Friday, September 8, 2017

The FN Rebuilds

The problem with a centrist government that draws on elements of both the center-left and center-right is that it sets off a battle to the death on the fringes, which must divide the scraps left from the passage of the LREM juggernaut. On the left, for the moment, Mélenchon has cleared the table. The Socialists are gasping for air, and he is feasting on the remains. But on the right a battle royal is shaping up: Will LR absorb the FN or vice-versa?

Actually, that is putting the matter too starkly. Both parties will retain their identity, but the once-impermeable barrier between them has fallen to the political equivalent of Hurricane Irma. Wauquiez is ogling Le Pen's voters through the now-gaping holes, while Le Pen is ogling his. Nicolas Bay (FN) puts it this way:

Nicolas Bay résume la stratégie qu’il voudrait que son parti privilégie pour élargir l’électorat frontiste, sans forcément avoir besoin d’alliances : « Les électeurs de droite partis chez Macron, je ne vois pas pourquoi ils reviendraient. Ceux qui restent, en revanche, sont souvent en phase avec nous sur la sécurité, l’islamisme, l’identité…
Exactly. A pool of voters who could go either way, a passel of politicians eager to bag them, and a minefield between the hunters and their quarry. No one has quite figured out the messaging--or dog-whistling--necessary to appeal to voters who want their insecurities assuaged without incurring the racist label, and to do so without blowing themselves to smithereens.

Philippot persuaded Le Pen to bet on economic nationalism, but it didn't quite work. Fillon showed that appeals to traditional values had some legs but probably not enough to get across the finish line, even if he hadn't had that unfortunate weakness for bespoke suits. Wauquiez has been groping for the right formula for a while now, but he hasn't really found it, except to take warmed-over Buissonism and try to make it work in a very different political configuration.

And for the moment Marine Le Pen has gone all negative, emulating Mélenchon in casting Macron as the absolute enemy but in rather more picturesque and less Marxoid terms: for her, the new guy represents « la philosophie de l’éphémère, de la précarité, du jetable ». A nice phrase, which at least gets us beyond the ritual denunciations of the "Jupiterian" president. As Le Pen well knows--one point on which she agrees with Macron--the French have no problem with top gods as long as they retain the power to rain down thunderbolts. They prefer Jupiter to le président normal. They just don't know yet whether the Jupiter they've elected is really the top god or just a kid who played Jupiter once in a high school play and is trying to reprise his role.

So nobody has quite figured out how to fill the basket with France's equivalent of Hillary's "deplorables," But fill it someone will.


brent said...

For what it's worth, the French configuration offers intriguing parallels with our collapsing US political system. Many of the Congressional Republicans would recognize themselves in Fillon's sham traditionalism (and expensive suits), while giving in now and then to the Wauquiezian temptation to "go low." Meanwhile Bannon stakes out his terrain a few blocks from the West Wing and offers epigrams that would amuse the senior/senile LePen and the other deplorables MLP has tried to exclude. Whether the 'Freedom Caucus' can drive the GOP into FN territory for good next year is a question that mirrors the dilemma of the French Right.

On the US Left, meanwhile, Sanders & Co are a tame version of JLM, but their fight for the Democratic Party resembles his drive to be the sole left opposition, while the Clinton wing looks as ineffectual as the French Socialists in REM's thrall.

The big difference of course is that while Macron steers his ship of state in a predictable direction, the US helm, in the hands of a madman, veers wildly this way and that.

Geoffy4T said...

I still feel everyone is underestimating Melenchon. A la Jeremy Corbyn in Britain, his stature has grown by simply surviving. And like Corbyn [and Bernie Sanders], he has the curiosity of the young behind him. Unlike Justin Trudeau, Macron has not captured their imagination [even if it's a standoff on who's better looking, Justin or Manny!] The incompetence of the Right only cements his argument that he is the only other choice to Macron. If French politics remains as ossified as America's, Melenchon may be able to advance by virtue of Joe Biden's famous rejoinder: "Don't compare me to the Almighty, just to the Alternative."

Anonymous said...

@Geoffy4T: I agree with you up to a point. JLM was very impressive in the last campaign, and right now he is very much France's "leader of the opposition." This is all the more impressive because I would guess that there are more die hard anti-Macron voters on the right than there are on the left. If the anti-Macron right could unify, Fillion and Le Pen voters voting for the same first round candidate, France would be in dire straights. This will only happen if Wauquiez is as talented and lucky as Macron has been: the FN would have to collapse as badly as the PS has, and Wauquiez would have to hoover up their voters while attracting the sort of voter who was undecided between Fillion and Macron. More likely the right will be divided, and Mélenchon will have his chance.

Can he pull it off? Incredibly, Mélenchon's models for success are not in the global south but in Great Britain and the USA. Like JLM, Corbyn and Sanders were each able to mobilize a large, young left-wing constituency that that nobody believed existed. As a result of their campaigns, the once moribund far left suddenly finds itself the dominant force in the Labour and Democratic oppositions, just as it does in France.

What has impressed me about Corbyn is the eagerness and skill with which he has made the compromises that are necessary to adapt his own quite radical politics into a practical governing agenda. He has won over the soft left of his party and silenced its right, and given his position in the polls the United Kingdom seem likely leave the EU under the leadership of an unreformed Trot! Sanders is both more moderate and less powerful than Corbyn, but I have been impressed with his political skill and flexibility since Trump's election. He sees that the Democratic party is moving towards him, and he has been able both to herd his more moderate colleagues in his direction and to adapt his own proposals to political reality. Matt Yglesias of Vox has several good articles describing how Sanders has moderated his position in order to consolidate his influence within the US Democratic parity.

I hope that Mélenchon comes to share the interest that Corbyn and Sanders have come to show in the details and practicalities of government. What Raymond Aron called "literary politics" are perfectly appropriate in a protest candidate. If Mélenchon actually wants to run France, he needs to develop an agenda that he could actually implement after being elected. I'm sure that Mélenchon is unimpressed with Aron's criticism of the "literary politics" of François Mitterand. Mitterand failed to implement the radical but poorly thought-through agenda upon which he was elected in 1981. Margret Thatcher, who was elected at almost the same time, cared far more about the specifics of economic policy than Mitterrand, and was able to transform the economy of her nation in a way Mitterrand never managed.

It is encouraging that politicians have rediscovered the popularity of the left's age-old ideas. They will only become reality if Mélenchon et. al. pursue them with the determination and practical sense of Margret Thatcher.

bernard said...

I can't resist mentioning this one: A normal party, really??? And some useful idiots on the left could not bring themselves to say clearly they would vote Macron against Le Pen ??? What kind of alternate universe do they live in???

To think that some months ago I was being scolded even on this site for saying these people are simply racist SozNat and have not changed one iota!