It’s been two weeks since the Turkish referendum, on which I have not had a single post. I normally would have but (a) have been majorly distracted by the French presidential campaign, (b) find what’s happening in Turkey so tragic—and so personally painful, as Turkey is a country I know and love—that I can hardly bear to even read about it, and (c) have nothing particularly original to say. Whatever commentary I would have to offer has already been offered by numerous others who spend more of their waking hours focusing on Turkey than do I. In commenting on an event or happening like this, I simply refer the reader to analyses by specialists and other observers sur le terrain that I find particularly interesting. I’ve read a few good pieces on the referendum over the past two weeks but will link to just one, by my friend Claire Berlinski, published in The American Interest on April 24th, on Turkey and how democracies die. Claire is a great writer, knows the subject comme sa poche, and what she has to say is 100% on target. C’est tout ce que j’ai à dire.
[update below] [2nd update below] [3rd update below]
It was a big ouf de soulagement at 8pm last night, when the two 2nd round qualifiers were projected on the TV screen, based on exit polls and the count from sample polling stations that had closed an hour earlier. I was confident through the day that Emmanuel Macron would make it but got a little nervous as 8pm approached. I will offer no deep analysis here—for that, see the hot takes by Arthur Goldhammer and John Judis—just a few takeaways and random thoughts. Voilà.
Random thought 1: The 2nd round will take place on May 7th and, in the interval, there will be a campaign and debate (on May 3rd), but the outcome is a foregone conclusion: Macron is going to win. Sure, there is a statistical possibility—10%, 20%, whatever—that Marine Le Pen could pull it off but, objectively speaking, she has no chance. The IPSOS exit poll last night has Macron beating Le Pen 62-38, i.e. by 24 points. The spread will likely narrow over the next two weeks—maybe even into the low teens—but not by enough to make it a horse race. As for the transfer of votes from the losing candidates, here are IPSOS’s numbers
Half of François Fillon’s voters, the majority of Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s, and the great majority of Benoît Hamon’s will vote for Macron—not because they are enamored with him but to block Marine. As Hamon put it in his concession speech last night, between a “political adversary” and an “enemy of the republic,” the choice is clear. A third of Fillon’s voters say they will vote for Marine but most Macron-allergic JLM and Hamon supporters will abstain or nullify their ballots.
Despite these hard numbers, there are sure to be click-bait articles in the Anglo-American media on a possible Le Pen surprise. On this, Princeton University political scientist Andrew Moravcsik had a pertinent comment on Facebook last night:
As predicted, the French held firm. This is an election that, barring death or calamity, Le Pen cannot win. This is not “within the margin of error” stuff like Trump or Brexit; she is down almost 2:1 in the second round. This supports my ranting over the past months about the incredible waste of journalistic time writing (and therefore spoon feeding us to read) about worst-case scenarios in France. If we had a Euro for every article globally talking about how well Le Pen was doing, with a sentence in paragraph 20 adding, “Oh, by the way, she cannot win the second round against any of the three others,” we could put a significant dent in global poverty. Typical of the press’s tendency to highlight the sensational, focus on irrelevancies, and, in the process, misleadingly talk down Europe.
As for the specious Trump/Brexit parallel, I have been pushing back against this for weeks. But if one doesn’t want to listen me, take it from Nate Silver at FiveThirtyEight, who informed his readers last night that “Marine Le Pen is in a much deeper hole than Trump ever was.” Je n’ai plus rien à dire sur ce sujet.
Random thought 2: Related to the above, French polling institutes got it right. So much for speculation on possible “herding“—and from the very same Nate Silver. There were no real surprises, except perhaps for Hamon’s lower than expected score. And the five to six point drop in MLP’s score over the past six weeks was real (for the official national results, go here). Several polling institutes, including IPSOS, had speculated on a drop in participation—with abstention possibly reaching, or even surpassing, 30%—but this finally did not happen. The participation rate was 77.7%—one-and-a-half points lower than 2012 but in the normal range for presidential 1st rounds.
Random thought 3: One of the many reasons why Marine LP has no chance of winning on May 7th is because she has no allies. The Front National has never had allies. And without allies, it is impossible for right-wing populist candidates to win national elections. One of the academic specialists of the subject—it was Cas Mudde or Jan-Werner Müller—wrote recently that populists or fascists have only been able to come to power electorally in a coalition—explicit or tacit—with a sizable mainstream conservative party, or by taking over, absorbing, or being the candidate of such a party (e.g. Trump in the US, Erdoğan in Turkey, Modi in India). If there’s a cordon sanitaire around a radical right-wing populist party, that party will remain in the political ghetto indefinitely (e.g. Geert Wilders in the Netherlands). Last night every tenor of the LR party without exception, and led by Fillon, endorsed Macron. LR will simply not deal with the FN and on any level. Nicolas Dupont-Aignan said that he would make his intentions known later but he represents only himself.
Random thought 4. Emmanuel Macron’s imminent propulsion to the summit of the French state is quite amazing when one thinks about it. As one likely knows by now, almost no one had heard of him before he was appointed minister of the economy in 2014. Serious presidential candidates in France are not supposed to come out of nowhere. This is the kind of thing that happens in America, e.g. Jimmy Carter in 1976, not France. In 1992 a leading French political scientist—who had taught in the US and spoke perfect English—scoffed to me about Bill Clinton’s nomination, thinking it ridiculous that a governor from an obscure state like Arkansas could go straight to the White House; he snorted that it would be like the president of the Conseil Régional of the Limousin or Poitou-Charentes trying to be Président de la République. C’est pas possible! In the past, the upper tier of the French political class rejuvenated at a glacial pace, or so it seemed. The stable of credible presidential candidates in the 1990s was about the same as in the 1980s, or even the ’70s. Things evolved with Ségolène Royal in 2007 but even she was a known personality then, who had been around for a while. How France has changed. It’s becoming even more Americanized than America…
American University of Paris professor Oleg Kobtzeff had a Facebook comment last night on Macron that I like:
Rien de nouveau dans le phénomène Macron. C’est un remake de Lecanuet en 1965 ou de Giscard en 1974, mais avec l’air intello (légèrement) de gauche et à la fois cadre dynamique comme… JJSS — un Jean-Jacques Servan-Schreiber mais qui va réussir. Mélenchon à 19%? C’est le retour des communistes à la tête de la gauche comme du temps de Maurice Thorez, Waldek-Rochet ou Jacques Duclos.
Mélenchon is, in point of fact, not a communist but one gets the analogy.
Random thought 5: As for Jean-Luc Mélenchon, he revealed his abject ignominiousness in his surly address last night at 10:00, in implicitly equating Le Pen and Macron, and refusing to endorse the latter. He claimed that he had no right to take a position without consulting with the 450,000 members of La France Insoumise, as he is merely their obedient servant and it is up to them. So this Fidel-Chávez wannabe will submit to the masses, who will reveal their choice via internet tomorrow. What leadership. Even JLM’s allies in the comatose Front de Gauche, e.g. the PCF’s Pierre Laurent and Clémentine Autain of Ensemble, have, in calling for a massive vote to bar the route to Le Pen, backhandedly endorsed Macron. Quel connard, Mélenchon.
Random thought 6: The last three legislative elections, which immediately followed the presidential, have been afterthoughts, as it was a foregone conclusion that the party of the victor in May would win a majority in the national assembly in June. Not this time. There will be five/six-way races in most constituencies, with candidates of En Marche!, FN, LR-UDI, PS-EELV, and FI/FDG (running together or separately). The number of triangulaires is sure to be high and with the outcome up in the air. EM! should, in principle, have the momentum in the wake in Macron’s victory but many of its candidates will be rank unknowns and the historic parties of government—LR-UDI and the PS—will throw everything they have into electing a sizable bloc of deputies, to oblige President Macron to deal with him—even enter into a coalition government—and for their own survival. In other words, the legislative elections—on June 11th and 18th—will be as important as the presidential. And they’ll be wide open. More on this at a later date.
À la prochaine.
2nd UPDATE: The following academic specialists of France have postmortem analyses of the 1st round: Hugo Drochon (Cambridge), Emile Chabal (Edinburgh), Mabel Berezin (Cornell), Yascha Mounk (Harvard), David A. Bell (Princeton), and Harold James (Princeton). The latter three focus in particular on Emmanuel Macron. See also the interview with Gaël Brustier—who issues from the left/republican wing of the PS—on Macron.
3rd UPDATE: The Financial Times’s Janan Ganesh has an intriguing column, “Macron shows how political talent can trump the zeitgeist.” The lede: “For liberals the way back to power can happen in a flash with a class act.”
In my post yesterday I wrote that I would probably be in a state of terror this evening, meditating on a possible calamitous outcome in tomorrow’s vote. Well, it is now the evening and while not serene, I am not fretting or wringing my hands. The calm before the hurricane? On the possible impact of Thursday night’s terrorist attack on the Champs-Elysées, an Odoxa poll partly taken Friday—when the attack was dominating the news—revealed a 1% increase in Marine Le Pen’s score and a 0.5% drop for the other top contenders, and with an uptick for Marine in Friday’s numbers compared to those collected by the institute on Thursday before the attack. The final BVA poll, partly taken on Friday, showed no change in MLP’s score, however. As the attack is not leading the news today and the official campaign ended at midnight last night—so no possibility for MLP to demagogue and whip up fear the day before voters go to the polls—one may wager that it will have no appreciable effect on the result.
Another cause for relative calm is the stability in the polls: of the fifteen taken over the past week, thirteen have had Emmanuel Macron in the lead, one with him and MLP tied, and one with MLP leading by half a point. The stability has caused Nate Silver and Harry Enten at FiveThirtyEight—who think this not normal—to wonder about possible “herding” by the polling institutes, though The Economist magazine deems it unlikely that French pollsters would be cooking their numbers. If they are, I’d be surprised; of the nine institutes doing horse race polls, six have been around for a while, i.e. decades, and have track records. And the political pollsters of two of the top institutes, Brice Teinturier (IPSOS) and Jérôme Fourquet (IFOP), are regulars on TV and radio, where they are periodically asked to explain their methodologies. If the polling numbers are all in the same range, maybe it’s because that’s where they really are. And the track record of French pollsters has indeed been fairly good over time, though, in a multi-candidate race, there will inevitably be at least one surprise: e.g. in 2012, it was Jean-Luc Mélenchon, who underperformed his final poll numbers; in 2007, it was Nicolas Sarkozy (over) and Jean-Marie Le Pen (under). In tomorrow’s vote, there will no doubt be at least one surprise and possibly by up to three points.
There are six configurations, all of which are possible. I will rank order them, from what I consider to be the most likely to the least:
1. Macron-Fillon. This will be the surprise, with François Fillon finishing second, ahead of Marine Le Pen. In this scenario, there are is a “shy” Fillon vote out there, of older voters—who privilege his experience and nerves of steel—and others on the right, who have been disgusted with Fillon and his affaires but finally feel they have no other choice. And that Fillon electorate is there. On this, see the essay by Hugo Drochon, who teaches politics at the University of Cambridge, in Project Syndicate, posted two days before Le Canard Enchaîné broke the first affaire. If this scenario comes to pass, Macron will win in a walk.
2. Macron-Le Pen. If polls are predictions—which they’re not—this will be it. In the 2nd round, EM destroys MLP.
3. Le Pen-Fillon. Macron majorly underperforms and Fillon the opposite, with disaster the consequence, as the French electorate will be presented with a choice between two deeply unpopular personalities, indeed the most unpopular in the French political class. And for the left it will be a catastrophe, of the reactionary right vs. the extreme right. The perversity of the French two-round system will be laid bare. Hypothetical 2nd round match-ups have had Fillon defeating Le Pen handily but I’m not so sure. I will personally hold my nose and vote Fillon but many voters on the left will not do this. They will vote blanc/nul or abstain. Harvard University government lecturer Yascha Mounk, in his “A primer on the French election: Four candidates, three nightmare scenarios” in Slate, summed up the matter
The prospect that Fillon might face Le Pen in the second round is terrifying for two reasons: First, there is every reason to think that he might lose. And second, even if he did win, he would make a terrible president—close to the Kremlin, regressive on social issues, pursuing an unimaginative course of cuts without investment in the economy, and entering office under the stinking cloud of an ongoing investigation for corruption.
Further down, Mounk asserts
The election of Fillon would strengthen Putin’s hand, give French voters even better reason to conclude that their country’s political class is controlled by the corrupt and the self-serving, and deepen popular disenchantment with democracy.
The election of Fillon, who is damaged goods if there ever were any—and for whom many will cast their votes solely to block the even worse Marine Le Pen—would be so very bad for France. Yesterday I ran into a recent former student of mine, who is a salaried legislative assistant of the LR party. He told me that he is so revolted by Fillon and his affaires that he would not be able to vote for him in the 1st round. And he wasn’t alone, so he said. If he, as an LR activist, feels this way, one can imagine the attitude of those outside the base of that party. I rest my case.
4. Macron-Mélenchon. If nothing else, this would make for an epic 2nd round debate. My choice is obvious but quite a few people I know on the left would vote JLM. EM would win easily, though. I wouldn’t mind this scenario at all.
5. Le Pen-Mélenchon. Everyone’s nightmare scenario. The specter of this is so terrifying that I can’t even contemplate what would happen the next day—financial markets, general hysteria in France and Europe—not to mention over the subsequent two weeks. As I’ve already written, I will vote Mélenchon: anyone and anything to block Marine LP, but also with the utter certainty that he would not obtain a majority in the June legislative elections, and thus not be able to implement any of his hare-brained schemes. As for who would win the 2nd round: no doubt JLM.
6. Fillon-Mélenchon. The least likely scenario but no less nightmarish to contemplate. If this comes to pass, I will nullify my ballot, i.e. rip it in two (there will be two ballots, actually—one for each candidate—so two to rip). I may loathe JLM but will not vote for the unspeakable Fillon to stop him. And there is no way I will vote JLM to block a corrupt right-wing candidate but who will not pull France out of the European Union. If any lefties out there need arguments against JLM at this point, see the commentaries by Nathalie Nougayrède, Elie Cohen, Guillaume Duval, Jean-Pierre Filiu, Henri Weber, and Marcel Sel that I’ve posted on social media over the past few days. Who would win this one? I have no idea. It could go either way.
My crap shoot prediction:
Le Pen: 21
Participation rate: 77%
PREFACE: This post was largely written before last night’s terrorist attack on the Champs-Elysées, which is naturally dominating the news today and leading to all sorts of speculation as to the consequences for Sunday’s vote, and with nervous nellies—mainly non-French—fretting that it could boost Marine Le Pen’s chances. The only thing to say about this is that France has experienced numerous terrorist attacks over the past three decades and with none moving the polls in one direction or another. E.g. the Mohamed Merah killings in Montauban and Toulouse in March 2012—one month before the 1st round of the 2012 presidential election—had no effect on the race—and, moreover, did not even cause a momentary uptick in tough guy President Sarkozy’s numbers. The 2015 regional elections may be a partial exception to this, with political scientist Pascal Perrineau saying at the time that the November 13th atrocity three/four weeks earlier increased the Front National’s score by up to three points. But November 13th was a huge attack and that traumatized the entire French nation, regional councils are mostly powerless bodies that the vast majority of citizens never think about, and elections to them are low participation affairs—50% in the 2015 1st round and 59% in the 2nd—and outlets for throw-away protest votes against the incumbent party at the national level. And in 2015, the FN’s historic score in the 1st round provoked a mobilization of anti-FN voters in the 2nd, resulting in the party not winning a single council. Last night’s attack does play into themes that Marine Le Pen has been hammering away at and could possibly move some voters she’s been losing over the past month back into her column. If any candidate does benefit from the attack—and I emphasize if—it will, however, more likely be François Fillon. But that’s idle speculation and that I will engage in no more of. On verra dimanche soir.
On the race, the final polls are coming in and all show stability, with Emmanuel Macron narrowly in first, Marine Le Pen a close second—but losing ground—and François Fillon and Jean-Luc Mélenchon on her heels and tied for third, and all four within the margin of error. This thing could go any which way—with six possible configurations, three of which are calamitous—and with any prediction at this stage a crap shoot in view of the exceptional number of undecideds and uncertainty over the participation rate. Everyone is fretting, nervous, or downright worried. Speaking for myself, by tomorrow night I’ll probably be in a state of terror contemplating the prospect of one of the three calamitous configurations materializing the next day.
As for those calamitous configurations, they are the 2nd round match-ups that do not include Emmanuel Macron.
Macron had his big Paris rally on Monday afternoon (Easter Monday, so a public holiday) and which I attended. It was at the Palais Omnisports de Paris-Bercy—formally branded the AccorHotels Arena—which is the largest indoor arena in the city. The turnout was impressive. My friend and I wanted to be in the fosse (standing-room pit in front of the stage), so we could walk around and take photos, but after waiting in line for almost an hour, were turned away, informed that the fosse was reserved for En Marche! activists (wearing orange bracelets), so we had to sit in the upper deck, making it difficult to take good photos (particularly with my not terrific Galaxy A5) and my friend, who has a high-end camera (with telephoto lens and all), was not allowed to bring it in—security at Bercy is draconian—which was a disappointment. So no photo album for this rally. Just this one pic, taken a couple of minutes after Macron mounted the stage and with the audience on its feet.
Some observations on the rally, which crystallized much of the Macron campaign: It was stage-managed to a far higher degree than any other such political event I’ve attended in this country. First, the mere fact that the fosse was reserved for activists, and who were, moreover, seated, so no fluidity or moving about. And the lower decks, which were mainly occupied by activists wearing En Marche! t-shirts, and roughly grouped by color (yellow, orange, blue). It looked good from a distance, and no doubt on television. Cf. the Benoît Hamon rally a month ago, which was more laid back. There were also more people at Hamon’s rally, as Macron’s had a much larger stage and in the middle of the fosse—with four teleprompters, so he could move about while doing his televangelist-like act—thereby reducing the number of people who could get in there (I’d say 17,000 people were in the arena, compared to 20K for Hamon).
Second, Macron arrived at precisely 5:00 and spoke for precisely an hour-and-a-half. Impeccably choreographed. The crowd was enthusiastic, as one could expect, but, from my vantage point at least, I didn’t find the overall atmosphere as electric as the Hamon rally. As for the audience, it was in the image of Macron: that portion of France that is educated and part of the global economy—and for the young people there, who will soon be part of that economy. That’s Macron’s base. I tried to determine, in the audience reactions during his speech, if they were politically more to the left or right. As his oblique references to Fillon and Le Pen aroused the loudest boos—and particularly his dig at Sens Commun—this would suggest that his hardcore fans are not, in their majority, habitual voters of the LR party. Indirect references to Hamon and Mélenchon—e.g. the line about turning France into a “Venezuela without oil” and “Cuba without the sun”—did not provoke the same negativity from the crowd.
As for Macron’s speech, the first half of it was vaporous. He’s a good enough speaker—though I will rank him below Mélenchon and Hamon—but can talk for minutes on end without saying anything in particular, or nothing that anyone remembers. The second half of the speech, which focused on his vision for France, was better (for the whole thing, go here). He thankfully did not present a laundry list of policy proposals but rather sought to give an idea of what one could expect with him in power. It was classic Macron: un coup à droite, un coup à gauche. Numerous phrases contained buzzwords appealing to right and left alike, e.g. “entreprise” and “réussite” (success) to impress the right—and “equality” and “solidarity” to reassure the left. And all in the same sentence. And invoking De Gaulle and Mitterrand, and in the same breath, as great leaders of the past and from whom he draws inspiration (which is actually not reassuring, but that’s another matter).
I’ve been wanting to like Macron, as I desperately hope he is elected on May 7th—There Is No Alternative: it’s him or the deluge—but it’s not always easy. His youth, political inexperience, and incessant triangulating—of trying to be too many things to too many people—causes him to make avoidable mistakes. E.g. saying in his JDD interview two weeks ago that he would reform the Code du Travail by ordonnance (i.e. modify the labor code by executive decree). This is both bad policy and terrible politics. The Code du Travail is one of the hottest potatoes in the French political system and any reform of it needs to be preceded by a public debate—however conflictual that may be—and a vote in parliament. Changing it by presidential ukase will cause the left to hate him, and Macron needs as much of the left as he can possibly get. But enraging the unions—even those otherwise well-disposed toward him (CFDT, CFTC)—and voters on the left will win him nothing on the right, as not a single Fillon voter is going to defect to him on account of this alone. It was a stupid rookie error and that he has had to partially walk back. And he said nothing about it in his Bercy speech.
There are other problems with Macron—notably in the (Gaullist/Mitterrandian) way he says he will govern—which I’ll take up next week (assuming he qualifies for the 2nd round). But there are some very positive, compelling features of his candidacy and which counteract the drawbacks, one being his sunny optimism for France and its future. Macron’s discourse is devoid of demagoguery, dark pessimism, or apocalyptic depictions of present-day France and the world (cf. the other three top contenders). If Barack Obama had not trademarked “Yes we can!,” it would be the ideal motto for the Macron campaign. Macron projects positivity, and smiles while he’s at it. Macron believes in France and its ability to prosper and thrive in a globalized world. And, as one knows, he is the most pro-Europe candidate and whose election will thrill France’s EU partners. Among many other things, a President Macron will surely increase French influence in the European Council. Macron represents change—a rejuvenation of the French political class, which voters say they want—but without wreaking havoc. C’est-à-dire, il ne va foutre le bordel. Again, cf. the other three contenders.
Leaving the Bercy arena, my friend—sociologist Didier Le Saout, who is on the left and not a Macron fan de la première heure—said to me, “Can you imagine what this presidential race would be if Macron weren’t there?” We would have nothing but awful choices. Hamon would no doubt be higher in the polls but, as the candidate of the discredited PS, would have no chance. And it’s not clear that François Bayrou on a fourth try would have generated the same dynamic that Macron has. So alhamdulillah الحَمْد لله for Emmanuel Macron.
Didier Le Saout has sent me his reflections on the rally and the Macron phenomenon. Le voici:
Le projet social-libéral d’Emmanuel Macron
Emmanuel Macron veut définitivement casser l’image partagée dans les représentations politiques françaises du libéralisme emprunt de valeurs de droite. En déclarant en 2015 que le « libéralisme est une valeur de gauche », il se montre préoccupé de voir son projet légitimé par la gauche. De son point de vue, cette dernière porte le mieux la dimension culturelle ou sociétale du libéralisme pour défendre et étendre les droits et libertés des individus. A cet égard, la reconnaissance du « mariage pour tous » sous la présidence de François Hollande s’accorde parfaitement avec son projet d’émanciper les individus du joug de la tradition et de la religion. Ces mêmes valeurs libérales de la vie en société sont revendiquées haut et fort par ses partisans. Lorsque dans son grand meeting parisien du 17 avril 2017, deux hommes puis deux femmes vêtus du teeshirt du mouvement En marche sont filmés en s’embrassant sur les grands écrans de la salle, ils sont applaudis sous les hourras des 20 000 participants.
Mais Macron n’entend pas cantonner son projet à un univers de représentations perçues comme de gauche. La référence faite au libéralisme culturel et sociétal ancré à gauche lui permet de faire un pont avec un modèle de « société libérale avancée » tel que prôné par d’autres courants de la droite. Ceci lui vaut d’être dénoncé par la gauche comme ne proposant qu’un relooking de la politique menée par l’ancien président Valéry Giscard d’Estaing qui dans les années 1970 avait abaissé l’âge de la majorité de 21 à 18 ans, légalisé l’avortement et permis de divorcer par consentement mutuel. Ne critiquant pas le capitalisme, le projet de Macron montrerait alors ses limites selon ses détracteurs.
Revendiquant un libéralisme politique articulé sur des dimensions culturelles et sociales, Macron en appelle alors à la morale pour se distinguer du libéralisme thatchérien. Il ne se prive pas de mettre en garde des patrons d’entreprises publiques et privées contre les excès de leurs rémunérations montrant ainsi que l’Etat peut indiquer aux entrepreneurs le juste chemin à suivre. De la même façon, il met en garde des risques d’exclusion que pourrait induire le libéralisme. Ce n’est encore pas un hasard si durant ce même meeting parisien du 17 avril il fait référence à Philippe Séguin, l’inspirateur du fameux discours de Jacques Chirac durant sa campagne électorale de 1995 sur la « fracture sociale ». Si personne ne doit rester sur le bord de la route, il n’importe pas selon Macron de renforcer les dispositifs d’aides sociales mais de permettre à chacun de pouvoir bénéficier d’une formation tout au long de la vie. La nécessité de parvenir par la loi à une « moralisation de la vie publique » et au renouvellement des élus prolonge encore ces exigences morales dans le système politique.
En bref, Macron défend un libéralisme politique articulé sur des dimensions culturelles et sociales pour encadrer la vertu créatrice et l’envie de réussir tout en ne remettant pas en question le rôle de l’Etat et encore moins du capitalisme. En cela, son projet peut résolument être considéré comme social-libéral.
The Macron rally over (at 6:40), Didier and I took the metro to Porte de Pantin, to Marine Le Pen’s rally at the Zénith, which was scheduled to begin at 8:00.
The above photo, taken by me, is of the end of MLP’s speech, with all the FN’s heavyweights (Marion Maréchal-Le Pen, Gilbert Collard et al) on the stage, and in what was the one festive-like moment of the rally. Otherwise, it was a horror show, by far the darkest—both figuratively and literally (the lighting in the arena was somber)—political event I have witnessed in France, indeed anywhere. I attended Marine’s rally in 2012—five years prior to the day—also at the Zénith, which I had a post on and with dozens of pics. The Zénith is not the largest arena in Paris—seating 6,300 and with no fosse—so the mere fact that MLP held her rally there, despite flying high in the polls, signified that the FN didn’t think it could fill a larger hall. And it didn’t even this one: whereas it as was full to capacity in 2012, this time there were empty seats in the upper rows. The turnout was likely on the order of 5,500. Not terrific for a candidate who, it has been assumed until lately, is a shoo-in for the 2nd round.
I thought the 2012 rally was a success for Marine and that she gave a good speech. Not this time. First, the production values of the event were poor: In addition to the somber lighting, there was no music before things got going and the two warm-up speakers were duds (one I hadn’t even heard of—I didn’t catch his name—and campaign spokesman and Fréjus mayor David Rachline, who’s 29-years-old but looks and acts like he’s 50). As for Marine’s speech, it was an hour-and-forty-minute diatribe and from the get go: against immigration, migrants, terrorism, radical Islam (when not just Islam tout court), crime, globalization, global financiers… in short, against all the FN’s boogeymen and everything it fears and/or hates. Adding to this were her vituperative attacks on Fillon, Macron, and Mélenchon, all referred to by name and with the hall booing loudly. It was an orgy of red meat thrown to the crowd, which devoured it all. There were moments when the entire hall was in a frenzy. It was an unpleasant ambiance. A Turkish Kurdish activist friend of Didier’s, who’s settled in France and wanted to see an FN rally with his own eyes, came along with us; he was visibly uncomfortable throughout—and not at all reassured by a man sitting near us who continually bellowed “Islam hors de France!” (Islam out of France!), and another who, likely observing that we were not applauding—and were maybe journalists, another target of FN hate—tried to goad us at a couple of points (we ignored him). As Didier was allowed to bring in his camera, he took photos—which are a lot better than mine—some of which he put into an album that may be viewed here.
At the 2012 rally, Marine flashed smiles at the crowd; this time she was febrile, indeed tense. As for an explanation as to why she was on edge, her campaign has been preoccupied, even alarmed, of late by her loss of five to seven points in the polls over the past month and Mélenchon’s sudden surge, at least some of which is coming at her expense. And also by Fillon’s doggedness and the hard right lurch of his campaign. It has gone without saying that Marine would qualify for the 2nd round but that is now not looking 100% certain. An IFOP-Fiducial-JDD-Sud Radio poll taken earlier this month showed that FN voters are concerned above all with immigration, terrorism, and crime—the FN’s historic stock-in-trade—and less so with Europe and the euro (which MLP largely ignored in her speech). Thus Marine’s virulence on Monday night. The return to fundamentals. She was whipping up the base. And so much for de-demonization. During her diatribe, I leaned over to Didier and said “Je la trouve particulièrement facho ce soir” (I’m finding her particularly fascistic this evening). The reaction in the media the next day—plus a Facebook exchange with Time Magazine’s Vivienne Walt, who was also at the rally—indicated that I was not alone in my sentiment.
So it’s definitive: It’s the same old Front National. The FN has not changed at all. And it never will. It will thus not rule France: not this year, or in 2022, or ever.
Another party that, beginning next month, won’t be in power for a long time—if ever again—is the Parti Socialiste. Benoît Hamon had his final Paris rally on Wednesday, at the Place de la République. The event started at 5:00, with speeches by a panoply of high-profile Hamon supporters (e.g. Thomas Piketty and other stars), a keynote by Hamon, and then a concert with various groups scheduled to go to midnight.
I arrived at 7:30, while Hamon was speaking. There were several thousand people in the square, who were enthusiastic enough, but the square was not full. It was, in effect, Hamon’s farewell speech. I feel for him, as no one anticipated the plunge in the polls—and into the single digits no less—and particularly after the success of his March 19th Bercy rally. And he faces humiliation on Sunday. He finished the speech at 8:00, after which most of the crowd left the square, with not too many remaining for the music. I found some friends there and, as it was quite cold—in the 40s F/8°C and windy—we took refuge in a nearby bar. I wonder if the event didn’t end early. Triste fin de campagne. Didier Le Saout was there and took a few photos, which may be viewed here.
I’ll have an election eve post tomorrow.
I’ve been in a tizzy the past week, along with most others here of my general political sensibility, over the stunning surge of Jean-Luc Mélenchon in the polls and the now very real possibility that he could make it to the 2nd round next Sunday—and once there, actually win. My blogging confrère Arthur Goldhammer expressed the general sentiment of those on the smart left, informing his readers early in the week that it was now “Nail-biting time” and that he was “beginning to get seriously worried about this election,” then writing mid-week of “Panic in Paris,” and finally, on Friday, offering an anguished Facebook status update that simply read “I have a very bad feeling about the upcoming French election,” and with numerous commenters, including myself, agreeing entirely.
Now many observers have been tipping their hats to Mélenchon for his astute, well-executed national-populist campaign strategy—again, including myself, after the two times I saw him speak over the past month (here and here)—which is quite different from his more classic leftist one of 2012. But absolutely no one saw him breaking even 15%, let alone reaching 20. This is breathtaking. I have asserted countless times over the years that there is an electoral ceiling of 14% for the radical left in a French presidential election, i.e. of the total score of all candidates to the left of the Socialists (excluding Les Verts), for the simple reason that the last time the gauche de la gauche surpassed this was in 1981, which was two generations ago and another era. Mélenchon’s manifestly successful campaign signifies that we’re maybe entering a new era, of a newly radicalized left and with a national-populist hue.
N.B. Jean-Luc Mélenchon is, at the present moment, the most popular political personality in France (emphasis added). The latest IPSOS-Le Point political baromètre, released last Wednesday, has his favorable rating spiking 15% in one month, to 56% positive/35% negative. Take a look at this graph from the IPSOS website last week
JLM is viewed favorably even by 40% of LR/UDI voters and 38% of FN voters. Behind him is Alain Juppé at +50/-40 and then Emmanuel Macron at +48/-43. Everyone else (save Jean-Yves Le Drian) is in negative territory. The latest IFOP-Fiducial-Paris Match-Sud Radio tableau de bord politique, released on Thursday, likewise shows JLM as France’s most popular politician, with 68% having an overall “good opinion” of him—compared to 46% in March—and 29% a “bad opinion.” Breaking the percentages down by intensity of feeling, 16% have an outright “excellent” opinion of JLM and a mere 8% a “very bad” opinion (FYI, I’m in that 8%). As in the IPSOS ranking, IFOP has JLM followed in popularity by Juppé (+60/-38) and Macron (+55/-40). And he’s the only politico in France whose “excellent” rating is in the double digits.
When I saw these numbers, my jaw dropped. This is, objectively speaking, insane. Jean-Luc Mélenchon is not exactly a newcomer on the French political scene. He’s been around for a while and anyone with a merely passing interest in politics knows him and his trash-talking gauchiste persona. So WTF is going on here? This cannot be just his performance in the March 20th and April 4th multi-candidate debates. Ça ne peut pas suffire. The fact of the matter is, JLM has tapped into something profound in the id of a sizable part of the French electorate—both left and right—which I personally do not relate to but that is there. On this, I received an email a week ago from a faithful AWAV reader in Marseille—who is French, secular Jewish, a retired advertising executive, on the moderate left but no gauchiste—after JLM’s rally in the city. What he wrote is interesting and instructive, as his sentiments are no doubt shared by many
Il y a la politique et puis il y a la politique.
I gave up on joining the crowd sur le Vieux Port, because it was already past 2 pm and I wanted to hear Meluche in good conditions, so I stayed home and watched him on TV… The magic worked, I had to admire the man and the talent.
He brought tears in my eyes. I didn’t agree on all of what he said, but I agreed on his choice of words, the value and the weight of the words, the tone, the gravity, the music, the emotional content.
It is part of my French heritage. It speaks to my roots. This is what France is all about. Something lyrical, fierce, generous and noble as is the Marseillaise.
After the poem by Ritsos, I would have voted for him, right away.
We miss that warmth and “bravoure”. Whatever was likable in Mitterrand was linked to that when it was not just plain theatrical. I remember his first trip to Moscow and the way he mentioned human rights. Chirac somehow still managed to sometimes convey sparks of that, but then it was gone.
Of course one can easily object that we shouldn’t vote for (populist) orators but for programs and candidates, yes and yet… the public speech capacity is meaningful.
We need to vibrate, we need to experience the feeling of shared mutual understanding.
All the intellectual abstract matter put aside for a moment, it is like looking into the eyes and being looked into the eyes. I understand why Meluche is increasingly popular, none of the other candidates reaches out to us like he does. (Poutou had such a stroke of genius during the debate when he chastised the crooks). MLP used to be dangerously good at that but luckily now she just sucks.
I can’t feel any real deep public support, it is just the same old crowd of angry, frustrated and scared people.
Hamon is too brainy, Macron appears as your local more or less understanding banker but conveys almost no emotion at all.
I don’t go to church, I don’t listen to homilies, so maybe Fillon does talk to traditional Catholic families and provincial annuitants [but not me]…
In a follow-up email, he added
As I wrote, Meluche…makes me realize how much the other contenders’ speeches are filled with hollow bullshit and lacking human feelings and emotions. And we need that.
They speak the same way computers design cars based on consumer research which is why all the mid range cars look exactly the same.
I was listening to Dupont-Aignan and was surprised with his eloquence, then I saw that he was in a good position among the “hommes politiques préférés des Français” with 28%.
He speaks as a human being.
So I indeed like Meluche’s music, even though I don’t agree with all the verses of his song. Still some are pretty good.
A guy who, in this election, in front of 70 000 people, in Marseille, can ask for a minute de silence in memory of the 30,000 migrants who drowned in the Mediterranean and remind the crowd that two children drown there every day, well I respect his chutzpah.
Oratory touches people. And not all voters, even those interested in politics and who follow campaigns, focus on the actual programs of the candidates or parties and what precisely these are proposing. Voters viscerally connect with candidates who speak to them and share their values. (And all this goes for me too).
E.g. Libération, in its April 13th issue, quoted newly converted Mélenchon voters and their explanations. School teacher Stéphanie, age 42, thus offered this
À force d’écouter et de lire Jean-Luc Mélenchon, je suis tombée sous son charme. Sa manière de parler et d’expliquer sa vision est fantastique. On est obligé de tendre l’oreille. Le déclic est arrivé pendant le débat télévisé. J’ai eu le sentiment de voir des enfants face à un adulte. Il est au-dessus du lot, comme Alain Juppé, il rassure, il a de l’expérience et la France a besoin de ça.
Aujourd’hui, face aux crises que traverse notre pays, il faut une personne qui rassemble. Jean-Luc Mélenchon a l’air sincère, il ne monte jamais les citoyens les uns contre les autres. Après, c’est vrai que je ne suis pas d’accord avec une partie de son programme, notamment l’économie et sa position sur la Russie. Mais il a l’air de savoir ce qu’il fait et pour moi, aujourd’hui, la priorité, c’est la cohésion nationale.
And this from retired university cadre Roland, age 67
[Jean-Luc Mélenchon] est dans une dynamique qui tranche avec les propositions de la plupart des candidats en situation de gagner et qui sont tous pour ce qui a échoué – les guerres en Afghanistan, en Libye, en Irak – avec l’augmentation du budget de la Défense ou le doublement de l’arsenal nucléaire comme l’a inscrit Jean-Yves Le Drian dans la loi de programmation militaire.
J’ai aussi beaucoup aimé le discours de Mélenchon sur les migrants qui sont des victimes et non des coupables. Il s’est clairement opposé à tous les apprentis sorciers qui en font des boucs émissaires, qui poussent à la xénophobie et au racisme comme si l’étranger était la cause de nos difficultés.
I knew something was up early last week when I asked my 23-year-old, Hamon-supporting daughter what her friends were saying about the election. She said that a few who planned to vote for Hamon were thinking of switching to Mélenchon, as a vote utile to insure that a candidate of the left made it to the 2nd round. When I told her that there are significant differences between Hamon and Mélenchon on several major issues, notably Europe, she replied that they were aware of that. But it was clear that they—along with many other voters who have defected to JLM or are considering it—are not overly familiar with JLM’s program beyond the slogans. The fact that he is de gauche suffices.
It would be helpful if voters did look into what JLM is actually advocating. For the record, here is my reply to my Marseille friend
On JLM, who’s the sensation of this fin de campagne, I fear that too many people are privileging form over substance — are being taken in by his lyricism and poetry, and not paying close attention to the actual content of his crazy rhetoric. I can comprehend some of JLM’s appeal but, at least from my way of thinking, there is nothing compelling about his program, which is – take your pick – half-baked, pie-in-the-sky, or downright pernicious and dangerous: on Europe, taxation, geopolitics, a 6ème République, you name it. If JLM were to somehow to accede to the Elysée palace and implement his program, it would be a fiasco of the first order. The only cause of relative optimism in such an eventuality would be the impossibility of JLM attaining anything approaching a parliamentary majority following the legislative election, which would render him politically impotent. With Trump in the White House outre-Atlantique, I don’t want to have to contemplate a similar situation over here.
As for JLM’s thoughts on the Mediterranean migrants, words are cheap and moments of silence are even more so. I would have liked to hear him say what France should have done had those 30K Africans survived their journey: take them all in, grant refugee status, and allow them to integrate the labor market? France is, after all, the fifth largest economy in the world, as JLM likes to remind people, so could surely afford to take in those 30K Africans and then some, n’est-ce pas? Oh well.
I don’t exclude JLM making it to the 2nd round. At this point, all sorts of heretofore improbable scenarios are now in the realm of the possible. If it’s JLM-Macron, the choice is clear. JLM-Fillon: je vote blanc ou nul. JLM-MLP: I’ll obviously vote JLM but this is truly the nightmare scenario, so let’s not dwell on it…
On the JLM-MLP nightmare scenario: pour mémoire, here is what I wrote last February 22nd, when the scenario appeared far-fetched at best
The nightmare scenario: Fillon’s and Macron’s numbers go south…and with Hamon losing ground on the left to Jean-Luc Mélenchon. With the four candidates all bunched in the mid-teens—and Marine at 30%—Mélenchon ekes out a narrow second place finish and goes on to face MLP on May 7th. The right votes as one for Marine and with centrist and center-left voters emigrating en masse to Canada or maybe killing themselves. And Marine wins.
Marine Le Pen will not reach 30% next Sunday and is, at this point, not a surefire slam dunk to make the 2nd round, as has been assumed by all and sundry since the onset of the campaign. She’s down five or six points from her high point in the polls and her campaign is sputtering. Philippe Poutou’s devastating take-down in the April 4th circus-debate—which left her speechless—was possibly a turning point in the campaign, and her gaffe on the Rafle du Vel d’Hiv’—which was less anti-Jewish than just so stupid and gratuitously damaging to her—did not help matters. Years of patient de-demonizing up in smoke. Her favorable/unfavorable rating in the latest IPSOS ranking is +27/-67 (down from 30/66 in March); at IFOP it’s +32/-68 (and with 43% holding a “very bad” opinion of her). Inevitable conclusion: in a JLM-MLP match-up, JLM wins.
For JLM to beat MLP, he would necessarily need at least some votes from the right and, contrary to what I said in February, will certainly get enough. As the latest IPSOS and IFOP rankings show, JLM is attracting a significant minority of right-wing sympathizers, which, in view of his France First nationalist rhetoric, evolution on the immigration issue, and downplaying classic leftist themes, should hardly be surprising. And one domain in particular in which JLM’s rhetoric will be music to at least some right-wing ears is on Europe and particularly Germany. Last week I read JLM’s 2015 book/pamphlet Le hareng de Bismarck: Le poison allemand. The German poison. The book/pamphlet is billed as a “critique” of Germany and its economic policies, though it is, in point of fact, a violent, 200-page diatribe against that country: not just for its ordoliberalism, obsession with inflation, austerity policies et al—which do merit critique (for one that does it excellently, see Guillaume Duval’s Made in Germany)—but of the entire German nation and across the board. The book is an outrage: I was in a state of indignation while reading it, not at what the author was saying but at the author himself. To know what’s in the screed, go to the critique by retired PS politico (and onetime Trotskyist) Henri Weber (on his blog, which is the long version of his Le Monde op-ed on the book; see also the open letter to JLM by Cécile Duflot in Libé). Only a franchouillard nationalist could have signed his name to such a venomous attack on France’s most important partner in Europe. When it comes to franchouillard nationalists—and who have an existential problem with Germany—they are more numerous on the right than the left. Thus a certain indulgence toward JLM from the other side of the political spectrum.
Reading JLM’s ill-informed Germanophobic tract causes one to question the oft-stated observation of him being intellectually cultivated. It also reinforces my assertion last week that he utterly lacks the temperament to be president of the French republic. Honestly, can one imagine him sitting across the table negotiating with Angela Merkel, Wolfgang Schäuble et al (and who are all familiar with what JLM has written about Germany)?
Art Goldhammer has an excellent blog post today, “Response to a reader on why I do not support Mélenchon.” I agree with every last word of it. And if one hasn’t seen my somewhat less measured critique of five years ago, go here.
This post is almost 2,800 words and I’ve hardly had a word about the other candidates, and notably Emmanuel Macron. As his big Paris rally is tomorrow afternoon, and which I plan to attend, I will do so after that. Likewise for Marine LP, whose Paris rally is tomorrow evening (and which I’ll also try to make it to). Benoît Hamon is having an concert-rally at the Place de la République on Wednesday, which I’ll check out. As for François Fillon, I didn’t go to his meeting at the Palais des Sports last Sunday. Seeing him at the Trocadéro was enough.
With a week to go, I’m going out on a limb, rolling the dice, and provisionally predicting that Mélenchon and Macron will go to the 2nd round, for the sole reason of their positive favorable/unfavorable ratings. Marine LP’s already execrable numbers have worsened and Fillon’s are catastrophic: +24/-70 at IPSOS, +27/-72 at IFOP, i.e. even worse than Marine’s. The French people in their considerable majority want neither of these two.
UPDATE: Guillaume Duval of Alternatives Économiques had a tribune in Libération, dated April 12th, critiquing both Macron and Mélenchon. On the latter:
A gauche de la gauche, on suit désormais le panache rouge d’un vieux tribun blanchi sous le harnais de la politique politicienne depuis son plus jeune âge. Il parle certes très bien et maîtrise tous ses classiques à gauche, mais il n’en propose pas moins un programme surréaliste sur le plan économique. Alors que la France se place déjà en tête de tous les pays développés avec 56 % du PIB de dépenses publiques, il entend porter ce ratio à 64 % en un seul quinquennat en augmentant ces dépenses de 173 milliards d’euros par an. Et cela tout en empruntant aussi, dès la première année, 100 milliards d’euros supplémentaires sur les marchés financiers, soit l’équivalent de 4,5 points de PIB, alors que la France approche déjà les 100 % du PIB de dette publique. Soit dit en passant pour un programme qui se veut très «écolo», il est aussi, parmi les principaux candidats, celui qui mise sur le niveau le plus élevé de croissance économique pour boucler son affaire. Tout cela sans que lui-même ni ses partisans ne doutent un instant de la faisabilité politique, sociale et économique, interne au moins autant qu’externe, d’une telle politique ni de ses conséquences potentiellement désastreuses si elle était effectivement mise en œuvre. Il faut dire que Jean-Luc Mélenchon est de longue date un admirateur de Hugo Chávez et de Nicolás Maduro…
Libération’s Jean Quatremer, in a Facebook debate yesterday with a Mélenchon-supporting academic sociologist, nailed it with this comment (my translation)
JLM: here is a man who wants to sit at the table with a dictator [Putin] to discuss the borders of a country [Russia] that has not asked anything of him, exactly like at Munich, who admires Chavez, Maduro, Castro, who wants to leave the EU, NATO, the IMF, World Bank, the OECD, to abrogate all trade agreements, close France in on itself, except to join the Bolivarian Alliance… yes this man is clearly not a democrat. His Sixth Republic is exactly the type of exercise that would allow him to consolidate his power. I am astounded at the blindness of people whose precise profession is to engage in critical thinking.
And on what basis would France join the Bolivarian Alliance? Because France is a South American power, so says JLM, as Guiana is a French département. Sans blague.
[update below] [2nd update below] [3rd update below] [4th update below]
The Financial Times website has a 15-minute video report, dated March 31st, on “the town that turned to Le Pen.” The town in question is Hénin-Beaumont, in the heart of France’s northern Rust Belt, which has become a Front National fief since Steeve Briois, a party heavyweight and Marine Le Pen ally, was comfortably elected mayor in 2014—and with Marine having lost the legislative constituency in 2012 by the narrowest of margins (0.22%; though she had the satisfaction of trouncing Jean-Luc Mélenchon in the 1st round). The FN is presenting Hénin-Beaumont as a model of FN good governance (contrasting with Vitrolles, the FN’s showcase municipality in the 1997-2001 period, where the FN experience ended in fiasco). If the 2015 regional election score in Hénin-Beaumont is any indication—Marine LP’s list taking 60% of the vote—the FN will be running the town for a while to come. So the FT’s Paris bureau chief Anne-Sylvaine Chassany went up there to find out what’s going on. Her report is worth the watch.
On the subject of Hénin-Beaumont and the FN, a feature-length film, directed by Lucas Belvaux, opened in February, Chez nous (in English: This is our land; FYI, “On-est-chez-nous!” is the chant most often heard at FN rallies). The FN flipped out when the film’s imminent release was announced in January, denouncing it as malevolent propaganda whose sole intention was to sully the party during the presidential campaign, and with the FN’s troll army going into action on social media to trash it—though, as one could have expected, not a single FN person had actually seen the film. Here’s a description of the plot, which I’ve cribbed from Atlantico and modified à ma guise
In Hénart, a fictitious town in the north, everyone knows and likes Pauline Duhez (Émilie Dequenne), a self-employed nurse who is out and about making house calls almost every day. It is thus normal that on the occasion of the municipal elections, Philippe Berthier (André Dussollier), a well-to-do medical doctor, former member of the European Parliament, and prominent local notable, proposes that she join the list of Agnès Dorgelle (Catherine Jacob), the national leader of the Rassemblement National Populaire (RNP). Berthier’s plan is the following: Pauline will be the n°2 on the list, behind the Parisian Dorgelle, and do the job for her as mayor while Dorgelle gives priority to her commitments on the national level.
Pauline, who is mostly apolitical, hesitates at first, saying she lacks the experience and is not sure she would be up to the job, but then succumbs to Dr. Berthier’s entreaties, adopts the RNP’s positions and eagerly plunges into the campaign, even though it means some changes in her work – which she loves – as a nurse. But things start to get complicated: with patients, who disapprove of her engagement with the RNP, and, above all, her retired former trade unionist, PCF-voting father, who stops speaking to her when he sees her on television as the RNP candidate. She then learns that Berthier has concealed from her shady parts of his political past. Adding to this is her new boyfriend, Stanko (Guillaume Gouix), with whom she had gone out in high school two decades earlier, who had been a member of the RNP’s security detachment of tough guys under Berthier’s supervision but been expelled for extremism and violent behavior – as this was tarnishing the public image of the RNP, which wants to appear respectable – and is now in a gang of neo-Nazi/skinhead goons that goes on migrant-bashing expeditions at night, but which he has concealed from Pauline.
So what was to have been a cakewalk to victory in the election becomes more complicated for Pauline. Skeletons come out of the closet and with Agnès Dorgelle, who wants people to forget about the past declarations of her father – from whom she had inherited the RNP leadership – on Jews, Arabs, and immigrants, is having a hard time burying the sulfurous past of her close collaborators. But she forges on…
It is rather obvious from the outset that Hénart is Hénin-Beaumont—the film was shot in the vicinity: in Bethune, Lens, and other localities in the Pas-de-Calais—the RNP is the FN’s big tent RBM (Rassemblement Bleu Marine), and the blond Agnès Dorgelle is, of course, Marine Le Pen. The FN’s ire toward the film, as Le Monde’s Raphaëlle Bacqué reported, was indeed focused on the casting of Catherine Jacob as the Marine lookalike, with, e.g., Steeve Briois calling her a “pot à tabac” (an uncomplimentary expression for a short, overweight woman)—not that the frontistes could have said anything else about the film, as they had not and would not see it.
Reviews were good on the whole—by critics and Allociné spectateurs alike, though there was an early troll campaign to lower its Allociné rating—but with some critics reproaching it for being too unsubtle. I thought it was quite good myself. The casting is pitch-perfect, particularly Émilie Dequenne, who merits a César nomination for her performance (pour mémoire, she was nominated for one in 2015, for her role in Belvaux’s Pas son genre). André Dussollier is likewise first-rate as the provincial bourgeois facho. And the depiction of the FN’s modus operandi and rhetoric is totally on target. I detected nothing that did not ring true and, with the exception of the flawed final scene, no contrivances. The film is very good in its portrayal of the cynicism of the FN, of the way it goes about recruiting and then manipulating candidates on the local level—and it is absolutely the case that the party seeks out political novices and ingenues, whose strings can be pulled from on high. Also spot on is the ambiguity of the party’s relationship with the violent elements on its fringe, whom it wants to keep out of sight, not out of fundamental political differences but because the goons make the party look bad and undermine its efforts at respectability and de-demonization.
Hollywood press critics who saw ‘Chez nous’ at the Rotterdam film festival gave it the thumbs up, e.g. from The Hollywood Reporter, Screen Daily, and Variety, with the latter’s Jay Weissberg having this to say
The film is a shoo-in for Stateside distribution, since Belvaux’s theme is the cinematic equivalent of all those articles trying to understand the disgruntled white voters who supported Trump.
See also critic Boyd van Hoeij’s March 9th piece in The Atlantic, “Inside France’s most controversial film of the moment.”
The film has not been a big hit at the box office—with a mere 310,000 tickets sold seven weeks after its release—which is too bad (as I had declared on social media after seeing it that it was “Un bon film, à voir par tout citoyen avant le 1er tour de l’élection présidentielle”…). As for why it has been a relative commercial failure, perhaps people just don’t want to see an overly political film, particularly when they’re being bombarded daily with politics, and during an interminable, exasperating campaign to boot. Allez savoir. Émilie Dequenne and Lucas Belvaux appeared on February 4th on France 2’s late night “On n’est pas couché.” Trailer is here.
On how the FN operates behind the scenes—and manipulates and exploits its own candidates—France 2’s Envoyé Spécial had an exceptional one-hour reportage on March 16th, “Front national: les hommes de l’ombre,” on the three men at the heart of the FN’s finances: Frédéric Chatillon, Axel Loustau, and Nicolas Crochet. The three are formally independent businessmen and simple FN members with no official function in the party—and have no public profile—but are, in fact, in Marine LP’s inner circle. They’re her closest associates and her buddies—particularly Chatillon—whom she’s known since her late teens-early 20s, having partied together in their wild-and-crazy youth and who knows what else. And, as it happens, the three camarades were militants during their student days in the extreme right-wing GUD, known since its inception for physically bashing leftists. As one learns in the reportage, while Chatillon et al may no longer wear black rangers and wield truncheons, their facho politics have not changed an iota. They’re way out there on the extreme right, with the requisite antisemitism and all; thus their non-public profile in the party. If Marine is going to de-demonize the FN, the three camarades must stay out of sight.
But this is hard to do, as the three are so central to the FN’s money-making operations and corruption—and which involves, entre autres, legally obligating novice FN candidates to purchase their campaign material and other services at inflated prices from enterprises owned by Chatillon et al. Marine LP’s former geopolitical adviser, Aymeric Chauperade, is thus quoted in the reportage
Marine Le Pen minore ou néglige la dangerosité de ces gens-là. Il n’y a aucune raison que ce groupe disparaisse. C’est le groupe qui aura amené Marine Le Pen au pouvoir. Manifestement elle ne peut rien faire sans eux et elle ne peut rien faire contre eux, c’est ça qui est évidemment très grave.
It was said that Chauperade broke with Marine in 2015 over foreign policy differences but he asserts in the reportage that it was due to the influence of the three camarades. The Envoyé Spécial report, which is a must, may be watched here.
Another reportage—this in English—is a half hour analysis on the BBC, first aired on March 20th, “Detoxifying France’s National Front.” The description:
Has Front National leader Marine Le Pen really detoxified the party founded by her father 40 years ago? Is it a right-wing protest movement or a party seriously preparing for power? Anand Menon, professor of European politics at Kings College London, analyses the process the French call dédiabolisation. Le Pen has banished the name of the party and even her own surname from election posters and leaflets. Her party is making inroads into socialist and communist fiefdoms in northern and eastern France. Combining nationalism with a message designed to reach out to the left, she speaks up loudly for the have-nots, people who live in the land she calls “the forgotten France.” She targets trade unionists, teachers and gay voters. But widening the party’s appeal leads to a tricky balancing act. Can Marine Le Pen manage the process of political exorcism without alienating die-hard supporters?
Stanford University professor and FN specialist Cécile Alduy, who posted the link on Facebook, wrote that it’s “[o]ne of the best radio shows I’ve listened to in a long time, and the best reporting on the National Front in English you can find around.” Indeed.
L’Obs/Rue 89 has a post dated March 26th on the research of Université d’Avignon political scientist Christèle Marchand-Lagier, “Qui vote FN? Pourquoi? 3 idées reçues sur les électeurs du Front national.” Based on years of interviewing FN voters in the Vaucluse—Marion Maréchal-Le Pen’s fief and an FN bastion—Marchand-Lagier concludes that many FN voters (a) are not particularly ideological, are not well-informed about the FN’s program, and don’t vote for the party with the expectation that it will come to power and change their lives for the better; (b) are far more middle class than lower; and (c) could change their votes in the future, signifying that a significant portion of the FN’s vote remains one of protest rather than adhesion. That’s good to know.
Also refuting idées reçues is demographer Hervé Le Bras in a piece in Slate.fr, dated April 10th, “Qui vote FN? Pas forcément ceux à qui l’on pense.” Cool maps, as one usually finds in Le Bras’ publications. In short, a sizable part of the FN vote resembles that of Trump’s in the US: periurban, small provincial towns, and rural (i.e. not urban); middle class but who fear downward mobility (and which they see around them); and a sentiment of isolation from mainstream (urban) society and abandonment by the state.
Marine LP is having her Paris rally next Monday, five years to the day from the one in 2012. And as with that one, it will be held at the Zénith, which seats 6,300 (and with no standing room-only pit). This is not the largest arena in the city, e.g. some 12,000 can pack the Palais des Sports, and Bercy—where Emmanuel Macron will be holding his rally on Monday as well—can accommodate 20,000. Marine may be high in the polls—in the one out today from IPSOS, she’s tied with Macron for first, at 24%—but still can’t draw big crowds, and certainly not from the Paris region. Not what one would expect from a candidate who has an outside chance of being elected president of the French republic.
UPDATE: The New York Times’ Adam Nossiter has a detailed article (April 13th) on Marine LP and Frédéric Chatillon et al, “Le Pen’s inner circle fuels doubt about bid to ‘un-demonize’ her party.”
2nd UPDATE: Valérie Igounet and Vincent Jarousseau—a historian at the CNRS and photographer-documentarian, respectively—have a photoessay in the Spring 2017 issue of Dissent, “Scenes from the Front: France’s Front National in Power,” which is mainly of Hénin-Beaumont.
3rd UPDATE: Paris-based journalist Scott Sayare has a very good article (April 20th) in The Guardian on “How Marine Le Pen played the media.” The lede: “For years, she has accused French journalists of bias against her family and her party. Yet Marine Le Pen has managed to lead the far-right Front National into the political mainstream – and she couldn’t have done it without the press.”
4th UPDATE: Cécile Alduy of Stanford University has a must-read piece (April 23rd) in Politico, “What a 1973 French novel tells us about Marine Le Pen, Steve Bannon and the rise of the populist right.” The lede: “Stridently anti-immigrant, The Camp of Saints was originally ignored or pilloried. Now, it’s found a following.”
Le CEVIPOF de Sciences Po a développé, en partenariat avec le quotidien 20 Minutes, une boussole présidentielle, qui permet aux citoyens de tester leurs convictions politiques par rapport à celles des onze candidats à l’élection présidentielle. Le test est bien conçu à mon avis—comme le Politest, qui a été crée en 2006 par des étudiants à Sciences Po (et actualisé en 2012). Pour accéder à la boussole, allez ici.
To take the Politest—”the test to see where you are situated politically”—in English, go here.
My results for the two “boussoles” are below (screen shots). I am closest to Benoît Hamon, not surprisingly, though just a little to his right 😉
According to the France 24 one, the candidate whose positions I am in the most agreement with is… Nathalie Arthaud. Allez savoir…
As for how I will be casting my ballot on April 23rd, I am still undecided between Hamon and Emmanuel Macron, and will likely remain so until the day of the vote…