by Jerome a Paris
Thu Apr 19th, 2007 at 03:05:57 AM EST
After the Economist and the Financial Times, it's now the turn of the International Herald Tribune to teach a few lessons to the French, in an article as contemptuous as its title: France's frivolous campaign nears its overdue close
Shall we wade in? Follow me if you're not sick to death of these articles or their deconstructions.
It is time, it is past time, that the French presidential election take place. A campaign that began by addressing serious issues, like a faltering economy and high unemployment, has degenerated into a shouting match about national identity, security and personalities. Psychologists would call the process displacement.
Yeah, we know. The economy, "faltering". Unemployment, terrifying - and the only thing that matters. The French - in denial. The stage is set, as usual.
France is a discombobulated country. It looks lovely; it has many world-class corporations, hospitals and high-speed trains. But it is frustrated at some fundamental level. About 25 percent of the electorate will probably vote in the first round for extremist candidates. That is no coincidence.
And that is different from other periods in French history, how, exactly? And form any period in the last 50 years, in particular? When the communist party had between 20 and 25% of the votes? (Unless Mr Cohen does not consider the communist party an extremist party?...) And that is comparable how to countries with two-party or first-past-the-post systems, on one side, or those with proportional representation...
Between the National Front of Jean-Marie Le Pen, and Olivier Besancenot, France's very own postman-Trotskyist, and the unreformed Communist Party and Arlette Laguillier's band of leftists, a larger chunk of radical and irate voters is gathered than in any other West European country.
The "unreformed" communist party? That answers my question above, I guess... but it leaves me to wonder what a "reformed" communist party is. One that becomes socialist? or one that becomes blairist?
These folk think there are too many immigrants - read too many Arabs and blacks. Or they think that a corporation is designed for the exploitation of one set of humans by another. Or they think globalization is designed to devour France's 35-hour workweek. Or they believe, still, in the overthrow of capitalism.
Yeah, let's taint all the parties of the left of racism via the nasty construction of the paragraph (no, no, it's an innocent juxtaposition, of course...). And let's raise the 35-hour week bogeyman again, it never fails as a symbol of all that's wrong with France's unreconstructed lefties (no matter that most of these lefty parties have criticised the 35-hour week reform for being too hard on blue collar workers, which is true to a large extent because work times were recalculated on a yearly basis, actually giving corporations a lot more flexibility to organise work around the year to fit with periods of higher activity, alternating high-work weeks with less busy workweeks at other times. But such factors are irrelevant; it is an article of faith that the 35-hour week is an heresy and was bad for companies).
One thing they all agree on: The Fifth Republic is dysfunctional. It is, in the evocative French word, "pourri" - rotten to the core.
The French suck. In case you did not get the message.
There are enough of these people for the mainstream candidates to feel obliged to give a nod in their direction. Ségolène Royal, the attractive Socialist who once talked of a Blairite reform of the French left, proved too worried about losing the hard-core left to undertake any such makeover.
Going Blairite is the only thing that a decent party of the left can do, otherwise it is extremist, unreconstructed or stuck in the past.
The nonreform of the Socialist Party, despite the humiliation of first-round elimination in 2002, despite the reforms undertaken by center-left parties throughout Europe since the Cold War's end, seems likely to be recalled as a signal political failure.
Damn these French again for still keeping parties of the left, including a big one. How dare they? Because they're losers, that's why.
As Eric Le Boucher commented in Le Monde, the Socialist Party "has, on the other side of the Channel, a two-hours-and-thirty-minute train ride away, a left-of-center policy that works, and it obstinately affirms that it is in fact a right-wing policy that is failing."
Yep, let's quote the strategically placed neolib journalist in the respectable newspaper to reinforce the point... I have deconstructed Le Boucher many times already here on eurotrib, and I think I actually deconstructed that particular article... (can't find it)
He might have added that many young French men and women are taking that train to London to find a job they can't find in France. The reason they can find a job in the world of "les Anglo-Saxons" is that they can also lose it.
Or that jobs are created in the public sector, thanks to increased public spending? Or that the concentration of French people in London (an undeniable reality) should not hide the fact that France actually imports foreign graduates whereas the UK exports them? Or that France has created as many jobs as the UK in the past 10 years (about 2.5M in each case - except that the creation in France took place exclusively under the Jospin government, in particular when the 35-hour week was put in place, whereas UK jobs were more evenly distributed over the period)
In contrast, the reason they cannot get a job in France is that elaborate job-security mechanisms make employers wary of hiring. Capitalism is only vital, innovative and fluid when it is true to its essential precarious nature. This precariousness can be offset but it must be accepted.
It MUST be. There is no other way. Again the Hegelian sense that this is the inevitable and irresistible march of History. Not that it matters that the job churn rate is the same in France as it is in the US. It's not the facts, it's the narrative...
On the other side of the mainstream political spectrum, Nicolas Sarkozy, a Gaullist, also began with bracing talk of the need for "une rupture." By this he meant a break from the paralyzing functionary's mentality of attachment to state handouts, lifetime employment and cosseting of the jobless.
Yeah, because that's all public sector workers ever do: take money with nothing provided in return. All government jobs are useless waste. And people being paid much less than they could get in the private sector with their education level is not worth the job guarantee (and the pension guarantee). And all unemployed people are "cosseted". Welfare queens all.
It might be a good thing, he suggested early in the campaign, if the French got reacquainted with the stimulating notion of working more to earn more. But that was before he had to cut deals with center-left Gaullists like President Jacques Chirac, and before he decided that security and national identity and the French flag were surer vote winners than economic reform, and before he got worried by the rise of the centrist François Bayrou - before, in short, he opted for the low road to the presidency.
Yeah, because, as we know, working more is always an individual choice, not something that's decided by bosses with little input from isolated workers.
And is this a hint of history been rewritten, with Chirac being branded as a "left of center Guallist"? Yew. A Gaullist AND a lefty. No wonder France is in bad straits.
Sigh. I'm stopping here and jumping to the end
The only serious issue facing France is unemployment. It lies at the root of the anger of the left and the right. It is also the only issue nobody will address with a modicum of seriousness, because the answers to it lie in accepting that "Anglo-Saxon capitalism" is not evil writ large.
The ONLY solution. It's the ONLY solution. It's the ONLY solution.
If unemployment in Britain is 5.5 percent (against 8.5 percent in France), and 75 percent of the population between 15 and 64 has a job (against 63 percent in France), and public services are starting to improve, and French kids cross the Channel to find jobs, perhaps that is more worthy of serious contemplation than French national identity, whatever that may be.
That's the core of the argument. That's what it boils down to every single time.
But all we have is Ségo talking about handing out state funds to give first-time job seekers make-believe jobs, and Bayrou saying he will exempt companies from a few taxes, and Sarko denouncing those who reject jobs in favor of state assistance. The core taboo - France has too much job security and too few incentives to get off benefits - remains untouchable.
People are still protected, err, coddled. It'sintolerable.
The French are aware of this obfuscation. They also know that national identity is an empty rallying cry: their national soccer team is essentially black and North African. This campaign notwithstanding, they want to be leveled with.
Which is why they will probably elect Sarkozy, a straight-talking, America-loving, Israel-favoring son and grandson of immigrants whose electoral acrobatics are most transparently a short-term contrivance.
Okay then. Why bother with a vote? Listening to pundits is so much simpler.