Sunday, February 19, 2017

Crime and Humanity

Why did Emmanuel Macron choose to attack colonialism (or, more precisely, "la colonisation") as a "crime against humanity?" Does this represent a deep personal conviction, a shrewd electoral calculus, or perhaps a combination of the two?

As a historian, I would have been happier with a more precise indictment, given the seriousness of the charge. After all, who hasn't been guilty of "colonialism?" All the great powers and many of the small ones at the very least. If everyone is guilty of "crimes against humanity," one has to wonder first of all about the victim "humanity." The charge is so broad that it amounts to indicting humanity itself for all its debilitating and disqualifying sins--a religious rather than a political condemnation, and as such perhaps not altogether alien to Macron's vision of politics as comporting a "Christic" dimension. Had he been more specific in his allegations, condemning France's crimes (enfumades, massacres, torture, famines) in the context of colonialism, he would have performed a more useful pedagogic service. As it is, he offers instant expiation along with his confession: Yes, we are guilty, so were they all, so has every descendant of Adam been, say 15 Hail Marys, my son, and be on time for work Monday morning.

Still, politically, Macron enthusiasts will say, he did a bold thing, and it will have cost him some votes, so this proves he is a politician of conviction rather than calculation. Well, perhaps. Most of those incensed by the condemnation of colonialism will have been on the other side anyway. What Macron offers to the electorate is rather an alternative version of French history to that already injected into the campaign by Fillon, for whom History is a highlight reel of Great Men and Moments from Vercingetorix at Alésia to de Gaulle in London and Algiers (Macron even borrowed "je vous ai compris" from the General in response to his critics). Macron knows that anyone likely to vote for him will be a person for whom the words mission civilisatrice must be placed between scare quotes. Hence for whom the condemnation of colonialism will come as salve rather than shock.

With Fillon's candidacy disintegrating, it makes sense to reach out to those who would have been among the softer of his supporters, many of whom will have harbored doubts about the right-wing effort to shore up the national identity by resurrecting an heroic ideal of the national past. Just as Chirac judged that the moment was right to own up to France's complicity in the Holocaust well after it was safe to do so, Macron has made the same judgment about colonialism. But I don't want to be too cynical about it. It was the right thing to say, or nearly right (allowing for the caveats outlined above), and it would be churlish to criticize a politician for saying the right thing.

One can criticize him, however, for saying the wrong thing, which he arguably did by extending his "understanding" to those who marched against the legalization of gay marriage in the Manif pour Tous. Of course, he may have had good reasons for that too: Among the voters deserting Fillon are surely some who were attracted to his warm defense of "traditional moral values," meaning immemorial prejudices against certain violations of social norms. Marine Le Pen's FN being notably gay friendly and as "untraditional" as her own family values, some who might otherwise have leaned toward her leaned back toward Fillon, who comforted their uneasiness on that score. Macron's "comprehension" might not be enough to win their votes, but it might remind them why they resisted Le Pen's siren call in the first place and prevent them from deserting to the FN.

I apologize in advance for this analysis of Macron's motives, which places more importance on his apparent self-interest than on his possible convictions. Cynicism is unbecoming, it's the first refuge of a scoundrel, and I'm guilty here of more than a little cynicism.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Parrainages de Le Pen, Fortune de Macron

As usual at this point in every electoral cycle, doubts are being expressed about Marine Le Pen's ability to collect 500 parrainages. I would be very surprised, however, if she fails to surmount this hurdle:

Ces dernières semaines, plusieurs déplacements de la candidate – annoncés officiellement ou non – n’ont finalement pas eu lieu. Plus préoccupant pour le parti lepéniste, certains cadres commencent aussi à s’inquiéter de la collecte des 500 signatures d’élus nécessaires pour pouvoir se présenter à la présidentielle.
And far-right sites are raising doubts about Emmanuel Macron's wealth disclosure statements. This is what happens to front-runners. Is there anything here? Who knows? But uneasy lies the head that wears the crown.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

As they round the bend, the leader is ...

Horse-race reporting on elections is no métier for a self-respecting intellectual, but it's that time again, folks, so here is the latest from CEVIPOF:

As expected, Le Pen maintains her lead, but she's not expanding it, despite Fillon's swoon. Macron seems to be picking up most of his lost votes. Mélenchon and Hamon are close, and neither is gaining on the other.

In short, the race is static for the moment. But two major uncertainties hang over the field. The Parquet National Financier has refused to clear Fillon and has signaled that there is enough to keep the investigation going and probably result in eventual charges, perhaps as early as next week. Fillon emerged from his lunch with Sarkozy yesterday with a proposal to reduce the age for treating a criminal as an adult to 16, which is hardly likely to persuade voters that he is once again immaculate. Who knows what deal the two men may have concluded sotto voce? Plan B François Baroin? Who cares? Being designated the choice of both Fillon and Sarkozy would probably be enough to sink Baroin before he surfaces. The only Plan B that makes any sense is Juppé, and it's not clear that he's up for it.

The second major uncertainty is Bayrou, as I discussed the other day. We should be hearing from him soon. And then it's off to the races.

Meanwhile, Macron, in Algeria, characterized "colonization" as a "crime against humanity" and "true barbarism." He was immediately attacked by Fillon and Raffarin, among others. What are we to make of this latest Macron sally? Macron is too intelligent not to know exactly what he's doing. This is his pitch to the left, the token that is meant to redeem him from the charge that he is a heartless neoliberal capable of telling the unemployed that if they want to wear nice suits, they need to work, that young French people need to dream of becoming billionaires, and that the life of an entrepreneur is often more difficult than that of a worker. Yes, he said all those things, comrade, but he also said that colonization was a crime against humanity, so he's all right. And he will have all those right-wing backs up and pummeling him for his divisiveness. It's bold camouflage and typical of Macron: he holds on to the left with symbols while keeping his sponsors happy with substance. He's a cool customer. But it's a risky course, as reflected in the high level of uncertainty among those who say they're for him. They might not stick. One or another of his moves might just be the thing that alienates this soft support.

So this election is far from a done deal. As all observers are hastening to note, the only candidate with solid support is Marine Le Pen. But her solid support accounts for only about 1/4 of the electorate, and the other 3/4 are pretty solidly against her, even if they can't agree on an alternative. So it's not correct to say that if Macron falters, Le Pen is the obvious winner. Everything is still up for grabs.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Fronde Anti-Fillon

Two more nails in Fillon's coffin? Or perhaps he's pried one of them out, while the other has yet to be driven firmly home. His campaign spokesman Thierry Solère has been accused of tax fraud by Le Canard enchaîné, which is having quite a year. And 17 LR deputies met last night and asked the candidate to withdraw for the good of the party. Today, Fillon met behind closed doors with the LR group in parliament, however, and won a reprieve. The 17 withdrew their request for now. But stay tuned.

Bayrou: Will He or Won't He?

François Bayrou has been giving signals that he might run. He's also been telling François Fillon to drop out because he's too tainted by "the money power" to stay in the race. Presumably he feels the same way about Macron, the former banker, but as Macron made his money without proven impropriety, Bayrou has held his peace on that point.

If he gets in the race one can expect him to be more outspoken. His presence would of course plunge everything back into turmoil. He'd draw votes from Macron, and he'd draw votes from any Plan B successor to Fillon, or from Fillon himself if he stays in. It's hard to even guess at what the split might be in the middle of the spectrum. All bets would be off. In a 5- or 6-way contest with Bayrou in, Hamon could squeak by, or even Mélenchon. Macron is likely to have the advantage over Bayrou in the middle because he's been in the field for a while now and is a new face, but Bayrou would definitely hurt him. The waters would become incredibly muddied.

I think the odds are about 50-50 he goes for it.

Monday, February 13, 2017

A Film Worth Seeing

Raoul Peck's "I Am Not Your Negro" is a masterpiece. I write about it here.

Hors de l'Église, pas de salut ... mais dedans non plus

Agree with thine adversary quickly, whilst thou
art in the way with him; lest at any time the adversary
deliver thee to the judge, and the judge deliver
thee to the officer, and thou be cast into prison.

This is the passage (Matthew 5:25) that François Fillon had to listen to when he went to church in Réunion on Sunday. Why Réunion? Probably because it is as far away as possible from the pesky Parisian press. The priest was no kinder to Fillon in his sermon: "If we think we can escape responsibility for all that we have done because nobody saw us do it, we are mistaken."

No relief for the weary, and no salvation outside the Church ... or inside it, apparently. Meanwhile, Fillon's people are having trouble finding LR officials eager to have him campaign on their turf. He has become toxic.

Still, he's only 3 points behind Macron in the poll I posted yesterday, so anything is possible. It looked like curtains for the Donald after Pussygate, but the devil's henchmen seem to be unusually active this year, so I don't rule anything out.

Sunday, February 12, 2017


L'intention de vote du 8 février 2017 : 
- Nathalie ARTHAUD : 0,5% 
- Philippe POUTOU : 0,5% 
- Jean-Luc MELENCHON : 10,5% 
- Benoît HAMON : 14,5% 
- Yannick JADOT : 1,5% 
- Emmanuel MACRON : 21% 
- François BAYROU : 5,5% 
- François FILLON : 18% 
- Nicolas DUPONT-AIGNAN : 2% 
- Marine LE PEN : 26% 
- Jacques CHEMINADE : 0% 

Source here.


Commenters have been asking me to write about the Macron candidacy. I had originally intended to wait until he released his "detailed program" in early March, but I realized that this would be a cop-out. As Macron himself says, "programs are meaningless."

In any case, we do not need figures and spreadsheets to know what Macron's program will look like. He has a track record. He is a social liberal supply-side reformer. He favors deregulation of product and labor markets, including professional labor markets (like notaires and pharmacists). He is a pragmatist, who will retreat on matters of principle, such as eliminating the 35-hour week, in favor of "negotiated" arrangements where the balance of power is likely to result in change in the direction he desires. He thinks globalization and free movement of capital and labor have been on balance beneficial to France, and he is the most outspokenly pro-European of all the candidates.

What this means in practice is that he will continue the supply-side, pro-business reforms inaugurated by Hollande (with a good deal of advice from Macron himself). These are the very policies that made Hollande so unpopular that he could not run again. And yet Macron is at this writing favored to win the presidency (by default, as it were, Fillon having pulled off the remarkable feat of stabbing himself in the back, while Hollande's self-proclaimed heir Valls succumbed to the abrasiveness of his own personality, allowing the more likable Hamon to seduce the jonesing left primary electorate with a heady pipeful of the intellectuals' opium).

Macron will come into office with one advantage that Hollande forfeited: He will be introducing the reforms he ran on rather than reneging on all his campaign promises. We now know from Hollande's own confessions to Davet and Lhomme, as well as from the book of Aquilino Morelle, that he was a social liberal supply-sider, just like Macron, as early as 1985, when he wrote articles for Le Matin advocating the same kinds of measures that Macron favors today. But Hollande camouflaged his true beliefs in order to hold the divided Socialist Party together as its first secretary and later as its candidate and president. Macron never joined the Socialists and never pretended to be anything but what he is.

But will the country follow him as president? The CGT is unlikely to be any mellower in its opposition to future Macron reforms than it was in its resistance to the Macron and El Khomri laws. Business has already manifested its receptiveness to Macron's message and supported his campaign with substantial contributions. Macron, no fool, will move quickly and decisively as soon as he takes office, as even Hollande now recognizes he should have done. If he wins, as I think he will, he will have at least a temporary mandate to do what he promises. More than that, he will reap the benefit of Hollande's "turn" to social liberalism, which, as I have noted, was not really a turn at all. Hollande failed, but his very failure has drawn the venom from the opposing forces. France is at last ready for Macronism.

But of course Macronism may fail to solve France's problems. He will have a couple of years to show what he can do, after which all bets are off. A change in the German leadership is possible (polls now show Martin Schultz with a chance to become the next chancellor), and that could help. But uncertainty reigns at the moment, not least because Trump is such a volatile presence.

If the "radical center" fails, the likely alternative, with both mainstream "parties of government" in total disarray, will be a turn to one of the extremes. If the Front National's time is to come, it won't be this year but 2022, with five more years of party building in full-throated opposition to everything Macron stands for: neoliberalism, globalization, and the European Union. There will also be some sort of realignment on the left, but I don't think it will be led by either Hamon or Mélenchon.

One final word: imagine what the French political scene would look like if Macron had not jumped ship last summer and had not remained outside the Socialist Party. With Fillon discredited and the Socialists led by the untried and unconvincing Hamon (notwithstanding his enlistment of Thomas Piketty to the Hamon team), I think the likelihood of a Le Pen victory would be substantially greater than it now is. Macron likes to think of himself as a latter-day de Gaulle: a bit presumptuous, no doubt, but in this limited sense, yes, he may well be the savior of France's honor in 2017. Faute de mieux. I am not an enthusiastic Macron supporter--I have too many doubts about all aspects of his position and what seems to me his relative unconcern with the least well-off and identification with the rich and successful--but of the options on offer, his is the least bad alternative. Not a ringing endorsement, I know.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Fillon: "Les remontées du terrain ne sont pas bonnes."

It's not looking good for François Fillon. For the moment he has cowed the party's top leadership into sticking with him as candidate, but out in the provinces--the heartland of his traditionalist campaign--party militants are themselves disgusted and are reporting that voters are deserting in droves. A mayor who is offered a total of €500 to cover his expenses and gives €50 of that to his assistant finds it difficult to understand how Fillon could have compensated his wife and children quite so handsomely. His campaign, predicated from the beginning on his "character," is therefore in tatters in the very places that supported him most strongly. The crisis can only grow worse. There is no way out, even if Les Républicains have yet to acknowledge this.