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.