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Archive for September, 2014

(image credit: BFMTV.com)

(image credit: BFMTV.com)

[update below]

What a miserable affair. Worse than pathetic. One can hardly believe that French politics has descended to this level. And with everything else happening in France and the world, that this is the talk of the town. I, for one, refuse to read Valérie Trierweiler’s book. I won’t even pick it up. I have learned as much as I need to know about it from the media coverage, plus these choice morsels published in Les Inrocks. Now I have no sympathy with François Hollande in this sentimental psychodrama, as I made clear in my posts of last January when the thing first broke (here and here), but now have even less for Valérie T., who, in her manic—and likely successful—effort to politically assassinate her ex-companion and permanently sully his character, has only further discredited herself—and sullied the institutions of the Republic in the process.

This does indeed seem to be the consensus at least among journalists. E.g. Ariane Bonzon—whom I know for her excellent enquêtes on Turkey—has a good commentary in Slate.fr on “La triple faute de Valérie Trierweiler,” which thus begins

Lors de l’affaire DSK, un de mes amis, qui n’avait pourtant rien à voir directement avec cette histoire, m’avait dit qu’il se sentait lui aussi touché: «J’ai honte à trois titres: en tant qu’homme, en tant que juif et en tant que libertin.» Chacune de ces identités impliquant chez mon ami une certaine exigence, éthique. Comme si l’opinion qu’il avait de lui-même avait été bafouée par DSK, homme, juif et libertin.

En lisant le livre de Valérie Trierweiler, j’ai ressenti le même sentiment que cet ami: ce livre me fait honte en tant que femme, en tant que citoyenne et en tant que journaliste.

Renaud Dély of Le Nouvel Obs had a similarly entitled commentary on Thursday, “La faute de Valérie Trierweiler,” in which he asserted that

Le livre de l’ex-Première dame n’est pas seulement un brûlot anti-Hollande, c’est une attaque contre l’esprit civique et une menace pour les institutions.

Rue 89’s Pierre Haski was on the same longueur d’onde in his commentaire à chaud, “Grand déballage de Trierweiler : la vengeance est mauvaise conseillère.” For his part, France Inter political editorialist Thomas Legrand—who is one of the smartest, most insightful analysts of French politics around—, in speaking of VT’s book, deplored “L’arlequinisation de la vie politique” in his commentary the day before yesterday. Daniel Cohn-Bendit, in an interview on Europe 1, called VT’s book a “moral suicide” of the ex-première dame, and in which he quoted from an editorial by La République des Pyrénées’s Jean-Marcel Bouguereau, who observed that

L’image que son “ex” donne de François Hollande est terrible au point qu’on se demande comment elle a pu rester une décennie avec personnage qui apparaît sous sa plume comme menteur, arrogant, infidèle, veule, lâche et surtout cynique.

Indeed. Mme Trierweiler does not smell like a rose in all this. Loin s’en faut.

One thing I need to assert—and that I have been doing since Wednesday—is that I do not believe for a split second that Hollande uttered the bit about “les sans-dents” in the first degree, i.e. in a literal sense. If he indeed said such a thing about poor people, there was certainly a context, or he was being ironic about someone else who may have said it, or something like that. As Libé’s Laurent Joffrin said on France Inter this morning, no one who has known Hollande personally over the years and spent time with him—as has Joffrin and so many other journalists, politicians, and public personalities—gives the slightest credence to VT on this. For this smear alone, she deserves permanent banishment from public life—and certainly from the journalistic profession.

If all this is not the coup de grâce to Hollande’s presidency, it’s not far from it. I don’t know how he and his entourage at the Elysée will pick up the pieces from this but they’ll no doubt soldier on nonetheless, as Hollande will certainly not resign. Unless he commits a crime or misdemeanor, or some really gross indiscretion, there is no reason for him to do so. He just won’t do it. And almost no one outside the Front National wishes for him to, or for him to dissolve the National Assembly at the present time. As the latest TNS-Sofres baromètre reveals, every political party in this country—including the FN—is presently judged negatively by public opinion. C’est du jamais vu. And the latest baromètre of L’Observatoire Politique CSA shows only two national political personalities—Alain Juppé and Najat Vallaud-Belkacem—to have higher positive than negative numbers with those polled. I mentioned this in my post last week on Valls II and it’s being confirmed with every poll that’s coming out. If neither the PS nor UMP has an interest in going to early elections, then they won’t happen. Period. Moreover, alarm at the damage to the political system and institutions of the Republic is sure to be expressed by increasing numbers on both left and right, as has Sophie de Menthon in a tribune in the right-leaning webzine Atlantico, in which she calls for a “Halte au feu! Pourquoi il faut sauver le soldat Hollande malgré lui.” As she puts it

A trop critiquer François Hollande, nous contribuons à mettre plus bas que terre la fonction de président de la République, ce qui finit par être mauvais pour la croissance et le moral de la France.

If one hasn’t seen it, Art Goldhammer had an incisive analysis yesterday of this weeks’s events (and in which he offered a tidbit about me, which I clarified in the comments thread).

Triste France, c’est tout c’que j’ai à dire.

UPDATE: Magistrate Philippe Bilger—whose political views are solidly on the right—has read Valérie Trierweiler’s book and written a commentary on it, entitled “François Hollande en compagne!,” on his Justice au Singulier blog (September 6th). On “les sans-dents” business, which right-wingers are going to town with on social media, he has this to say

La version de VT est-elle d’ailleurs exacte? L’Elysée dément et conteste ces allégations. On comprend que François Hollande soit «atterré»: on le serait à moins, sans que cela valide en quoi que ce soit les coups ciblés de VT.

Même si elle a mis en lumière les ambiguïtés de l’histoire amoureuse et politique entre Ségolène Royal et François Hollande, j’attache cependant infiniment plus de crédibilité à celle qui a été sa compagne durant longtemps, la mère de ses enfants et qui est autant imprégnée d’humanisme que la journaliste. Ségolène Royal a formellement contredit cette image d’un François Hollande sarcastique et dédaigneux des affres de la misère en se fondant sur l’expérience qu’elle a eue de l’homme et du politique.

Bilger’s review is interesting and well worth the read.

Le baromètre des partis TNS-Sofres de septembre 2014

Le baromètre des partis TNS-Sofres de septembre 2014

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(photo: AFP/Joel Saget)

(photo: AFP/Joel Saget)

[update below] [2nd update below] [3rd update below] [4th update below]

Faithful reader and regular commentator Mitch Guthman, responding to my post of last week, thinks she can and likely will. I say no way. Here’s why.

Five reasons. First—and this isn’t really a reason, just a preliminary point—, I am very reluctant to handicap an election three years down the road, as all sorts of things will obviously happen between now and then to changer la donne. It’s fun to speculate but is, objectively speaking, a waste of time.

That said—and secondly—I will continue to assert that Marine Le Pen has no chance—I repeat, no chance whatever—of being elected President of the Republic. I assert this because no candidate with negative poll ratings as high as MLP’s—i.e. in the 60s—can possibly win the presidency. It has never happened in the history of an advanced democracy and is not going to happen in France in 2017. Now if MLP’s negative numbers start to drop significantly—and, concomitantly, her favorable ratings rise—then I may change my tune. And I will definitely change that tune if the curves cross. But there is no reason to believe that this will or even can happen. The Le Pen name is radioactive—absolutely, totally toxic—for the entire left, center, and moderate right. As for those who have been casting protest votes for the FN in recent elections, a significant number would think twice about doing so if they actually thought the FN had a chance of winning (à propos, according to one survey in 2002 fully half of Jean-Marie Le Pen’s voters in the presidential election that year said that they would not have voted for him if they had thought he had a real chance of winning).

Thirdly, if there were a freak accident and with MLP somehow winning the presidency, she would be unable to govern. There is no way she would have anything close to a majority in the National Assembly (ergo, there would be no FN PM or government). And a significant portion of the haute fonction publique—where the FN has precious few members or sympathizers—would decline to cooperate with her. For the anecdote, back in 2002 I asked an énarque member of the Cour des Comptes whom I knew if he and his colleagues would have cooperated with Jean-Marie Le Pen had he won that year. His response was a categorical no. A Marine Le Pen presidency would thus not only be a fiasco from Day One but also bring about a constitutional crisis.

Fourthly, France is a mature democracy and the French citizenry is—appearances sometimes to the contrary—a mature electorate. French voters are not going to embark on some crazy adventure with a populist party of the extreme right, and that has no experience whatever in government to boot. The gravity of the French electorate has been on the center-right for most of the past century and remains so today. In this respect, it needs to be said that while the economic situation in France is bad it is not catastrophic. France is not Greece—as Paul Krugman has reminded us more than once—and is not going to be. Mitch’s assertion that France is being subjected to “murderous austerity” is hyperbole. The French are morose and fearful for the future—and many for good reason—but the majority of people are working and will continue to. As for the increasing numbers who are unemployed and excluded from mainstream society, they will retreat into political abstention rather than vote en masse for the FN.

Fifthly, if MLP makes it to the 2nd round of the election, she will most certainly face the candidate of the UMP (or whatever the UMP eventually renames itself). And the latter will win. Period. My dread fear is that that candidate will be Sarkozy (and rid of his legal problems). If so, we’ll have to live with the S.O.B. for another five years. The mere prospect of that depresses me to no end.

UPDATE: Slate.fr’s Eric Dupin, echoing my viewpoint, says “Non, le FN n’est pas aux portes du pouvoir.” (September 9th)

2nd UPDATE: A poll conducted by Odoxa—a new polling institute founded by a couple of former directors at BVA—for I>Télé-CQFD-Le Parisien-Aujourd’hui reveals that “65% des Français considèrent que le FN n’a pas la capacité de gouverner [la France]…” It indeed does not make sense, IMHO, that large numbers of Frenchmen and women would vote for a party to govern France that they do not believe has the ability to govern France… Ça n’a pas de sens… (September 13th)

3rd UPDATE: And then there’s the circus in FN-governed Hayange (here, here, and here). Does one really imagine that the French electorate will send these whack jobs to the Élysée and Matignon? (September 15th)

4th UPDATE: France Inter political editorialist Thomas Legrand poses the question: “Le Pen peut-elle arriver au pouvoir en 2017?” He says yes, that Marine LP could indeed win the presidential election—that this is within the realm of the possible—but there is no way the FN can win the legislative elections that will follow. A Marine LP victory in ’17 will thus mechanically lead to an institutional crisis. (December 18th)

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Turkey’s new PM

Resim_1409064302

There is much to say about Turkey these days—a country to which I am personally attached (and will be visiting soon for non-touristic reasons)—, particularly its recently elected president—the first-ever by universal suffrage—, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, and his plan to modify the constitution so as to transform his office into an elected sultanate. More on that some other time. I just want to link here to a couple of op-eds read over the past two days on RTE’s hand-picked replacement as prime minister, Ahmet Davutoğlu, the erstwhile grand penseur foreign minister of “zero problems with neighbors” fame—and whose doctrine, at the end of his five-year stint as FM, should have probably been renamed “problems with all neighbors”…

The first piece, which appeared in the NYT (August 28th), is by Marmara Üniversitesi international relations prof Behlül Özkan, “Turkey’s imperial fantasy.” Özkan, who was a student of Davutoğlu’s and “has read hundreds of his articles and books,” knows of what he speaks. Money quote

[Davutoğlu] was a distinguished scholar of Islamic and Western political philosophy, and a genial figure who enjoyed spending hours conversing with his students. In his lectures, this professor argued that Turkey would soon emerge as the leader of the Islamic world by taking advantage of its proud heritage and geographical potential… Mr. Davutoglu’s classroom pronouncements often sounded more like fairy tales than political analysis…

The other piece—cross-published on the MEF website (August 28th)—is “Basting Turkey’s new prime minister,” by Daniel Pipes, a MENA specialist whom I normally link to with reticence, as his political world-view is 180° opposed to mine (and he is intolerant of views that differ significantly from his; e.g. several years ago he refused to authorize publication of a comment of mine on one of his blog posts, but which did not contain incendiary language and was in no way insulting; he manifestly did not like the fact that he was being critiqued from the left, c’est tout). But, like the proverbial stopped clock that gives the right time twice a day, he is occasionally worth reading and not off base (e.g. see here and last paragraph here). And Pipes is indeed worth reading here, as he recounts a conversation he had with Davutoğlu in 2005. Pipes concludes

As Turkey’s 26th prime minister, Davutoğlu faces a bubble economy perilously near collapse, a breakdown in the rule of law, a country inflamed by Erdoğan’s divisive rule, a hostile Gülen movement, and a divided AKP, all converging within an increasingly Islamist (and therefore uncivil) country. Moreover, the foreign policy problems that Davutoğlu himself created still continue, especially the ISIS hostage emergency in Mosul.

The unfortunate Davutoğlu brings to mind a cleanup crew arriving at the party at 4 a.m., facing a mess created by now-departed revelers. Happily, the contentious and autocratic Erdoğan no longer holds Turkey’s key governmental position; but his placing the country in the unsteady hands of a loyalist of proven incompetence brings many new concerns for the Turks, their neighbors, and all who wish the country well.

On this specific question at least, Pipes and I are pretty much on the same page.

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