Another One-Term President?

Arthur Goldhammer
5 July 2018

Since Jacques Chirac reduced the term of the French presidency from 7 years to 5, no one has won a second term. The approval ratings of both Sarkozy and Hollande dropped precipitously in their first year in office. Emmanuel Macron seems to be repeating the pattern. After just over one year in office, his approval rating has dropped as low as Hollande’s at the same point in his presidency. Didier Fassin’s unsparing critique in the LRB recounts the reasons, which will be familiar to regular readers of this blog. Macron ran as a hybrid of left and right but has ruled almost entirely on the right. He ran as an affable outsider, an anti-system candidate, but he has ruled as a consummate insider, dominating both the legislature and the bureaucracy.

Remarkably, Macron has won every political battle he has waged, but, if approval of the citizenry is the measure, he is on the way to losing the war. And there’s the rub: perhaps approval of the citizenry isn’t what he’s after. He was not a career politician before he was elected; he may not be one now. Maintaining himself in power, much less his increasingly irrelevant party (or movement, whatever it may be), may not be his goal. He doesn’t need the presidency, and countless examples show that the world now provides former political leaders with both celebrity and riches, no matter how unpopular they were on leaving office (cf. Tony Blair and Gerhard Schroeder, even Nicolas Sarkozy).

What really motivates Macron has never been clear. Is his ultimate purpose to vindicate his analysis of France’s ills? This would be the star pupil’s ultimate reward: He was right after all! Is it personal adventure? Is he really the president of the rich, who heads the executive committee of the bourgeoisie that first recognized his versatile talent, finance his campaign, and now reaps the benefit? Or does he have a second act in store, in which he reveals the social aspects of a program that he has kept well-hidden until now?

Whatever the answer, he seems to be baffling a fair number of the people who voted for him. He has now lost nearly half of his electorate and displays no particular urgency about winning it back. Of course, many of them said they didn’t want a politician, they were fed up with politicians. But now that they have a president who is sublimely indifferent to their wishes, to all the political winds, they don’t know what to make of him. And he seems poised to go on “winning” just as he has been until the day he finally announces that he is not running, that he has completed his mission and will be moving on to pursuits more amusing than ruling the French. Les Français sont des veaux, his hero said, and Emmanuel Macron was not put on this earth to be a cowherd.

 

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4 Comments

  • Geof says:

    I think you got it correctly at the beginning of the last sentence, “…his hero said…” Macron appears to be channeling DeGaulle, who like his American counterpart, Eisenhower, was a shrewder politician than he preferred to let on. Charles’ signature move was to issue an ultimatum, then quit in a huff when it didn’t work. His opponents would soon realize that they were in an even WORSE situation without him and beg him to come back. You correctly point out that there is no real alternative (though I have repeatedly pointed out that Melanchan’s influence remains by the mere fact that he is the only [possible] alternative to EM.) Maybe Jupiter’s campaign slogan will be “après moi, qui?” But didn’t Merkel already try that?

  • brent says:

    Beginning with the “Ode to Joy” on election night, I had assumed that a central tenet of EM’s grand vision was the rebuilding of a unified Europe. Despite the loss of Merkel as an empowered partner, he may still have the option of trying to build En Marche! into a multi-national power-brokering bloc in the European parliament next year, and I understood he was discreetly trolling for partners in that project. But perhaps he has already written off next year’s election as a bad business that will only lead the EU further into a death spiral with Steve Bannon and Victor Orban lurking as its Dark Lords. In that case, who wouldn’t prefer to join the .01% in a cushioned bubble somewhere far away?

  • Anonymous says:

    Politics is a trying business, in the best of circumstances, “war by other means”, as Clausewitz said. The observation that no French president since MItterand has served two terms since the “septennat” became a “quinquennat”, misses the point, though. The shortening of the presidential term has nothing to do with the difficulty of serving a second term as president of France. Rather, look at how Mitterand was able to conduct politics for twenty-one years versus those who came after him: bit by bit, the protective armor the French Left and Right used to protect their “favorite sons” has been hacked at by press revelations of inside deals and understandings. For instance, see Eric Roussel’s biography re MItterand’s successful effort was to hide his deep ties to the authoritarian Catholic right in the pre-war period, as well as his collaboration in the Petain government during World War II.
    It is hard to imagine a French politician being able to cover his tracks as well as MItterand –who once, famously said, “La politique est un affaire des bandes.” –did. The media no longer needs to display respect towards national figures. Indeed, around the Western world, the media sees its job as to expose the feet of clay of popular idols, if not to bring them down. Under such circumstances, iconoclasm ascendant, politics must necessarily be something other than a life’s work for those drawn towards that arena.
    It is hard to imagine another De Gaulle or MItterand emerging in French politics, so perhaps Macron’s hard-headedness reflects a clear-sighted assessment of the task before him. That is to lead he horse that is France to the water of national renewal even if he cannot make it drink. Someone chosen by him may take the reins and move the country that much further forward. What is key is that Macron open the way for another kind of thinking about France’s future, a path that pulls the country away from the extremes of Melenchon and Le Pen.
    It is refreshing to watch a young politician follow through on his ideas, come what may, after five years of Hollande’s “normalcy”, and prior to that, Sarkozy’s testy rule. Remember, De Gaulle and Mitterand, whatever their faults (and there were many), had the courage of their convictions, a quality Macron, too, seems to have.

  • Robinson says:

    Art: I remember bothering you about Macron on your old blog before the election. You were kind enough to reply. I said that I was supporting Macron faute de mieux, and you said that you thought that Macron’s politics corresponded to the world as it existed, whereas to support Mélenchon’s one had to imagine another world.

    I feel a bit vindicated by this recent post of yours. I am not a communist revolutionary and I don’t think that France should leave the EU. Macron, however, governs France like the financier he is. Fillion would have been better: with him there would have been less window-dressing. The only justification for Macron’s austerity in France was the prospect of Germany making genuine concessions on the structure of the Eurozone. Concessions will not be forthcoming. So our very talented conservative president will hack away at the French state without getting anything worthwhile in exchange. Macron thinks that what he is doing is worthwhile in itself, and people on the left who supported him can’t really claim that he ever pretended to think otherwise.

    I wish that we had in France a viable left-wing party that believed in a strong, fraternal state & was also committed to Europe. It doesn’t seem like there are many of these left, however, with the lonely exceptions of Greece and Portugal.

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