Tuesday, December 5, 2017

The Loyal Opposition Loses Its Cool

I had missed Jean-Luc Mélenchon's appearance on L'Emission Politique, but my blogging confrère Arun Kapil alerted me with a Facebook post. To say that Mélenchon was disagreeable would be an understatement. It has been said that he was embittered by his elimination from the presidential contest after round 1, when he had come so close. Perhaps. Or perhaps bitterness and invective have become his strategic weapons. At times he seemed to be following the playbook of Georges Marchais (Taisez-vous, Elkabbach!). At other times his model seemed to be Donald Trump, who knows how to use humor to get the crowd on his side when he lashes out at the "elite" media (as Mélenchon did in his little routine on Venezuela, with the line about the child's toy cow that says "Moo!" each time you turn it over). He got the laughs, but one had the feeling that the crowd remained uncomfortable even as it guffawed because the spectacle was that of a man not quite in control of his emotions.

All that was bad enough, but now we have Mélenchon on his blog attacking the journalist Léa Salamé for her ethnicity:

J’ai cru à un super débat sur les deux doctrines économiques en présence et ainsi de suite. Je ne me suis pas préoccupé de ses liens familiaux et communautaires politiques. Quand elle m’a pris à parti sur mon patrimoine de riche, moi le fils d’un postier et d’une institutrice, j’aurais pu lui en jeter de bien bonnes à la figure en matière de patrimoine et de famille. Depuis, ma naïveté fait rire mes amis mieux informés et plus vigilant que moi sur tout cela.
This from the self-appointed champion of laïcité. The claim that he was sandbagged by journalists and a network with a hidden agenda because of his naivety is hardly credible from a man who has been in politics for 40 years and who has appeared countless times on L'Emission Politique. Perhaps his model is not so much Marchais or Trump as the elder Le Pen, who knew so well how to transform clashes with journalists into proof of his anti-establishment bona fides.

None of this would matter except that Mélenchon is now by default the leader of the loyal opposition. The Socialists have absolutely disappeared from the scene (in polls they now trail the Communists). The FN is in disarray, and the Republicans are now in the process of splintering, with one faction joining the marais of soft Macronistes and the other following Laurent Wauquiez into swamps of a more feverish sort, on the fringes of civilization and not far removed from the savagery of the Frontistes.

The next elections are European parliament elections, which are generally an occasion for the electorate to vent its discontents with the incumbent government, and there is plenty of discontent with Macron. So La France Insoumise, as the only semi-organized force of any size in the field, could do well. But Mélenchon wants more than votes. He wants to head a movement, a revolutionary force, and his troops aren't responding to the trumpet. Perhaps that's the source of his frustration. Perhaps he thinks that by turning coleric he can rally the rag-tag army of vociferous lycéen(ne)s and trotskystes de troisième âge who form his base. But this latest sally at Salamé is completely out of bounds, particularly coming from someone who now leads the opposition. It's a comment one might expect from a leader of Alternative für Deutschland but not from the leader of La France Insoumise. With such an opposition, France finds itself in a parlous state.


bernard said...

Melenchon is right to believe in a conspiracy against him. As a matter of fact, I can reveal that his subconscious is leading this disgusting conspiracy.

Robinson said...

This was always the danger of electing a centrist president. When VGE was in, there was a real PS and there were real Gaullists to form a loyal opposition (or to serve as a disloyal coalition partner in the cabinet and the Assembly). Now the united center governs, so if Macron fails the next president will likely be an extremest. Or at best some oily opportunist from the ex-UMP who is able to fudge the differences between them and the FN.

I wonder if this new, more uninhibited and over-the-top style will hurt Mélenchon. Perhaps in the long term, but as Art implies it is ideally suited for the Euro-elections.

Anonymous said...

Both the original post & the above comments seem to me quite on-point. Mélenchon is the president in waiting of France, the democratic alternative to Macron. The election is a long way off, of course, and Macron is doing well. But as Art notes, the only other place that a plausible Macron challenger is likely to come from is some LR/FN fusion.

I'm someone who like JLM, but just like Art I found his TV performance disturbing. I'm not so sure that the TV audience felt the same as I did: Trump experience in the United States has made me less inclined to assume that voters share my distaste for demagogic ranting.

Anonymous said...

I wince at the mere possibility of a President Mélenchon. I'll admit that he is superior to Trump in every way, political and human. (Also than Le Pen and than the various clowns who are competing to lead the great nation of Italy.) But what a standard! And if Mélenchon were to destroy the European Union he will have done a worse deed than anything Trump has managed so far. Although I wonder if I am not like a traditional rightist from the 1970s, convinced that Mitterrand would be a French Fidel Castro.

Macron has been very impressive as president. I don't think that France is in such a "parlous state" compared to the US, the UK, Italy, Spain, Austria, the eastern EU states, or perhaps even Germany. I even think that things here are going rather well. However, we have all of our eggs in one basket.

Anonymous said...

I don't quite understand what he's saying about Léa Salamé. That her family's wealthy and therefore she shouldn't question him on his wealth?