Friday, March 24, 2017

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Le Parti Socialiste n'est plus

Defense minister Jean-Yves Le Drian has joined the Macron camp. But what really struck me in Le Monde's report was the following:

Ce ralliement était attendu. Depuis plusieurs semaines, les membres du cabinet de M. Le Drian travaillaient main dans la main avec ceux de M. Macron. Son programme en matière de défense, dévoilé le 18 mars devant un parterre de gradés de l’armée, avait été entièrement conçu par des proches de l’élu breton.
In other words, staff personnel of a regalian ministry are lending their expertise to a candidate whom the president must refrain, and has reportedly urged ministers to refrain, from publicly endorsing. Meanwhile, the Haute Autorité governing the Socialist primary has officially rebuked Manuel Valls for denying Hamon his parrainage after losing to him in the primary.

The French left is usually a contentious place, but this kind of open guerrilla warfare is something new (one saw it on a smaller scale when Ségolène Royal was the candidate and in a more covert form when Mitterrand was cutting the legs out from under Michel Rocard). But it is clear that les éléphants have decided to cut Hamon loose, are all in for Macron, and are no doubt already negotiating behind the scenes for a joint campaign with En Marche! in the legislative elections and for positions under the future President Macron.

The first post-debate poll has Hamon down a couple of points, moreover, so that the PS candidate could finish an unbelievable fifth after Macron, Le Pen, Fillon, and Mélenchon (in that order--Macron now leads Le Pen in round 1 in the same poll). In short, the party bearing the name "Socialist" seems to be dying, but a new center-left, or rather left-center-right, or perhaps more simply, "center" party is being born under the name En Marche!

The entire French Establishment (except for Fillon and his stubborn LR rump) is now all-in on Macron as the only alternative to Le Pen.

After the election, France could thus end up with an eco-socialist anti-European extragovernmental Left party, a Macronist Center Party, a traditionalist Right party, and a xenophobic Far Right Party. This would be a highly unstable mixture.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

What Was Fillon Thinking?

There is a real puzzle about the disintegration of François Fillon. Employing the wife and kids, OK, maybe he did make a "mistake," as he says. Maybe he was slow to catch on to changing mores, as he says. But the suits? Taking money from a guy like Robert Bourgi in 2016, as he was contemplating a presidential run. Setting up his consulting firm, 2F (clever, that!) just before the law requiring disclosure of same? Taking on clients like Ladreit de Lacharrière, who was already involved in the dubious payment to Penelope by La Revue des Deux Mondes? And then this guy, Fouad Makhzoumi? The king of the fiber optic pipeline, who wanted Fillon to use his good offices with Putin? It's too much.

All this happened relatively recently, after Fillon had decided to run for president, in contrast to the nepotism. It's as if he decided that you can't become president without dirtying your hands, so might as well plunge in up to the elbows. There's plenty of precedent for this among his political mentors and peers: Balladur, Chirac, Sarkozy. This is the way it's done on the right. You raise money by going where the money is, inside France and outside.

By contrast, the Le Roux affair is small potatoes. And the Fillon affair might be explicable in terms of the traditions of the right if he hadn't decided to run as Mr. Clean. That's the baffling part. It's almost as though he was overcompensating for his sins, as if he were driven by guilt to stage his innocence.

As Donald Trump would say, Sad!

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Polls Give Macron Debate Victory

Polls give Macron victory in debate, according to Politico.

Et Tu, Le Roux?

Another case of dubious nepotism: Interior Minister Bruno Le Roux appears to have employed his teenage daughters as parliamentary assistants, in some instances while they also held other jobs:

« Quotidien » affirme toutefois que certains de ces CDD effectués en tant qu’assistantes parlementaires ont pu se superposer avec des stages en entreprise ou le temps universitaire, à l’été 2013 pour l’une des filles de l’ancien député, 20 jours en mai 2015 pour l’autre, mettant ainsi en doute la réalité du travail accompli. Et attirant donc les soupçons sur de possibles emplois fictifs.
More grist for the tous pourris mill. In only Le Pen weren't compromise on this score herself, she could have a field day. I say he'll be gone by the end of the week.

The Debate

I feel an obligation to comment on the debate but not much enthusiasm for the task. With the aid of two glasses of wine and some lively banter with a happy few on Facebook, who kept up a diverting conversation throughout, I made it through to the end and can therefore state with authority that no knockout punches were thrown. There were not even any particularly memorable petites phrases. In the end I would say everyone stands more or less where he or she stood going in.

For Marine Le Pen the finest moment came before the debate began. She stood on the platform with the four men, shoulder to shoulder, shook hands with them, exchanged smiles, etc. She revealed neither horns nor tail nor cloven hooves. De-demonized, in short, a normal candidate, even if she would make a far from normal president. Of course, in the debate itself, she showed herself telle qu'en elle-même, with her usual faintly contemptuous smile and "patriotic" disdain for everything even faintly foreign. She knows she will be in the second round and is keeping her powder dry for the inter-round debate.

For Macron the stakes were higher. He chose a strategy in keeping with his campaign overall: et de droite et de gauche, frequently agreeing with one or another of the others (except Le Pen), compulsively nodding in approval of this or that remark to indicate silent assent. But when an opportunity for disagreement presented itself, especially with Le Pen, he seized it eagerly, revealing a pugnacious counterpuncher beneath his blandly agreeable surface. What's more, he came across as feisty rather than drily technocratic. Occasionally he used more words than necessary, and when he uses words, no one will accuse him of poetry--he has none of Mélenchon's ability to savor his own speech, to chew his verbiage the way wine-tasters chew their wine. For him, language is an instrument.  He wields it well enough.

Hamon held his own. His TV presence is appealing, even if the contrast between his debate presence, more or less pedestrian, and his meeting presence of the day before, when he somehow lifted himself above the political quotidian and for a moment soared in the lofty empyrean of the statesman, was made all the more striking by the proximity in time. His mistake, I thought, was to concentrate his fire on Macron (le parti de l'argent, which he attacked on lack of financing transparency) while sparing his real enemy, Mélenchon. Yes, he wants JLM's voters, but he had to give them a reason for switching, and he didn't. I was also struck by the prominence given to Thomas Piketty and Julia Cagé, seated directly behind where he stood on the platform. I confess I felt oddly implicated in the campaign. Hamon is using Piketty as a branding device--"parmi mes soutiens il y a un économiste mondialement connu"--and I had something to do with establishing the brand. But in fact Hamon had nothing to say about inequality.

Mélenchon enjoyed himself immensely and rewarded his audience with a few bravura passages, but otherwise his truc was all too familiar. Let's be done with the Fifth Republic, return power to the people, stop pissing on Putin, and tell off Europe. On the latter point his frequent agreement with Le Pen should have embarrassed him but didn't. He doesn't even seem to notice a problem in the convergence of the extremes.

And that leaves Fillon, who fully merited the appellation "Droopy" last night. He was strangely subdued. Trying to appear relaxed despite being under investigation for corruption, he smiled a lot, unaccountably, but his smile came across as more Mephistophelean than it should have. He likes to project la force tranquille but looked to me more like la force tranquillisée. He joined Mélenchon and Le Pen in expressing sympathy for Russia and did not flinch at the fleeting mention (by Macron) of the fact that two of the candidates on stage were at grips with la justice. Otherwise, everyone tiptoed around the scandal, as though Fillon were already dead meat and it would only look cruel to peck at the corpse.

The two anchors contributed little but timekeeping to the affair, which is probably appropriate. All five of the contenders displayed a facility with language and a fluency in regard to the issues at which I can only marvel (and of course regret that no American politician can rise to such a level). Despite the fact that several of the candidates expressed discomfort with the exclusion of the six lesser contestants from the debate, I felt that five was quite enough, more than enough, and was grateful for being spared the likes of Dupont-Aignan and Jacques Cheminade, though I always rather enjoy Philippe Poutou. who has a delightful way of pronouncing "la gauche."

Monday, March 20, 2017

Some Versions of Utopia

There is a utopian strain in the programs of each of the five major presidential candidates. In advance of tonight's debate, I analyze them in my latest article for The American Prospect.

Hamon and Mélenchon Rallies

For firsthand accounts of the Hamon and Mélenchon rallies, you can't do better than Arun Kapil.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Hamon Speech

Excellent speech by Benoît Hamon. Mélenchon is often praised as the orator of this campaign, but Hamon is better in my opinion.

Benoît Hamon en meeting à Bercy