Hollande will run.

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Art Goldhammer adds to the growing speculation about whether Hollande will step aside and not be a candidate in the 2017 presidential election. Goldhammer thinks Hollande will step aside.  I think he won’t.

It seems to me that if Hollande genuinely cared about the fate of the Parti socialiste, he wouldn’t have waited until his party’s hopes for the next election were irretrievably damaged before stepping aside. If you think, as I do, that Hollande is for himself first and nobody else second then he has nothing to gain by stepping down and everything to win by staying and playing out the hand.

Hollande will not go gentle into that good night because whether he goes now or waits to be given the boot, the end result would be that he must give up the Elysée and that is the thing I believe he most wants to avoid. Miracles can happen. My prediction is that he stays and rolls the dice.

Dark Clouds over Europe: Marine Le Pen can win, Part II

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I think even though Arun Kapil and I are seeing the same dark clouds over Europe, we are using very different frameworks in interpreting their meaning, and therefore we necessarily reach very different conclusions. The response of Kapil to my earlier comments is a thoughtful, careful, data-driven analytical approach.  He reasons that MLP cannot be elected because things aren’t really that bad yet and, besides, the French are much too sensible to vote for her, except as a protest candidate.  The dark clouds will somehow dissipate—because they must—and we will somehow find ourselves in the sensible center—again, because there’s no realistic alternative.

It seems to me however, that Europe, and particularly France, has genuinely changed since 2008 in ways that Kapil’s analysis discounts far too heavily. I think the disastrous response of the elites to the financial crises has awakened some demons that we thought had been laid to rest by the European project. Indeed, I think it’s possible to see what might be the very faint outlines of another gathering storm threatening Europe.

As Paul Krugman and others have been saying, the thing that’s mainly responsible for this gathering storm is Europe’s unprecedented commitment to both the euro and to a destructive austerity that is shrinking its economies and flirting with deflation.   It’s true that the results of austerity haven’t yet been as “murderous” in France as elsewhere but, whether it’s the desired result or simply an inevitable consequence of economic mismanagement, austerity and the euro are hollowing out France’s economy and destroying the social welfare state.   Even an economy as strong as that of France cannot withstand this battering for much longer.

So, yes, perhaps it might have been hyperbole to say that France is today experiencing murderous austerity. Nevertheless, many others in Europe certainly are and the future doesn’t look promising for France.   I suppose it would have been more accurate for me to have said that austerity is murderous in Greece, Spain and England but, for the moment, is only ruinous in France with murderous coming up fast on the rails. But, as George Brassens might say, hang here or hang there, what difference does it make if you end up hanged anyway?

Which is my main point. I think the mature, level headed French can see the writing on the wall. They don’t want to be hanged in the name of austerity.  Not here. Not there.  Not anywhere.  Every defector to the FN that has told his or her story in Marianne, Libé and elsewhere has expressed some variation on this theme and the polls confirm that these fears about the future are what’s been driving the rise of MLP.

And yet, the unwavering commitment to austerity by the UMP, François Bayrou and the PS means that a Frenchman who is fearful about the future has no way to vote against the current policies except by voting for MLP.   In other words, MLP’s unpopularity will be irrelevant because the election will not be between parties or candidates along a political spectrum of left and right but rather will represent a simple binary choice between austerity and prosperity with MLP coopting the mantle of prosperity.

Of particular concern for me is that there is no electoral outlet on the left for middle class and working class people to protest against their diminished fortunes or to secure a better life for their children at the ballot box. The people of the left must retake their parties from those who have embraced austerity and rejected the political and economic ideas that brought about an era of peace and prosperity in post-war Europe. That is why I renew my call for new leadership on the left that is committed to offering the people hope for a better future through a new manifesto that will embrace a “socialisme du possible” for today.

Marine Le Pen can win: A response to Arun Kapil

27 May 2014, Nanterre, France — Marine Le Pen, France’s National Front political party head, attends a news conference at the party’s headquarters in Nanterre, near Paris. Image by © PHILIPPE WOJAZER/Reuters/Corbis

I highly recommend this analysis by Arun Kapil of the new government formed by Manuel Vallis.   It is incisive, informative and worth reading.  Although I agree with much that Arun says, I think he is far too sanguine about the threat of a victory by Mme Le Pen in the 2017 élection présidentiel.   In one of Art Goldhammer’s recent posts he speaks about the phenomena I call the “New Versailles,” and observes how elites of the political class have “become the intendants of the Fifth Republic, a caste of royal officials utterly divorced from the society they purport to govern.”   Clustered together in the chic arrondissements of Paris “le pouvoir grows more out of touch and less capable of responding to the groans from below. The rise of the Front National is only one sign of the resulting malaise.”

My feelings about the Front National and the Le Pen family are hardly a secret to anyone who reads this blog or my comments on other websites. I believe that the FN is a party that hides its true agenda. I see MLP as the velvet glove that hides the party’s iron fist—an iron fist that would crush liberty, equality and fraternity if given the opportunity. I believe that the FN are the heirs of Vichy and that they want to basically recreate that fascist state in every corner of France.   I believe the FN would liquidate or expel most immigrants, Jews and other “undesirables” if it could. A MLP presidency would be an unspeakable evil and a disaster for France.

Nevertheless, it’s easy for me with my comfortable bobo lifestyle to look down my nose at the many ordinary Frenchmen who today face economic ruin and a future that becomes bleaker every day. Yes, it is too easy for me to dismiss the people whose fears have lead them to defect to the FN from the PS or the FdG. I don’t know what I’d do if my world was crumbling around me and Le Pen was the only candidate promising even the slightest relief from the murderous austerity regime that is destroying everything.

Nor should it be a comfort that, as Arun Kapil observes, the FN has always been a protest party whose leader is regarded negatively by an overwhelming number of Frenchmen.  I fear that the shift of the PS to become a party of the center right, in combination with the near universal embrace of austerity by all of the other large parties has changed everything. And because of their alliance with Hollande, even the FdG has acquiesced in these terrible policies. So where else in the political spectrum is the rejection of austerity?

I have read the stories of those who have left the PS or the FdG for the FN. It is clear that they all have very negative views of Le Pen and the FN but felt compelled to defect anyway, for reasons that are entirely understandable. People are frightened for the future. They need a better economy and some hope for a decent future for their families, not reminders about how awful the FN is—undoubtedly these people know well what monsters they would empower but feel that there is no other choice that will give them relief from the murderous austerity regime that has been so cavalierly imposed upon them.

As I say, there is only a “Sophie’s choice” for the French. Out of all the prospective candidates for 2017, the only one who has offered the people—and especially the working class and the middle class—the slightest hope of a better economic future is MLP.   Ironically, however, the economic program of the FN has far more of Keynes and Jaurès about it than does the increasingly Thatcherite “Parti socialiste”.

If Hollande had been inspired to fight for a better life for the French people, I have little doubt that everyone would be better off today. Instead, he chose neoliberalism, liquidationism and an increasingly horrible life for most ordinary French people.The 2017 élection présidentiel is shaping up to be a choice between the monsters of the FN and decades more of murderous austerity.  Unless the left wakes up, dumps Hollande and Valls and begins to fight against austerity and develop a manifesto for a new “socialism of the possible”, I fear that MLP is very likely the next president of France.