is elected. France will survive. We survived so many mediocre politicians in the past, this one won't kill us !
I think this election will be constructive. I am optimistic. Le grand ménage de printemps a commencé.
Breathe and relax.

bernard said...

Actually, perhaps the most interesting fact to pick up from this electoral campaign and polls is that reports of the death of the left and of the elector's inescapable drift in a right-wing direction have been vastly exaggerated. We were subjected to a constant stream of opinion (even from Art, which was a surprise) for, at least, the past year and, I am not talking here about political parties but about electors, the present situation suggests that there still is close to a majority of electors who consider themselves as coming from the left and its various incarnations: 2-3% hard-left, 8-10% for the official PS frondeur Hamon, 18-19% for Melenchon and about 14-15% for Macron (his other electors coming from the right-side): the total is below 50% but not quite that far below and, more importantly, not that different from the past 20 years. Political analysts could do worse than take notice.

In terms of political parties or candidates, if we adopted the characterization of political tests such as Le Monde's where Macron (24-26%) shows up slightly left of center, we would then be talking about a clear absolute majority of the electors (who've made up their mind) ready to vote left. Just saying...

Anonymous said...


I appreciate your comment but I must correct you: I do not occupy a confortable corner of the academy. In any case, I was only expressing my opinion that the flaws of a monarchical republic (mentioned by Arthur) are not nearly as bad as the flaws of the Third and Fourth Republics (which he surely know?) That is why I will be voting for Macron.

Douglas said...

The selection of Macron under the criteria of preserving the welfare state is confusing. He is, after all, a neoliberal, a very right wing economic ideology very much opposed to the welfare state while encouraging greater inequality. His agenda includes eliminating job protections, weakening unions, reducing pensions, eliminating large numbers of jobs while reducing unemployment compensation. Then there is deregulation of the financial sector. It is ironic that France has produced the world's leading economist on inequality in opposition to neoliberalism while its next president is likely to be a neoliberal with an agenda to increase inequality.

FrédéricLN said...

@bernard: I agree with "perhaps the most interesting fact to pick up from this electoral campaign and polls is that reports of the death of the left and of the elector's inescapable drift in a right-wing direction have been vastly exaggerated", but would not conclude that electors stay on the left ;-)

After all Macron sits clearly at the right side of a Hollande administration which was on the left on almost no issue but LGBT rights.

The candidates of the "left" presently score around 28% of voting prospects altogether… But ok, how much for the right, how to classify Macron, and so on.

I would rather stress that winners of the two primaries get around 26% together (18%+8%), despite additional support from side parties (EELV and UDI). These parties (with LR and PS) occupy >90% of seats at Parliament. So support for parliamentary parties reaches an all-time low mark, *despite* the organization of primary elections, which was precisely expected to aggregate broader support around PS and LR candidates, and prevent challenge from outsiders. Outsiders now rank #1, #2 and #3 in polls.

bernard said...

not to belabour my point, but I was talking about electors, not parties or candidates. A majority of Macron electors assess themselves as left.

Alexandra Marshall said...

Douglas, there needn't be anything ironic about this at all:


France is a big country with lots of people who have different ideas about different things.