Wednesday, November 23, 2016

French Politics leading up to the 2017 Presidential race and rightwing populism

France is now in the process of their Presidential election, the final round of which will come in the spring of 2016.

The conservative, Gaullist party is now called the Republican Party. Last Sunday, former conservative President Nicolas Sarkozy came in third in the Republican primary. There will be a runoff on November 27 with François Fillon, who got the largest plurality on Sunday, and Alain Juppé. Juppé is thought to be more moderate than Fillon, who once served as Sarkozy's Prime Minister and who seems to be a real piece of work (Sarkozy defeated in primary for French right's presidential candidate Guaradian 11/20/2016):

Fillon has called for a rapprochement with the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, on Syria. After the US election, he welcomed a new alliance between Putin and Trump. Asked early in the campaign whether France should cooperate with Syria’s Bashar al-Assad to fight Islamic State, he said France should unite with all possible forces, “democratic or not”. He told the website Atlantico in October: “De Gaulle, Churchill, Roosevelt allied with Stalin to defeat nazism.”

Fillon said the French people “wanted authority” and his was a “powerful project” to reform France.
Now, I'm not on board with the New Cold War talk. But viewing the Islamic State as analogous to Hitler is the kind of comparison that encourages the worst kind of threat inflation. Hitler was the head of the militarily most powerful state in the world at that time. He could not be appeased ("appeasement" before 1938 just referring to concessions in a negotiation), he could not be contained and he was bent of military aggression. The Islamic State is a Sunni terrorist group heavily funded by Saudi Arabia and hardly qualifies as a "state" at all, even though that's what it calls itself.

I can't say I'm thrilled at the strong possibility that a new French President eager to find New Hitlers to fight might be taking office next year.

The main contender against the Republican candidate is expected to be Marine Le Pen, head of the French Deplorable Party, more formally known as the National Front.

The current Socialist President François Hollande is currently held to be a sure loser, who likely won't make in into the final round of next year's Presidential vote. Leaving the final choice for French President as one between the Republicans committed to Angela Merkel's stone-conservative Herbert Hoover/Heinrich Brüning economics and Le Pen and her Deplorables.

Hollande is one in a growing set of Socialist leaders who managed to blur the distinctions of his party's positions to the point that they are scarcely discernible any more compared to the conservatives. Pro-EU reformers who wanted to see a change in eurozone economic policy to one that made macroeconmic sense were heartened in 2102 when Hollande was elected on a platform of opposing the Fiscal Compact, and disastrously bad proposal of Merkel's that would effectively ban any economic policy that actually did make any macroeconmic sense from being used by the eurozone. It's formal name is the European Stability and Growth Pact. But Fiscal Suicide Pact would be a much more descriptive name. (See my Irish referendum today (Thursday) on eurozone fiscal suicide pact 05/31/206 for more on that misbegotten agreement.)

Hollande had promised to force Merkel to renegotiate the Fiscal Suicide Pact if elected. But once in office, he capitulated completely on the agreement, which he endorsed and Parliament ratified. In accord with neoliberal/Merkel/Brüning economic policies including the Fiscal Suicide Pact, he supported Merkel and the Troika in their brutal economic retaliation against Greece in 2015 for the offense of electing a government of which Frau Merkel did not approve. And Hollande has spent much of 2016 pushing for reducing the protections of current labor laws, provoking huge protests by, well, members of the Socialists' labor base.

Gosh, I wonder if that has something to do with his poor standing in the polls?

The Inside Story episode reports on the politics in France; although it's dated 11/20/2106, it was clearly recorded before Sunday's election results were called, Who can stand up to the National Front? Al Jazeera English 11/20/2016:

This is part of the problem Jürgen Habermas addresses in his interview, , Für eine demokratische Polarisierung Blätter 11:2016/For A Democratic Polarisation: How To Pull The Ground From Under Right-Wing Populism Social Europe 11/17/2016:

The economic globalisation that Washington introduced in the 1970s with its neoliberal agenda has brought in its wake, measured globally against China and the other emergent BRIC countries, a relative decline of the West. Our societies must work through domestically the awareness of this global decline together with the technology-induced, explosive growth in the complexity of everyday living. Nationalistic reactions are gaining ground in those social milieus that have either never or inadequately benefited from the prosperity gains of the big economies because the ever-promised “trickle-down effect” failed to materialise over the decades. ...

Since Clinton, Blair and Schröder social democrats have swung over to the prevailing neoliberal line in economic policies because that was or seemed to be promising in the political sense: in the “battle for the middle ground” these political parties thought they could win majorities only by adopting the neoliberal course of action. This meant taking on board toleration of long-standing and growing social inequalities. Meantime, this price – the economic and socio-cultural “hanging out to dry” of ever-greater parts of the populace – has clearly risen so high that the reaction to it has gone over to the right. And where else? If there is no credible and pro-active perspective, then protest simply retreats into expressivist, irrational forms. ...

In my estimate, domestic politicians mishandled right-wing populism from the start. The mistake of the established parties lies in acknowledging the battlefront that right-wing populism is defining: “We” up against the system. Here it matters hardly a jot whether this mistake takes the form of an assimilation to or a confrontation with “right-wing”. Take either the strident would-be French president Nicolas Sarkozy who is outbidding Marine Le Pen with his demands, or the example of the sober-minded German justice minister Heiko Maas who forcefully takes on Alexander Gauland in debate – they both make the opponent stronger. Both take him/her seriously and raise his/her profile. A year on we here in Germany all know the studiously ironic grin of Frauke Petry (AfD leader) and the demeanour of the rest of the leadership of her ghastly gang. It’s only by ignoring their interventions that one can cut the ground from under the feet of the right-wing populists.
I would dissent from Habermas' description there about the problem in dealing with the populist right for the left-center parties has been "acknowledging the battlefront that right-wing populism is defining: 'We' up against the system."

The basic political construction of populism is the People vs. the Elite. How the narrative is formed around which the popular coalition is formed against the Elite matters a lot. Occupy Wall Street was identified with the oligarchic One Percent. Which really does exist. And really does act in collective ways to push governmental policies that further enrich themselves at the expense of the well-being of the broader public, the Ninety-Nine Percent in the Occupy construction. John Judis points out a very important distinction between the right and left varieties (All The Rage New Republic 09/19/2016):

The central feature of all these [historical] populist campaigns has been the attempt to champion “the people” against an elite or establishment. But how the people and the elite are defined has changed with the campaigns. The People’s Party represented “the plain people” against the “plutocracy,” Huey Long the “poor man” against the “money power,” Wallace “the man in the street” against “big government,” Trump the “silent majority” against the “special interests,” and Sanders “we the people” against the “billionaire class.”

But there is another element of populism that is less understood, one that divides the tradition into two distinct political strains. In the left-wing strain, epitomized by Long, Perot, Occupy Wall Street, and Sanders, populists champion the people against the elites. In the right-wing strain, it’s also the people versus the elites — but the elites are attacked for coddling and subsidizing a third “out group,” such as African Americans (Wallace) or immigrants who have entered the country illegally (Buchanan, the Tea Party, and Trump). [my emphasis]
The latter variety can be usefully characterized as "sucker populism." (See: Jim Hightower, Don't Be a Sucker—Donald Trump Does Not Have a Populist Bone in His Body Alternet 09/21/2016.)

But maybe Habermas is just using a overly-broad characterization there. Because the more specific point he's making there is that centrist parties are making a serious mistake in trying to outdo the rightwing populists in pandering to fear and hatred of those third party out-groups that Judis references. We certainly see that mistake in France, which Habermas cites. (See: Philippe Marlière, French politicians are now marching to Marine Le Pen’s immigration tune Guardian 11/19/2016)

Habermas is right about the direction the solution has to take. In Europe, the pro-EU but anti-austerity voters need parties with a clear pro-EU but anti-austerity position. The social-democratic parties for years and years now have been offering only a vaguely different variation on the conservative assumption of TINA: There Is No Alternative to Hoover/Brüning economics:

... the political scene is predominantly grey on grey, where, for example, the left-wing pro-globalisation agenda of giving a political shape to a global society growing together economically and digitally can no longer be distinguished from the neoliberal agenda of political abdication to the blackmailing power of the banks and of the unregulated markets.

One would therefore have to make contrasting political programmes recognisable again, including the contrast between the – in a political and cultural sense – “liberal” open-mindedness of the left, and the nativist fug of right-wing critiques of an unfettered economic globalization. In a word: political polarisation should be re-crystallised between the established parties on substantive conflicts. Parties that grant right-wing populists attention rather than contempt should not expect civil society to disdain right-wing phrases and violence. Therefore, I regard as the greater danger a very different polarisation towards which the hard-core opposition within the CDU is moving when it casts a leery eye on the post-Merkel period. In Alexander Gauland it recognises anew the pivotal figure of the Dregger wing of the old Hesse CDU, or flesh of its own flesh, and toys with the idea of winning back lost voters by way of a coalition with the AfD. [my emphasis]

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