The right-wing Murdoch rag The Weekly Standard—a normally loathsome publication but which has a few not bad writers and the periodic article worth reading—has two cover story pieces on the French election in its latest issue. The lead one is by Christopher Caldwell (here), TWS’s in-house Europe specialist and who has written extensively on French politics over the years. Caldwell is smart and knows France well. His articles on France are, along with Philip Gourevitch’s in The New Yorker, the best in American journalism (David A. Bell in TNR doesn’t count, as he’s an academic). But though Caldwell has good insights into French politics, his own politics sometimes get in the way, leading to assertions and observations that are peculiar, when not completely à côté de la plaque. This article does not depart from the rule. A few passages
All Western social democratic parties have, over the past generation, made the transition from the factory floor to the faculty club. American Democrats and French Socialists have gone farthest, and now have scant support among the working classes they were built to represent. Intellectuals…can get excited about the fate of the Socialist party, but no one else can.
Actually, not even intellectuals get too excited about the Socialists hors périodes électorales. As for working class support, there is a certain amount of nonsense in the conservative conventional wisdom on this. The US Democrats still have a working class base—albeit not at the same level as five decades ago—as do the French Socialists. The latter, in fact, lost a good part of its working class base to the Communists from the 1920s onward, though still had its bastions in the Nord and parts of the Midi. With the decline of the PCF in the 1980s, the FN became the n° 1 vote-getting party among ouvriers—at least in presidential elections—, with the PS following a close second. The syndrome is not new. In last Sunday’s vote, according to the IPSOS exit poll, Marine Le Pen came in first place among ouvriers, as could be expected, with 29%, followed by François Hollande at 27% (and with Nicolas Sarkozy a distant third at 19%). As for employés—which includes pink collar/clerical—, Hollande was first with 28%, followed by NS at 22 and MLP at 21. Among lower-income earners, the Socialists are still the n° 1 party.
The Socialists are the party of les bobos—a word coined by David Brooks in The Weekly Standard as shorthand for “bourgeois bohemians” but which is now much more commonly heard in French. Professors, minorities, the mega-rich, single women, and government employees … these are the core of the coalition. It is arguably mightier in France than in the United States because the state is mightier. Government spending takes up 56 percent of GDP.
Ouais, bof. This bobo-Socialist business has become the new cliché in French politics, and good for one-line zingers at right-wing rallies (Marine LP got in a few, and to a resounding chorus of boos, at the Zénith the week before last). But it is just that: a cliché. As for the “core of the [Socialist] coalition,” foutaise I say! Professors? They vote no more for the left nowadays than they ever have (and at the university level, more vote for the right in France than in the US). Minorities? If one is referring to those of Muslim Maghrebi origin, their désamour toward the PS is heartfelt. The Socialists have never gone out of their way to cultivate them as a community. Maghrebis in France in fact tend to dislike the Socialists, voting for them only to counter the right and its hard-line discourse on immigration. The parliamentary right could indeed have made inroads into the small and fragmented but growing Maghrebi electorate—playing on the De Gaulle heritage, conservative social values, and their désamour toward the Socialists—but clearly decided that there were more ducks to be hunted among voters in France who dislike those Maghrebis. The mega-rich? Huh? In France?? Are you serious, Monsieur Caldwell? Single women? As a “core of the coalition”? Sorry but no. Government employees? Mais bien sûr. No doubt about that one.
Hollande’s platform is nugatory. Next to it, Bill Clinton’s 1996 “micro-initiatives” look like the Sermon on the Mount.
This is true. Policy-wise Hollande has proposed little of substance and for three reasons: 1. Anything interesting he could propose would cost money, which he won’t have, 2. Important reforms that he and the Socialists know they should propose will seriously alienate important components of the Socialist electorate, and 3. Hollande and the Socialists are not entirely sure what they stand for and in what direction they want to take the country. If Sarkozy hadn’t done himself in with his personality failings, disastrous style of politics and governing, and unprincipled opportunism, he would be a clear favorite for reelection. I’ll come back to this in the very near future.
Economists (not to mention the Economist) think Hollande is going to be a catastrophe for Europe. They are probably wrong. Not because Hollande is wiser than he lets on but because markets have likely already priced this fiscal laxity into the euro and because Hollande’s policies are not as different from Sarko’s as they look.
Good observation. Mélenchon voters darkly suspect that Hollande will in fact pursue similar policies to Sarkozy. The May Day march of the syndicats on Tuesday will be a signal to Hollande that the left will have an eye on him, so I was informed by a cégétiste this weekend (via Skype). They are not likely to be pleased by decisions a Hollande presidency will take.
The European Union has managed to dismantle democracy at the national level without reconstructing it at the transnational level. It no longer does justice to the problem to say that the EU has a “democratic deficit.” It is more accurate to say that it has an “antidemocratic tradition.”
Typical Anglo-Saxon Eurosceptic pablum and of which Caldwell and other US conservatives are fond. There has indeed been a democratic deficit in the construction of Europe and that no one would deny. The European Constitutional Treaty was designed to rectify that, but which the
stupid French electorate rejected in ’05. Too bad for them.
In fact, the major preoccupations of the National Front in recent years, and especially since the party was taken over by Marine Le Pen 18 months ago, have been the erosion of French democracy by the European Union and the erosion of the French economy by globalization (of which immigration is certainly an aspect).
The FN is opposed to Europe for nationalistic, France-first reasons, not because it erodes French democracy. GMAB!
But Le Pen and Mélenchon are not as different as that, and there is something we need to be conscious of. The extremists in olden times were extremists because they took the view that democracy was not up to the challenges of the day. Mélenchon and Le Pen, whether you like them or not, are calling for more democracy, not less.
On this, Caldwell is completely, totally à côté de la plaque. My dim views on Jean-Luc Mélenchon are well-known to all who read this blog but there is really no comparing him to the Le Pens except for a penchant for trash talking and verbal violence against political opponents. If Mélenchon is calling for more democracy, I have failed to see it in his discourse. As I have explicated, democracy is not one of his core values. As for Marine LP, she has had nothing to say about the functioning of institutions except to call for the systematic recourse to referendums on just about every issue dear to the FN and with the possibility of citizen initiatives. Whether or not the tool of the referendum enhances democracy is a big question that I won’t get into here—national referendums are, of course, non-existent in the US and Germany and practically so in the UK—, except to say that historically speaking they have not been associated with democracy in France. Until the Fifth Republic referendums = plebiscites, and plebiscites = Bonapartism. In view of the FN’s ideological antecedents and its manifest predisposition toward strongman (or strongwoman) leaders, the recourse to the referendum/plebiscite were it to come to power could only be viewed with disquiet (not to mention the very idea of the FN exercising power).
There is one concession that would drop most of the Front’s votes into the UMP’s lap. That would be an agreement to form alliances with FN candidates in the legislative elections that are scheduled for June.
It won’t happen. Not a chance. More on this later.
The upshot of this election’s first round is a likely victory in the short-term for the Socialists, but a larger long-term victory for the National Front. Sheer arithmetic is doing away with the cordon sanitaire, turning the FN into the natural political home for voters driven out of the two larger parties by an evolving economy. It may be turning the FN into the natural opposition party of France.
I don’t think so. The chances of the FN replacing the UMP as the principal opposition party if the left comes to power are minimal. More on this later too.
The other TWS article is by Anne-Elisabeth Moutet, a columnist for the London Daily Telegraph, who writes on how she was a “Facebook martyr for the Sarkozy cause” (read here). Moutet is, as she informs us, the conservative brebis galeuse of an old and venerable French Socialist family—her grandfather was a member of Léon Blum’s Popular Front government no less (Minister of Colonies, to be precise)—and has to subir des avanies from leftist, Sarko-hating cousins indignant at her irreductible sarkozysme. Having been polemically pounced on by Republican relatives many times over the decades, I can relate. Moutet writes about
the anti-Sarkozy frenzy that has seized France in ways that make Bush Derangement Syndrome look like afternoon tea in an Edith Wharton novel.
This is very true. E.g. I was a Bush hater from Day One, i.e. from the 2000 campaign onward, but felt that the even more virulent Bush hatred of liberal-lefties was over the top. It was too much, particularly during his second term. Likewise with Sarkozy. There are in fact excellent reasons to despise the S.O.B. and to desperately want his political career to end next week, but too many French lefties—as well as non-lefties—have become unhinged in their Sarko hatred. It has become less a political phenomenon than one of mass psychology. Again, a subject I will come back to before next Sunday.
Mme Moutet knows that Sarkozy’s chances are slim next Sunday but “would love to see [her family's] faces if Sarko pulls it off.” This sounds personal. All I can say is that if Sarko does indeed pull it off, I’ll put egg on my face. Literally. I promise.
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