Monday, September 25, 2017

The Senatorial Elections

REM sought in advance to interpret away the bad news it knew would be coming out of the senatorial elections. It's true that the Senate vote is generally a projection of the past onto the present, and since REM blasted away the past with its overwhelming victories in May and June, it was inevitable that the projected spirit of the antediluvian past would stand in sharp contrast. But it's also true that the mood has changed sharply since June, REM's "marche" has slowed to a crawl, and its failure to give much of a sign of life at all in the senatorials is fresh cause for worry.

The traditional right and center picked up 17 seats, the Socialists, with 80, lost only 6, and the Communists will be able to for a group. REM will have only 25 senators.

This is not a major setback for Macron, but there's no disguising the fact that it is a setback, and together with the disappointing German vote (see previous post), which weakened Merkel and therefore undercut German support for Macron, the president has new cause for worry and the opposition new warrant for seeing an opening that it would dearly love to exploit.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

My Hot Take on the German Election

Here. TL;DR version: Not good for Macron or France.

Mélenchon's Revealing Gaffe

In his "resistance proclamation" on Saturday, Jean-Luc Mélenchon praised the politics of the street, which he said had toppled kings, would-be reformers, and Nazis--implying that he would take his movement to the streets to stop the would-be reformer Macron.

Mélenchon, who is often praised for his "historical culture" as well as his eloquence, was here either ignorant or willfully blind, as Jean-Claude Mailly reminded him:

Jean-Claude Mailly a jugé "choquants" dimanche les propos tenus la veille par Jean-Luc Mélenchon, le secrétaire général de FO estimant que la rue n'a pas "abattu" le régime nazi, et l'a même "amené d'une certaine manière".
"Le régime nazi, c'est pas la rue qui l'a abattu, ce sont les alliés, ce sont les Américains, ce sont les Russes à une époque, etc (...) Si on connait un peu son histoire, c'est même la rue qui a amené le nazisme d'une certaine manière, donc il faut faire attention à ce que l'on dit", a déclaré M. Mailly lors de l'émission Le Grand Jury de RTL/Le Figaro/LCI.
(h/t Bert)

Friday, September 22, 2017

Thursday, September 21, 2017

The FN Explodes

The handwriting has been on the wall since the election. In recent days the pace quickened, as Marine Le Pen's lieutenants intensified their attacks on Florian Philippot. Marine herself summoned him to abandon his internal movement, Les Patriotes, and then stripped him of important party functions. Finally, Philippot, bowing to the obvious and declaring his lack of "taste for ridicule," announced his departure with a blast at the FN, which, he said, had succumbed "to its old demons." He had come as the harbinger of the famous "de-demonization," he would leave as a sacrifice to the goblins.

So it's the Night of the Long Knives on the far right. And this raises the stakes for the formerly respectable right as well. Laurent Wauquiez will see an opportunity to snag voters who came to the new, supposedly de-demonized, supposedly retooled FN architected by Philippot. These voters were drawn to the Philippot doctrine of economic sovereignty, national preference in hiring, and all-out opposition to the EU. The softening of the FN's image was essential to their recruitment. They were left dismayed by Marine Le Pen's obvious inability, in the inter-round debate, to give a coherent articulation of the Philippot line, much less defend it against criticism. They were disappointed by the FN's failure to meet its electoral expectations. They are likely to see the re-demonized party as a party with an even more dismal electoral future.

Philippot will woo them, perhaps attempting to turn his Les Patriotes movement into a full-fledged party, but I doubt he will succeed. He was a superb second to MLP but lacks the heft of a party leader. So this is an opportunity for Wauquiez. It's also an opportunity for Marion Maréchal Le Pen, but my hunch is that the interfamilial Sturm und Drang is too much for her and that her withdrawal from politics could be more than temporary.

There is also, potentially, an opportunity for J-L Mélenchon, but he is likely to trip over his own ego if he tries to seize it.

The discomfiture of the FN is an occasion for rejoicing. May it be confirmed by polling in the coming months and then by the next electoral test. Interesting times.

And chalk up another manna-from-heaven victory for Emmanuel Macron. As I put it in a talk yesterday, he is the luckiest man on earth. His gaffes seem to do him no harm, his opponents self-destruct, and meanwhile the economy has begun to revive, slowly to be sure, but, this time, seemingly inexorably.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Defeat Is an Orphan

Victory has a thousand fathers, they say, while defeat is an orphan. Perhaps, but defeat has a way of generating countless attributions of paternity. One sees this phenomenon at work right now on the far right and the far left.

On the far right, Louis Aliot has launched an all-out attack on Florian Philippot. With Marine Le Pen herself under attack within the party, she seems to have chosen her partner as designated hitter to fasten the blame for the debacle on her erstwhile BFF Philippot, who may be making his own bid for leadership.

Meanwhile, on the far left, PCF leader Pierre Laurent chose the occasion of La Fête de l'Humanité to tear into Jean-Luc Mélenchon. Mélenchon's crime is to have chosen to jouer perso, as they say, but in the case of Mélenchon egoism is such a central part of his character that it can hardly be seen as a defect thereof. If he weren't an egotist, he wouldn't exist. Laurent appears to resent Mélenchon's effort to put himself forward as the first and best enemy of Macron. Not so fast, says Laurent. Me too. And for good measure Benoît Hamon adds that wherever anyone turns out to oppose les ordonnances, there he will be too. But an opera with three such prima donnas is bound to end in fiasco, or the be upstaged by Martinez, who not only sports a villainous mustache but also has troops he can turn out on command.

Meanwhile, the Macron machine lumbers on, no longer quite the juggernaut it once appeared. But despite the bumps in the road, and the wagoneer's penchant for getting people's backs up with unnecessary insults, he retains the support of his base. I was in France this past week, for once among small businessmen rather than academics, and support for Macron in that quarter was unsurprisingly fairly solid. The carping left and right scarcely registers in these quarters. Fluctuat nec mergitur. The dogs bark, the caravans pass.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

It's No Longer 1995

When Emmanuel Macron announced that labor code reform would be his first priority, I worried. Mightn't this trigger a strong union reaction, as when Chirac and Juppé tried to reform state pensions in 1995, shutting down public transport, sowing chaos, and eventually forcing a strategic retreat? Well, today is the day of the CGT's general strike, and it's clear that this is not 1995. I happen to be in Paris for a brief visit, so I can report firsthand that the subways are running as usual. There is some disruption of the RER and SNCF, but nothing major. The demos are as colorful as ever, but smaller, and the union united front is no more.

In fact, what has happened reinforces rather than undermines Macron's  strategy. He aims to win a series of small victories, timed to follow one another rather closely, in order to create the impression of steady movement. But because each step is small, the opposition remains small--small but visible and vocal, which suits him nicely because the existence of opposition tends to accredit the idea that he is making big changes--"heroic" changes, as he put it in his marathon interview with Le Point, which hit the streets just as the labor reform was announced (France, he says, needs more heroes).

The interview is a rather odd mix of the heady and the petty, or perhaps more accurately, the lyric and the technocratic, much like Macron himself. To wit: "Ce n'est que le début du combat. Nous sommes un pays ... de calcaire, de schiste et d'argile, de catholiques et de protestants, de juifs et de musulmans." On the one hand. On the other, or, rather en même temps, as the president likes to say, ou presque: "Nous supprimons 3.15 points de cotisations sur les salaires pour les transférer sur la CSG."

This split consciousness leads to some rather dubious formulas, such as "Pourquoi les jeunes de banlieue partent-ils en Syrie? Parce que les vidéos de propagande ... ont transformé à leurs yeux les terroristes en héros. ... Le défi de la politique, aujourd'hui, c'est donc aussi de réinvestir un imaginaire de conquête."

By shaving 3.15 points off the CSG? I'm not sure this will impress the banlieusards in search of heroes. But the lad seems to enjoy what he's doing--or at least he enjoys describing what he purports to be doing. As a friend remarked to me last night, "It's not clear whether we have elected a providential man or a providential child." Peu importe. For the moment his luck has held. If he gets through the Mélenchon menace on Sept 23 (preceded by yet another CGT-organized (non-)general strike (the CGT having decided it wants nothing to do with Mélenchon, nor does it want to see him become the leader of the opposition), Macron may have something to celebrate by Christmas.

Slicing the Political Salami Ever Thinner

Valérie Pécresse has officially launched her "movement," Libres ! (Has Macron's En Marche ! unleashed an epidemic of exclamation points?) She wants, according to Le Monde, to fill the space between Wauquiez and Les Constructifs. Xavier Bertrand also sits in this narrow niche of the political spectrum, which is in the process of being sliced up like salami by a proliferation of political entrepreneurs. Macron wanted to encourage risk-taking, and he has succeeded, at least among politicians, by pulverizing the opposition parties to the point where the ambitious see no point in sticking with their parties and plenty of reasons to depart for the wilderness with their bands of the faithful.

Pécresse is an able woman, well-spoken (adept even in English), a good conservative with an allergy to the Front National--in short, a plausible Republican présidentiable despite being charisma-challenged. But who knows? In five years' time, France may have tired of charisma or decided that Macron's was an ersatz and not the genuine article. It could be ready for une présidente normale who will have demonstrated her talents by taking Ile-de-France in hand. But she will have plenty of competition, and the salami can only be sliced so thin without losing its flavor.

Saturday, September 9, 2017

Show Us the Money

Why do you rob banks? Willie Sutton was asked. "Because that's where the money is," he answered quite logically. France and Germany are now going after American tech behemoths for the same reason: That's where the money is. It's not quite Piketty's global tax on capital, but it may "disrupt" the Silicon Valley disrupters all the same.

Bruno Le Maire, the French fin min, said last week that “Internet giants are welcome in Europe but it’s not right they pay so little in taxes,” adding that new ideas needed to be explored to deliver fair taxation.