Saturday, March 4, 2017

Twisting Slowly in the Wind

One almost feels for François Fillon. It can't be easy to realize one's life's ambition only to have the prize snatched away by the exposure of a bit of peculation you'd been getting away with for your entire career. It's easy to understand why he feels aggrieved. But his lucidity seems to have deserted him. He is beginning to look even more obtuse than Hollande, who continued for several years after his sell-by date to insist that he still had a chance to be re-elected, even when everyone else agreed that he didn't.

By now Fillon should have gotten the message. His campaign manager and chief spokesman have resigned. He's had Sarkozy on the phone several times telling him that the jig was up. Alain Juppé's lieutenants have been spreading the word that Prince Hamlet has overcome his irresolution and is ready to snatch the crown from the usurper (but remember, it didn't end well for Hamlet). And now, having accused his enemies of fomenting civil war against him, Fillon is calling for his own troops to mount a counter-attack tomorrow at Trocadéro, in the hope that this rag-tag army of irregulars will be enough to face down the Czar and his savage hordes. Failing that, it's "Plan B for Bérézina." The metaphor is looking more and more apt, as Fillonistes desert in droves and die in the cold.

This "French carnage" (I borrow from Donald Trump, une fois n'est pas coutume) is horrible to watch, but there may be worse to come. If Juppé is the replacement, as seems likely, today's conventional wisdom--that round 2 will be a Macron-Le Pen contest in which Macron will win--will be fit to wrap fish in. Juppé will no doubt drive some considerable number of LR voters into the FN camp while repatriating some who had already defected to Macron. Back when Juppé was the favorite to be the LR nominee (I know, it seems like ancient history), the smart money had it that most PS voters would flock to Juppé in order to stop Le Pen. But now, who knows? Many will hesitate between Macron and Juppé. Will familiarity breed more contempt than novelty breeds affection? Will the sidelining of Fillon enhance Le Pen's chances or diminish them?

It's hard to dope out, despite a few instant polls, with one even showing a first round with Juppé on top, Macron second, and Le Pen eliminated. A consummation devoutly to be wished, except by all those on the far right and far left who will feel caught in the mucky quicksand of the mushy center--and remember that the number of such dispossessed could well amount to more than half of the electorate, an indication of the rapidly declining legitimacy of the Fifth Republic itself. France could well find itself with a president judged sane by Europe's elites presiding over a nation angered an electoral process that has been the opposite of sane. Indeed, it's the craziest election I've witnessed in half a century of observing the French scene.

As Laurel used to say to Hardy, "What a fine mess you've gotten us into this time, Ollie!" What a fine mess you've gotten us into this time, Fillie. And for what? A château in the Sarthe? One almost feels nostalgic for the bling-bling president with his fancy watches and yachts and supermodels. His vices were so much less stodgy. It's 2017, after all. Qui voudrait investir en pierre quand il pourrait diner chez Fouquet's? One has to learn to sin with one's times. Fillon is a character out of the Third Republic, not the Fifth. Perhaps that's what will have doomed him in the end.