Friday, July 28, 2017

"Hey, How'm'I doin'?"

When the late Ed Koch was mayor of New York, he was famous for approaching people on the street and asking "Hey, how'm'I doin'?" Emmanuel Macron, seeking to emulate the august aloofness of Charles de Gaulle, eschews the folksy Koch touch, but he is no less keenly interested in how he's doing. And the signs from the month of July have not been good: a sharp fall in approval rating (not only for Macron but for Edouard Philippe as well), a polemic over the firing of a general, some dissension in the REM ranks, stiffening union resistance to his labor code reform plans, a perception that budget cuts have taken precedence over everything else, and a dust-up over a 5-euro a month cut in the housing allotment.

Now, it's possible to defend the new government's actions on all these matters. Budget minister Gérald Darmanin, for example, offered a pretty good defense of the APL cut after it was attacked in characteristically showy fashion by Mélenchon's lieutenant Alexis Corbière, who in his speech referred to Mélenchon as le président Mélenchon (he is president of his parliamentary group, after all!), a nice rhetorical touch. Corbière used as props a collection of items that could be purchased for 5 euros, the amount of the APL cut. Good theater, even if the collection itself was unlikely to impress even le peuple d'en bas at whom it was aimed. Nobody missed the real point, which was that this was, in symbolic terms, a stupid move by the government.

And Macron appears to have taken the point. He called a meeting today in which he asked everyone concerned to reconsider their approach not so much in terms of substance as in terms of optics, which had become too "Bercyized," as one wag put it. The point is not to meet quotas in budget reduction; it is to persuade people that the ultimate outcome will be positively redistributive. But the question that remains as to what meaning Macron attaches to "positive." Does he intend to redistribute upward, to the richest, or downward, to the poorest. The APL cut lent itself to the former interpretation, and the Mélenchoniens were quick to seize the opportunity. Macron cannot much longer remain in the ambiguity of en même temps upward and downward redistribution. Gouverner, c'est choisir.

And in one respect, at least, a choice has been made. That there are limits to Macron's neoliberalism is now clear. Lemaire has nationalized the shipyards to ensure that jobs will not be lost to Italy--much to Italy's dismay. There will also be export subsidies for grain growers. The free market is a wonderful thing, except when it isn't. This is France, and le nationalisme économique is always on the agenda, no matter who is in power. This, too, is part of the Gaullist legacy in which Macron wishes to wrap himself. Today's meeting marks a first and necessary course correction. He is learning on the job. Reports of his early demise are greatly exaggerated. But no one is still describing the transition from Hollande to Macron as sans faute.

How is he doing? OK so far, but he's gotta keep his eye on the ball.


Anonymous said...

"..Macron, seeking to emulate the august aloofness of Charles de Gaulle..."

Well, it's true, they both DID chase the Nazis out of France (je suis desole, Madame LePen), but to be fair to Macron, it was so much easier for Le Grande Charles TO look down on people.

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Robinson said...

Macron is encountering gravity, which is inevitable. It is a bit perturbing that he has hit so much turbulence before the labour reforms, but nothing is written before then. The (very real) flaws that we have seen in his personality and style of rule will seem to be fatal if Macron proves a failure, if he does not, they are just foibles. (His "Jupiter" pose, his declaration that his thought are too complicated for the press to understand, and the various unforced errors that Art mentions. As Art also says, Macron clearly knows he has made some false steps and is correcting his course.) What good did Sarkozy's masterful first few months do him, in the end?

Mitch Guthman said...

@ Katey,

That's fascinating. It's such a natural sideline for somebody like Macron. Perhaps this is the secret of how he will deal with the labour unions.

bert said...

CdG was unquestionably one of the great political figures of 20th century Europe.
But ”chasing the Nazis out of France”?

He fought Nazis in 1940, rather more effectively than much of the rest of the general staff. In 1945 he was a hood ornament on a jeep.

His greatness - real, and lasting - rests in part on his enormous success as a myth-builder.

There's one of the anonymouses who may want to follow his regular practice of making a tit of himself below.

Tim said...

In terms of the shipyard it is the ONLY one in Europe capable of building nuclear powered aircraft carriers akin to what Newport News Shipyard is to the US Navy. However, unlike Newport News which for years has exclusively produced US Navy ships the St Nazaire shipyard most of the time is producing civil vessels so its military is often unnoticed. So there is very much of a national security consideration in terms of the future of this shipyard just as their would be with Newport News in the US.

Now I suspect many in the chattering classes think the idea that France will ever build another nuclear aircraft carrier or even a new Mistral class ship to be fanciful. However, it appears Macron thinks otherwise which in many ways is much more telling.