Tuesday, July 4, 2017

The Silly Season

This is the silly season of political commentary. The umpire has called play ball, the first pitch has been thrown--a little wild, some say, without the pitcher's usual stuff, clocking well under 90 on the radar gun--and the batter is still patting his cleats with the fat part of the bat and hitching up his trousers before stepping back into the batter's box. So there is not much to write about but the team photos. Or so they say.

While on the subject of photos, it's rather uncanny that Édouard Philippe's official photo strikes the same pose as Macron's: he's backed up to his antique desk, which he grips with his palms, while emphasizing his lean physique by leaving his suit buttoned and pulled tight across his abdomen. Sarkozy jogged and biked before the press, but these rookies strike more dignified yet still sportif poses, having learned that showing sweat is not a good way of establishing the proper distance between rulers and ruled (ou ceux qui ont réussi et ceux qui ne sont rien, as the president indelicately put it in a moment of revealing wardrobe malfunction--his mask slipped).

On to more serious matters: the president's "state of the Union" speech at Versailles. I'm not kidding: it's Macron himself who likened this inaugural address to the SOTU. Perhaps that's why so many commentators have been misled into calling it "vacuous" and "boring." Most SOTUs are precisely that. I suppose I would have found it so too if I'd watched it, but the Paris weather was perfect yesterday, and I had better things to do. On the other hand, I can't imagine a SOTU in which the president announces that he is going to eliminate the seats of more than one-third of the Congress, as Macron did. This would spark a riot, and the august legislators would tear the supreme but incautious leader limb from limb. But between the French president and the representatives of the nation there is none of the false bonhomie that one sees in the US Congress, where the president's entry is heralded by a sergeant-of-arms and accompanied by much glad-handing, back-slapping, index-finger pointing, and toothpaste ad smiles. The deputies just sat there in louisquatorzien splendor and took it on the chin without reacting.

The commentators who found the speech boring apparently failed to notice the other constitution-upending obiter dicta buried in the text. For example, the president indicated that the job of the legislature henceforth would be not to legislate but rather to "evaluate" the "action" of the government. Action on the one side, passive awarding of grades on the other. To make this evaluation more pertinent, the shrinking of the Assembly would permit greater means to be lavished on technically "competent" parliamentary assistants. In short, no more hiring of wives and mistresses. Henceforth, the lean and mean AN will be shepherded by sportif énarques, men just like the Pres and the PM themselves, who will look good in tightly tailored suits, grip antique desks as firmly as they shake the hands of foreign leaders, and present their legislator fronts with neat spreadsheets indicating in color-coded type where the men of action have kept within their budgets and where they have gone astray and require encore un effort. Une Révolution, as promised in Macron's campaign tome.

How dare anyone calls such a Technocratic Manifesto boring!


Bill Kilgore said...

Right on ! Bonaparte au pont d'Arcole 2.0 Antoine-Jean Gros, 1796. Oil on canvas. 73x59 cm. Currently at the Château de Versailles. Much, much better than the el cheapo official portrait with the personal presidential gizmo.
" (...) Napalm, son. Nothing else in the world smells like that. I love the smell of napalm in the morning."

Anonymous said...

I watched Macron's address from start to finish. He was breathless at first, as if his first direct encounter with his opposite number, the French legislature, gave him pause. He became passionate somewhere around the middle, when he began to speak of "returning their liberties to the French people" --by legislating many of the points in the state of emergency that theoretically deprives them of their exercise. Ruth Elkrief, the 7:00 p.m. commentator on BFM-TV thought there was a bit of demagoguery in Macron's suggestion, one of her commentator guests suggested that in fact, what Macron proposed was setting a limit to the government's exercise of its powers by legislating precisely the parameters of the government's exercise of authority in the battle against terrorism, rather than leaving those parameters open-ended, as the state of emergency does.
Following on from this, Macron became positively statesmanlike and hit his stride when he spoke of Europe. This is clearly a project which will be part of his thinking throughout his term in office.
Pointedly, Macron always made reference to "women and men", rather than following the prior convention of "men and women", a juxtaposition emphasizing the large proportion of LREM deputes who are women. He also underlined the youthfulness of the new Assemblee, if not the Senate, underscoring the sea-change the last two months in France have brought about.
The speech was criticized for being short on details, but its defenders asserted that to have given details would have been to invade the priorities of Edouard Philippe, the Prime Minister. However, the speech left no question about who the "patron" was.
I am sure that Art will write about this in his next post, but Philippe's address yesterday was longer on details: a 10 Euros a pack price for cigarettes, reform of the BAC system by 2021, and some new goodies, albeit on a small scale. Eric Brunet, commenting after the speech, found nothing remotely "liberal" (in the French sense) about the P.M.'s program. Indeed, according to Brunet, it seemed to augur not the "transformation" Macron had promised, but a "soft" adjustment of the French security net, and no real program to cut the groaning national debt.
Thierry Arnaud, the chief policy analyst of BFM-TV, pointed out that Macron's predecessors were not stupid: they perceived the dangers of the excessive French debt, and that if it were easy to address the problem, they would have done so. Now it is Macron's turn to make what headway he can on the issue.
One general aspect of Macron and Philippe's addresses that came in for plaudits: the orientation of the new government, as expressed generally by the President in his address; and in specific by the Prime Minister in his, was consistent with what the EM campaign had promised; very few of the "reforms" to be enacted had not been ventilated during the campaign. So while commentators could nit-pick about the details, with the exception of the possible "demagoguery" Ruth Elkrief suggested, they could not accuse the new team of "bait and switch" tactics.
In his address commemorating Simone Veil today, Macron again, struck the right note, emphasizing Veil's commitments, particularly her commitment to Europe. Closing his remarks by announcing that Simone Veil and her husband Antoine will be jointly inducted into the Pantheon, was well-timed. It augurs another opportunity for Macron to emphasize the European project again, to his benefit.
-- I wonder whether he will invite Angela Merkel to the ceremony. It would be a nice touch, and a highly symbolic moment.

Anonymous said...

Oh nice ! ce blog est commenté par Anonymous, un membre du cabinet d'Emmanuel Macron

FrédéricLN said...

"This is the silly season of political commentary." — So true! I didn't count the number of tweets (and papers) discussing whether it was a good or bad thing that M. Macron and M. Philippe have two speeches instead of one, gee whizz!

About the number of MPs : at the beginning of the Vth Republic, we had 482 députés and 274 sénateurs, *not* including these representing present Algeria.

Hard to figure why we would need 577 and 348 now. The most obvious reason is: the executive power buying the political milieu's benevolence with additional seats to share. Of course, reducing by 1/3 would go below the 1958 or 1962 figures. But that leaves room for negotiation.

Anonymous said...

Silly season may last till September, but it will reach its absolute peak on the 14th: of this I am sure. Trump at the Bastille Day parade will be among the most ridiculous events in recent French politics, easily eclipsing the Trump-Macron handshake.

Will it be as ridiculous as the mysterious glowing orb that Trump, Morsi and King Salman touched to activate a Bond-like Saudi "anti-extremism" centre? Perhaps! It will not be as ridiculous as the recent revelation that Trump Jr.'s contact with the Russians was an obese British music promoter who gets himself photographed in T-shirts that have "Russia" spelt on them and likes to wear pirate hats and Carmen Miranda style fruit arrangements on his head. (Compared to the Trump entourage Sarkozy is the very picture of honesty, restraint and taste.) The Trump-Macron news conference will, however, give Trump his first opportunity to comment on new developments.

Macron is clearly trying to replicate the success of the Saudis and win Trump over with spectacle and flattery. I don't think it will work- Macron isn't obsequious enough, and I doubt you can get an overcooked steak with ketchup at the Jules Verne. Whatever happens, this blog will be the place to turn for commentary!

bert said...

If it had been Morsi, would either Trump or Salman have noticed?
Salman's brain is mush.
Trump's brain is the mushiest mush, the best, believe me.