Still King Macron!

I have little to say of value about this speech. He’s still King Macron. In his speech to the Congress at the palace of Louis XIV – the ‘Sun King’ – in Versailles, he spoke as though the country were in the midst of a national crisis. Macron threatened to overrule lawmakers with a referendum if they try to frustrate the “reforms” he wishes to impose on France.  Such assemblies are usually reserved for times of national crisis and the tone of the speech was also very strange more; like a general telling the country how things would be after a military coup than a newly elected president of a republic speaking to an elected national assembly.

A strange thing, indeed. He told the deputies, the majority of whom came to Paris specially to serve him, that if they refuse to obey him, he will go to the country with referendums.  Here’s my question: Why bring up the subject at all? What is the aim, especially since, as I said, most of these members seem to be have no political or philosophical beliefs, except for their belief in Macron as their leader? Why insult them?  Is it possible that Macon knows something we do not?

But if the agenda of Macron is so toxic that it cannot be propelled even with using Article 49-3, what does this bode for the future? This would certainly be a test that would allow us to better gauge whether the landslide victory of Macron was linked to his personal charisma or something else entirely.

Macron has certainly been the beneficiary of a unique confluence of circumstances that saw the collapse of the entirely left of French politics.   I attribute the destruction of the PS to the rise of radical center under Hollande.  The destruction that Macron’s allies François Hollande and Manuel Valls inflicted on the Socialist Party has been total.  They quite simply burnt the most significant party of the center-left to the ground and then laughed as they walked away from the smoldering ruin.

Likewise, the National Front and the UMP/LR were destroyed by their respective leaders who were unable to control their inner demons and, of course, by their party rivals who were prepared to win or lose everything in a death match.  And the result was that both parties have also been reduced to ashes.  The result was a incoherent and immobilized far right and a vacuum in the political space from the right to the center-left; a vacuum which Macron rushed in to fill.

I have always maintained that there was no appetite for centrism in France. But there is a powerful argument that the rapid rise of Macron, a self-proclaimed centrist, to a position of unmatched power means that I am wrong.  There is much ambiguity about the result of the election given the incapacity of the parties of the left and right, combined with a well justified revulsion at the thought of a president Marine Le Pen.

But if  Macron is forced, for some reason that I can’t envision, to go to the people, then we’ll have something much closer to a true test of the popular appeal of radical centrism because such an “up or down” vote on actual policies would not depend on the health of political parties, but rather a direct judgment on the merits of centrism. This could get interesting!

 

King Macron?

I am shocked. I did not see this coming; not at all.  My thoughts are still disorganized and disrupted, but it seems to me that French politics is also disorganized right now. I’m still trying to make sense of it all.  The only that’s certain is that Marcon is surfing on an enormous wave of popular support. Beyond that, I can only offer a few random observations.

To begin with, there’s an equally large number of people who did not vote. Both main political parties (the LR and the PS) suffered crushing defeats.  But are they finished or will they come back when, or perhaps if, they are able to resolve their internal differences and challenge of Macron?  Who knows?

For the moment, the stars are perfectly aligned. The LR is destroying itself with an internal fight for the power between Sarkozy and “Honest” Fillion.  And, of course, the PS was destroyed from within by the militant centrists, of whom Macron was one.

The REM has swept everything. Macron has a total power. Certainly, more power than De Gaulle. Maybe, more than anybody ever in France.

And it is an important difference. These new députés are not committed to a cause, an idea, or a philosophy; instead, they are committed to a man. One man who holds all the power of the state in the hands, essentially as king. More than king, perhaps, because there is not a Cardinal Richelieu around to oppose this king. All of my political and philosophic differences with Macron aside, this extraordinary concentration of power is a very disturbing development for a republic.

Both, the LR and the PS are facing annihilation in Paris if my guess about the upcoming legislative election is correct.  For the PS, one of its most popular and important figures, Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet, has lost in the first round.  And PS luminaries Benoît Harmon and Jean-Christophe Cambadélis were also beaten in the first round. Very strange. I see no reason people should abandon their party for the benefit of Macron.

Mélenchon and La France insoumise will support the frondeurs of the PS in the second tour.  Not Valls, naturally.  Harmon has also called for PS members to vote against Valls.  Although Valls’s politics are not mine, I’ve always admired and respected him personally; but there’s undeniably a sense of rough justice in this. If there is anybody running in this election who richly deserves to be drowned by this tidal wave, it is most assuredly Valls.

But, surprisingly, the FN did quite well in its strongholds. 122 candidates qualified for the second round. So, Mélenchon and La France insoumise also did strangely well, especially considering how badly the PS was treated.

All of which would seem to count against the conventional wisdom that this election reflected a wave of popular support for the centrism. And nevertheless, it is undeniable that Macron, the self-proclaimed centrist, has ridden to power on a wave of popular support like nothing else I’ve seen in French politics.  If that’s not a wave of support for centrism, then what is it?

And this is the second major election in which absenteeism and the null vote represented a huge proportion of eligible voters and that number has been growing – it’s now more than 40 % according to Le Monde.

My hope is that the PS can return to being a party of center left. The party of Jean-Jaurès.  A movement towards a socialism of the possible is something that would be very important for all the Western democracies.

Juppé crashes and burns in the Primaire de la droite !

 

Alain Juppé —the overwhelming favorite to win the Primaire de la droite —has been defeated by, of all people, François Fillon.  How could this have happened? Well, apparently, no one told Juppe that being elected president means running for election. You know, to have an organization, to reach out to the left and the center, on whose votes he will be dependent.  Being a politician is quite evidently something he feels is beneath him.  Apparently, he expected to simply be proclaimed as president; something like the return of Napoleon from Elba, the Hundred Days.  This was obviously a terrible mistake.

Juppe is clearly not a very good candidate, but the Left could have rallied around him in a republican front.  But, Fillon is a very different animal. How is he different from Marine Le Pen on issues of religious, immigration and civil society? Frankly, there is very little daylight between them, except that the FN’s economic policy is largely cribbed from Paul Krugman, while Fillion is the Wolfgang Schäuble of France. Why should France choose to revisit Vichy,  with perhaps a bit less goose-stepping, but even more austerity?

Goldhammer has a good analysis on his blog. He is edging closer to saying that perhaps the left will remain at home, which means that Le Pen can win. So, France is probably screwed. I fear that my beloved Paris is too dangerous to serve as a refuge from the ravages of Trump. All I can do is choose someplace else to hide from the world. Now, the choice is between Montreal and Vancouver.

French politics has entered the Twilight Zone.

I am so confused. A lot of news today; none of which makes much sense. Let’s begin with the Front National because that’s the big story of the day. What in the world is going on with these people?  Has MLP left the FN or not?  Does Marine’s announcement that she will be leaving the party mean that she won or lost the struggle for power inside the party?

Or could it mean that her father, JMLP, is the winner?  This morning, Marion Maréchal-Le Pen, granddaughter of Jean-Marie Le Pen, niece of Marine (and her main rival), will leave politics.  Why?

I do not understand what this means in the context of the ongoing struggle for power inside the Front National. Marion is allied with her grandfather.  Does her leaving mean that he lost the fight for the power and his granddaughter has been cast out of the party? Which would imply that Marine won. But then why would both Marine and Marion leave?  And if they both leave, who stays? Who is the winner? The vieil homme? But surely this would be a pyrrhic victory.

So, in other news, the Prime Minister of the Socialist Party, Manuel Valls, will be a candidate in the National Assembly under the banner of Macron. But he claims to have stayed a good socialist and wishes to remain in the PS just in case things go badly for him in his new situation?  Clearly, he’s a rat and needs to leave the PS right now and take his chances. Now, he’s proposing to serve the other rat who jumped ship from the PS.

But what are the implications for Valls if Macron turns even more to the right and significantly past the centrists who are his base? Will Valls follow him from the center to the right? This seems to be irrevocable and a little bit dangerous choice. There is no possible return for Valls. He will have made his bed and will need to sleep in it.

The big question for today:  who will be Macron’s prime minister? Right, centrist, or left? Certainly, not the  left!  There is a good overview of the possibilities today in Le Parisian today.

If Macron can obtain a majority or at least something close enough for him to form a government with the Modems and some renegades from the LR and the PS (such as Valls), who will he chose as prime minister?  Fillion is damaged goods. I think Macron will chose Juppé or Bayrou, with an outside chance of Jean-Louis Borloo, an opportunist the same as Macron. Probably Bayrou.

Some preliminary reflections on the French Election

I saw nothing during the election to convince me that Macron is more than the sum of his ambitions.  I hope that I’m wrong but I do not think that he will be a good president.

Nevertheless, it was an important victory. After Trump, Brexit and the advance of the extreme right in the Scandinavian countries, it was France which defeated the monsters and the trolls of the extreme-right, faced down Putin and Russia, and made a powerful statement against fascism. And the French knew the risks involved in electing Macron. The risks for their Social Security and their health insurance. The risks of galloping globalization.

The French can be proud and especially my tribe on the left can be proud. I saw the figures in Le Monde and Le Parisian yesterday morning. The entire left voted massively for Macron. Including the voters of the FdG, which means that those who insulted Mélenchon owe him an apology.

Unsurprisingly, the major desertions were the followers of the grifter, “Honest Fillion”.  According to my analyses, by electing Macron, the people of the left have probably sacrificed a big part of their financial well-being to stop fascism.  But will they be rewarded for their sacrifices?  Of course not!

Naturally, the rewards will go to the friends and associates of “Honest Fillion”. Art Goldhammer thinks Macron is going to choose his PM from the right and that Bruno Le Maire’s departure from the LR augurs an opening to Macron. He believes that this will somehow “split” the right.

I agree that Macron will go to the right in choosing his ministers. What I do not understand is how it is going to divide the right. It seems to me that giving them all ministries and “plum jobs” and patronage will enrich and strengthen the right.  Of course, such a betrayal of his former friends in the PS by Macron is to be expected.  It is only natural that having betrayed his friends in the PS, who overwhelmingly voted for him in the general election, the former socialist will choose Prime Minister from the LR because, naturally, a rat builds a party of rats.

 

Bernard Cazeneuve is apparently living on a different planet.

Cazeneuve’s statement urging the base of the PS to support Hollande’s “bilan” is more than a little bit peculiar. His cautionary message might make some sense if Hollande had lead the PS to an overwhelming level of political dominance, the continuance of which Hamon’s “fluke” victory might jeopardize. Cazeneuve might want to remember that on the day Hollande took over, the PS was riding high—a big victory, optimistic and proud celebrations in the Place de la Bastille, and a PS that possessed the most powerful and vibrant party structure in much of France.

What is Hollande’s “bilan”? In a word: disastrous. Hollande has run France into a ditch; the regional and local power base of the PS is decimated; the “bilan” of Hollande is so widely despised that the party of the sitting president is not expected to make the final round of the next presidential election. The “bilan” of Hollande’s government has been rejected by his party and (if the last three years of polling is any indication) it will be overwhelmingly rejected by the French electorate.

So what exactly is Cazeneuve saying? If he’s saying that Hollande was on the right path and the PS needs to stay the course; pay any price and bear any burden to do what’s right, I think he should explain why because he sounds unhinged in light of the negative results Hollande has achieved. If he’s saying that the center-right is the only viable place to be politically, I think he’s dead wrong.

Not to be beating the same dead horse that I’ve been regularly flogging but, outside of the chattering classes, there really isn’t much appetite in France for centrism and if you don’t believe me, just ask President François Bayrou.

Bread and circuses: The last days of the Hollande presidency?

4921888_6_e08f_2016-05-18-0cefe31-11184-17951zs_b6ddf406c40afd804926777bf5a6e313
François Hollande en compagnie du président argentin Mauricio Macri (à gauche) à Buenos Aires, le 25 février. AFP

Art Goldhammer directs our attention to a bizarre and fascinating article in Le Monde suggesting that President François Hollande is hoping that a French victory in the Euro 2016 would give his presidency a desperately needed bounce.  This is pathetic beyond words.  It’s also disheartening that the worlds of football and French politics would seem to be intertwining in a manner more typical of an impoverished third world dictatorship seeking to distract the minds of the people from the failings of the regime with bread and circuses.

One oddity struck me, though, as it surely must have struck everyone who follows French football: In typical Monsieur Flanby fashion, at the very moment when President Hollande was supposedly salivating at the prospect of associating himself with a famous victory, his prime minister was (in my opinion) seriously undermining France’s prospects for achieving that victory by excluding the scandal beset Karim Benzema, the country’s best striker and leading goal scorer, from the national team.

The indecision and lack of consistency on display here has, of course, been the very hallmark of the Hollande presidency.  On the one hand, Prime Minister Manuel Valls has quite legitimacy taken a strong and compelling moral stance; he has excluded Benzema because Benzema has been involved in numerous scandals including his allegedly having purchased the services of an underage prostitute (something which he has denied but, in fact, the charges were dropped only because a French judge concluded that, although Benzema did indeed have sex with the underage girl and knew she was a prostitute, it couldn’t be proved that he knew she was only 16 years old).

Benzema’s long history of scandal and, in particular, his recent arrest for allegedly blackmailing a fellow footballer makes him a very poor example for young French people, to say the least.  As Valls stated in making the moral and ethical case for excluding Karim Benzema:

“A great athlete should be exemplary. If he is not, he has no place in the France team. There are so many kids, so many youngsters in our suburbs that relate to great athletes. They wear the blue jersey, the colours of France, which are so important in these moments.”

Yet, on the other hand, if my presidency’s last best hope for a « rebondir » was riding on France winning the Euro 2016, I might be less concerned with moral niceties and more concerned with selecting players capable of delivering victory.  You can’t win if you don’t put the ball in the net.  Warts and all, Benzema is still the best striker that France is capable of fielding. If Paris was worth a mass to Henry IV, surely a man as desperately ambitious and cynical as François Hollande ought to be willing to hold his nose and employ a supremely talented football player who, in addition to being innocent until proven guilty, is also very popular with Frenchmen of North African descent who were once a key voting bloc for the Socialist Party and could perhaps be again.

So, is President Hollande a man of exceptional moral principles willing to risk his future by insisting on doing the right thing or is he the M. Flanby who couldn’t overrule his prime minister even to save his presidency?   If Valerie Trierweiler is to be believed, François Hollande is a cynical, yet chronically indecisive, man of overpowering and, at times, unscrupulous ambition who surely would not give a tinker’s dam whether Benzema was a suitable role model if it would even slightly improve his prospect of reelection. My inclination is towards agreement with Trierweiler’s description of the man so my guess is that Hollande was too afraid or indecisive to overrule Valls, even though he probably wanted too. But then, as with everything in politics, “you pays yer money and you takes  yer choice”