Friday, November 3, 2017

Les déçus du hollandisme

After six months of unemployment preceded by five years of anticipation, the veterans of what RTL's Les Grandes Gueules used to mock as "le pays de Hollande" are publishing their memoirs. Two more are due to appear today. I think I shall spare myself the task of reading them. I'm halfway through Cambadélis's memoir, having already, even before the final debacle, read Aquilino Morelle's and of course the Confessions of the man himself to Davet and Lhomme. One's appetite for misery is not unlimited.

There are recurrent themes, of course. The odd thing is the president's almost pathological passivity. Cambadélis puts it down to a lack of preparation: Hollande had expected to be DSK's prime minister rather than president and had not theorized his presidency. This is a weak defense. What did he expect to be doing as prime minister. There is of course betrayal: both Morelle and Cambadélis stress the debacle of Florange, but from opposite sides: Morelle believes that Hollande knifed Montebourg in the back, Cambadélis believes the opposite. Both are correct, but this serves only to highlight Hollande's irresolution, on which everyone agrees. He was the decider who refused to decide: if gouverner, c'est choisir, Hollande never governed.

Cambadélis, falling back on the alibi of all failed politicians, blames the media. Gantzer and Feltesse invoke the affairs, especially Cahuzac and Closer, and Camba could not agree more. Then there was Leonarda, the Roma adolescent who dissed the president on national TV. And there was La Trierweiler, whom Camba evidently despises, but he can't refrain from revealing his contempt for the henpecked president-elect who allowed his mistress to oblige him to overcome his natural reserve by ordering him to bestow an election-night kiss on national television.

In the end, all agree that the presidency, the culmination of Hollande's life in politics, served only to reveal his unfitness for the job. It could have gone differently, all these commentators suggest, if only Hollande had been a different person. Cambadélis's resentment of Macron is evident, but at bottom his book is a resounding brief in favor of Macronism: the French people will put up with anything in their president except a void. Contradictions are tolerable; mollesse is not.

7 comments:

Ronald Tiersky said...

Hollande's lack of preparation and passivity makes one think back to previous PS candidates and ask a question about the party itself. Mitterrand's fire in the belly should normally have inspired like successors and a party leadership focused power as well as programs. What the PS produced instead was Hamlet Jospin and two unprepared candidates, Royal and Hollande. Rocard was promising but ultimately undone politically and psychologically by Mitterrand. DSK had the fire but his political emergence depended more on expertise and international reputation than as a party man. This year it was Benoit Hamon, enough said. What is it about the PS? Vaste sujet...

Anonymous said...

There are a million problems with the PS, but the main problem had to do with Mitterrand's own economic politics. During the period from the 70s to the 90s, all of the western European centre-left parties outside of France without exception decided to remodel themselves on something like the model of the American Democratic Party. That is: as capitalist parties reconciled to the market and to privatization, but in theory somewhat more favorably disposed to the welfare state and to labor unions than their conservative opponents. In most of these parties there was a ferocious debate on this subject, but it was a debate that the neoliberal moderates won (Blair, Schröder, Gonzales, Prodi...).

In France - in part because the far left remained stronger there than elsewhere in Europe - the PS was never willing to make the same leap. After the "tournant de la rigueur" the PS ceased to be a really leftist party, but the socialists never admitted this to themselves or to the French. This essential bad faith is the real reason why socialist politicians younger than Rocard or Delors have been so mediocre. The most talented (besides JLM, who veered to the far left) have always tried to turn it into a Blairte party: Rocard (avant la lettre), DSK Valls and finally Macron. Only Macron had to do it outside the PS. One hopes that Macron's triumph, and Melenchon's relative success as leader of the opposition, should finally get rid of the PS, which for too long has been a ridiculous contrivance that occupied the ground between the left and the center without standing for anything coherent or even respectable.

Anonymous said...

I agree with both posters (and Art) that the PS is a mess: this is very obvious. I still long for better politicians to defend the space that it has tried to occupy. I yearn for a politics that 1) accepts the reality of the modern, global market economy, & does not indulge in dreams of economic autarky for France or withdrawal from the Euro (& is free of the anti-German prejudice), yet 2) is properly skeptical of finance and the "captains" of industry, that defends the welfare state and does not regard trades unions as an anachronism. Jospin is the last politician who at least tired to unite these two tendencies: he was not a "crazy" but he also was not a Schröder or a Blair. (I know that Art likes Hamon, but Hamon incarnates the bankruptcy of this tendency in France.)

As it is we seem to be faced by an awful choice: to favor Europe is to favor miserable austerity; to oppose it is to support head-in-the-sand nationalism.

Macron is the best we can do in the present circumstances, because on a European level, any president of France seems like an advocate for socialist fiscal extravagance: this is how the Germans saw Sarkozy, it is how they saw poor pathetic Hollande, and it is how they would have seen Fillion (or even DSK). Macron is (as some German publication recently said) the most German-minded French president imaginable. He is as well equipped as anyone could be to bring the Germans to reason, and yet it is clear that he will fail. Mitterrand evidently justified his turn towards austerity to his confidants by saying that austerity was necessary in order to establish European solidarity. Alas, European solidarity seems to make just and reasonable economic policy impossible in France. I am not hostile to Macron's reforms, although they strike me as favoring the well-off. I am certain, however, that they are not enough to revive the French economy unless the Germans change their attitude towards the Eurozone. And I am certain that the Germans will not change. So I fear that the French will reject Macron-ism and replace it with something less palatable.


brent said...

On the question of French/European left leadership: I see very little in print about Yanis Varoufakis's DiEM 25 movement, though perhaps this will change when EU elections are closer. I gather DiEM25 would like to be the pan-European, moderately social democratic voice that many feel France (and most other EU countries) have lost with the collapse of their center left parties. Inasmuch as Big Finance is at the root of the Eurozone's contradictions, Syriza's experience is exemplary, and Varoufakis is the movement's saint and martyr. He is also apparently a fan of that other Europeanist, Macron. Is there more support than I am aware of in France for DiEM25, or is there some intractable resistance to this movement (and its admittedly excessive leader)?

Art Goldhammer said...

Brent, Varoufakis and Hamon both spoke yesterday at a conference at U of Texas on the future of Europe. In my view neither DiEM25 nor Hamon's First of July movement is going much of anywhere, and the attempt to marry them is an exercise in futility, but I've been wrong before. If I were Hamon, I'd be wary of signing on with Varoufakis in any case, precisely because he has become such a polarizing figure.

FrédéricLN said...

I read reviews of two recent books on Hollande's presidency: the "dircom" of Valérie Trierweiler, or is it Julie Gayet, I forgot, puts the blame on Gaspard Gantzer, for looking at every topic as if it was just a communication issue. And Gaspard Gantzer's own book, putting the blame on Hollande for not making any substantial decision, if I got the point. Well, all of it did not encourage me to buy any of the two.

Yet I bought Varoufakis's "Conversations entre adultes" (Adults in the room), his account of his attempt as Greece Finance Minister. Half read so far. A great book, as first-hand reliable accounts of recent politics are certainly rare. Very interesting also are his descriptions of how some French politicians behave during these months — Sapin habillé pour l'hiver (oops…), Moscovici, Lagarde, Macron. Just haven't remarked any substantial mention of Hollande so far.

brent said...

@FredericLN--I have also found Varoufakis's book a fascinating lens (though hardly objective) for observing the workings of the EU. Sapin and Moscovici are pretty pathetic in this account, Lagarde formidable but ultimately feckless, Macron (not yet en marche) the one star among the French actors. Merkel of course plays a dominant role in tandem with the ruthless Schäuble ... but the president of the French Republic is completely missing. Amazing for a man of his stature to make himself absolutely invisible during this major European crisis.