A Calculated Vulgarity
The jaws of French talking heads have been flapping wildly since Emmanuel Macron vented his sentiments about the unvaccinated: “J’ai très envie de les emmerder.” The English-speaking media have chosen by and large to translate this as “I’d really like to piss them off,” but this misses the somewhat more vulgar tone of the French, which is closer to “I’d really like to shit on them.” It’s the vulgarity that has so many in France clutching their pearls.
But the pearl-clutchers miss the strategic calculation behind Macron’s outburst—which was anything but a slip. A glance at the Third Wave of the IPSOS/Cevipof survey of French political sentiments shows that there was cold, calculating reason in Macron’s mischief. Scroll down to the section entitled “LE SENTIMENT VIS-À-VIS DES MOUVEMENTS ANTI-VACCINS ET ANTI-PASSE SANITAIRE.” There you will find that while just 10% of Macron’s electorate express even modest comprehension of anti-vaxxers and anti-health-pass people, the comparable percentages are 66% for Mélenchon and 53% for both Le Pen and Mélenchon.
Political scientists like to speak of “cleavage structures,” and here is a ready-made cleavage structure for Macron to exploit. Not only does he dramatically set himself against extremes of both right and left, he also puts his other rival, Valérie Pécresse, in a difficult position, because her base resembles Macron’s more than Mélenchon’s, Zemmour’s, or Le Pen’s, with only 24% showing any sympathy for the anti-vaxxers (and most of them are no doubt from the Ciotti faction of the Republicans). Pécresse is reduced to attacking Macron for “vulgarity,” but on the core of the issue the core of her support agrees with him. This bit of Macron verbal slippage will probably serve his interests well.
Anti-vax will rival immigration and crime as the driving issues in this campaign.