20120207

2012 Presidential Elections in France - It's not the economy, stupid

In 2011, America discovered that helping a young democracy could result in a new theocracy. France tried that too, back in 1776, and as of today, the result is still unclear: the President of the United States pledges allegiance on a Bible, finishing with a vibrant "so help me God", and he would never dare ending a speech without godblessamericaing the audience urbi et orbi, for fear of being considered Un-Amerikan. In this presumably model democracy, all Greenbacks are tagged with the words "in God we trust", Satanists are better considered than atheists because at least they believe in fallen angels, and self-proclaimed 'republicans' would rather be represented by a Christian ayatollah (Santorum) than a moderate Mormon (Romney).

Technically, mixing religion with politics is not compatible with democratic and republican ideals, and I already explained how, in France, putting secularism at the core of the Constitution was meant to secure both democracy and the freedom of religion, and how that fragile balance was undermined as Nicolas Sarkozy followed George W. Bush's dangerous path (see "
France, secularism and burqa : a political issue, not a religious one").

Of course, the French democracy was threatened long before Bush or Sarko came to power. And the 'laicite' and 'egalite' dogmas didn't succeed in a truly multicultural / multicultual society.

Anyway. Back in 2007, I voted Sarkozy because France needed reforms, and only he could deliver. I didn't trust the man, but somehow counted on the vast majority of UMP lawmakers to prevent him from breaking his very formal pledge to respect the French brand of secularism. Of course, Sarkozy implemented only a small part of the necessary reforms, and broke his pledge. He followed Bush's missteps to the tiniest detail, undermining the delicate balance of powers at all levels (executive, legislative, justice, media, religion...).

I can't imagine how low the French economy would have dived had Segolene Royal won the 2007 elections, but we would probably be very glad to maintain double A ratings. Yet unlike most his European counterparts who got the pink slip following the (first) depression, Sarkozy will not be judged by the economy: he simply cannot be re-elected because he betrayed the nation.

His main rival, Francois Hollande, also happens to be an impostor. He even received a boost from Sarkozy, who believed he could play the same trick as in 2007: I have my friends in the media push a weak and hollow candidate (then Hollande companion Segolene Royal), I vampirize the extreme-right with preemptive strikes in the no-man's land between 'law and order' and outright fascism, and I leverage my reputation as a doer.

Hollande is not as weak and hollow as he seems to be: he shares some of the key 'qualities' that helped his model, Francois Mitterrand, reach the top... only not the qualities leftist voters wished he had. And unsurprisingly, the worst enemy of Hollande happens to be Mitterrand's archrival Michel Rocard.

Traditionally, the French have their hearts on their left, but their wallets on their right, so they tend to vote for a center-right candidate. Fourty years ago, Mitterrand, a conservative with an ambiguous Vichy background, highjacked the Socialist party and managed to build an artificial platform where the Communists brought the votes needed to claim the Elysee Palace. Rocard, the reformer who dreamt of transforming a patchworked party into a modern social democrat powerhouse, was sidelined before witnessing, helplessly, his side fail miserably each time it claimed victory (most notably: ill timed, ideology driven 'reforms' in the early eighties or late nineties).

Holland lacks experience in governments, but he already proved his inability and unwillingness to reform the Socialist Party when he was Secretary General. Worse, instead of seizing the momentum when he finally was chosen as the party champion, he opted for yet another impossible consensus. Needless to say, his majority is bound to fail.

So the choice for those 2012 elections is clear: continuity, alternation, or change.
- Continuity means Nicolas Sarkozy and a moral collapse.
- Alternation means Francois Hollande and a deeper decline for French economy and politics.
- Change means either Marine Le Pen and the Front National, a French Revolution for the worse, or Francois Bayrou and the MoDem, a bet on the ability to build a national alliance government with moderate reformers from both sides.

Back in 2007, I hesitated between Bayrou and Sarkozy: the former would have made a good and fair president, but he didn't have the capacity to reform. Now France could be ready for a less partisan approach. Furthermore, a Bayrou victory would necessarily lead to the much needed reforms of both the Parti Socialiste and the UMP. The PS remains one of the few dinosaurs sticking to XIXth century politics, and the UMP needs to discard un-republican (no cap letter, please) elements from its platform.

The worse is that even top members from both leading parties are not enthusiastic about their own champions:
- socialist 'elephants' know Hollande is a fake but the right has never been that weak ahead of a Presidential election (even the Senate sports a socialist 'pink'), and nice positions are up for grabs in the government
- UMP leaders know Sarko doesn't stand a chance, and they already prepare for 2017 and the ineluctable failure of Hollande. Francois Fillon plans to conquer Paris and to capitalize on a strong performance as PM, while Jean-Francois Cope shamelessly carves himself into a Sarkozy mini-me.

Compared to Nicolas Sarkozy's, Barack Obama's reelection bid almost looks like a stroll in the park: both performed relatively well on the economic front, but the POTUS can put much more blame on the opposition, including during his tenure (after the 'sound economy of 2008', last year's budget mess...), and the Republican Party is even more divided, ideologically crippled, inconsistent, and unfit to govern than the French Socialist Party.


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