Monday, September 4, 2017

Naked Ambition

No politician can amount to anything without ambition, but some have it to such a degree that they are deformed beyond all recognition. If their existence ever had a core, it has long since been consumed by their will to power. Laurent Wauquiez is a case in point.

Wauquiez is not your garden variety exploiter of rank prejudice or xenophobic nationalist demagogue. He is after all un normalien and énarque. And not just any old énarque: he was actually le major de sa promotion. First in his class. The best and the brightest of the best and the brightest. And once upon a time he was even a sort of lib-lab Chiraco-compatible pro-European centrist. But that was before Macron, un autre ambitieux, sucked all the air out of the center. That was before Patrick Buisson persuaded Sarkozy and his circle that the only votes to be had were on the far right, among the xenophobes and declinists and "unhappy identitifiers" and France-qui-tombistes.

And Wauquiez, being a quick study and a certified smart guy, was quick to make the calculation. The centrist rump, the Juppéistes, have all deserted to form les Contructifs (or Collabos, in the eyes of the hard right). As the Waquieziens see it, even those who nominally remain Republicans serve only to alienate potential voters and drive them to the FN. The only way to bring back la droite décompléxée that Sarko dubbed in his dreams is to go after Sens Commun, Marion Maréchal Le Pen's faction of the FN, etc. And Wauquiez, quick calculator that he is, figures he knows how to do it. So in recent weeks and months we've heard him talking about a "Right that is not afraid to be on the right," etc. And all this tough talk has made him the favorite to take over the party now that the historical chieftains--Juppé, Sarko, Fillon--have all been forcibly retired or sandbagged or sidelined.

How large is this reconstituted Right likely to loom in the French political landscape of the future? It all depends. The FN, its principal competitor, is also in a rebuilding phase. The LR defectors who have glommed onto Macron may find themselves on the raft of the Medusa if the good ship Macron goes down. Then there's Valérie Pécresse waiting in the wings, and Xavier Bertrand. Both would have liked to take the Republicans in a different direction, but both had pledged to stick to the posts to which they were recently elected and in any case probably aren't sure that leadership of LR is really the royal road to a brighter tomorrow. So they're sniping from the sidelines, waiting for Wauquiez to trip himself up.

Wauquiez is only 42 but his hair is already turning white. Perhaps he frightens the person he used to be with the perfidious depth to which his own ambition has caused him to sink.


Anonymous said...

You can't deny the logic of Wauquiez's position. There really is no room for a center-right party to oppose REM. The only hope for the center-right is that Macron's party proves to be a flash in the pan. En this case the moderate right may be able to present themselves to the electorate as the last grown-ups standing. They are more likely to be in this position than the socialists, certainly. If REM proves durable it will certainly absorb the constructive right, either whole or as a sort of fiefdom like the UDI. The non-constructive right will then have its best chance yet to unify. What really separates the Sarkozy tendency or the Fillion tendency from MM Le Pen, nowadays? Of course there are enough big egos in the mix that the right may stay divided: look at the travails of the AfD in Germany. However, division on the right is not something that can be counted upon. The big danger of gathering all of the reasonable people each party in order to form a government is that the alternative will not be very reasonable. Better a smooth hypocrite like Wauquiez than a true believer, I suppose.

mpz13 said...

"Perhaps he frightens the person he used to be with the perfidious depth to which his own ambition has caused him to sink. "
I can see and think of quite a few people fitting this description. I for one almost drowned, victim of the rapture of the deep.

Anonymous said...

I have been doing business in France and Belgium for years, and I deal with the sociological equivalents of Wauquiez on a very regular basis. I am shocked how right-wing (and how religious) young educated French elites are. I mean the type who go from the ENA into the middle and upper management of major French corporations, without being much tempted by government work and without being tempted at all by academia.

The young French businesspeople I meet are divided about in half between supporters of Macron and supporters of the right-wing parties. If they are opposed to the FN, however, it is mostly out of snobbery or a sense the the FN is a protest party unprepared to run the country. With the second Calvados even the Macron supporters will say things about Islam or about French "Arabs" that would make Marine Le Pen blush.

We Americans certainly have a problem with right-wing populism, but support for right-wing populism here wains with education, particularly high-status education. There are few Republicans at Harvard, and Harvard-educated Republicans mostly seem to hate Trump as much as Democrats do. So far as I can see, this is not at all the case in France. Wauquiez is saying what he has always thought and felt restrained by political correctness from saying before.