Beer-Drinking, Baseball, and the French Left
What happened to the candidacy of Anne Hidalgo? Recent polls have put her at around 2-2.5%, about a third of the dismal score that Benoît Hamon made in 2017, which already seemed to sound the death knell for the Socialist Party. How could it possibly get worse? thought many of the dwindling party faithful in the interim. But it did. A joke making the rounds has it that Hidalgo, who was one of the first to gain the necessary 500 parrainages, had more parrains than voters. Indeed, this may have been part of the problem.
In order to ensure the support of her parrains as well as the fric to support a campaign staff, Hidalgo built her campaign on the existing (and aging) PS national infrastructure and on her Parisian networks. She did not forge alliances with younger ecological activists, who might have been attracted by her efforts to make Paris greener, even though an ecolo-socialist alliance appears at the moment to be the only viable future for the European left (see Germany).
Indeed, her Parisian projects earned her a reputation for currying the favor of contented yuppies while alienating the brash cabbies who animate popular call-in shows like Les Grandes Gueules to vent about snarled traffic, cavalier cyclists, and bobo moms with expensive strollers clogging the crosswalks.
In a Macronie crawling with Gilets Jaunes, parisienne was the vilest of epithets, and Mme Hidalgo came across as the ultimate parisienne, to the point where, as reported in today’s Libé, IFOP’s “beer test” rated her as the politician with whom the French would least like to sit down for a beer, with just 14% prepared to share un demi with the mayor of Paris (behind Nathalie Arthaud at 17 and Nicolas Dupont-Aignan at 19–and, in case you’re interested, Jean Lassalle leading the pack at 39–go figure!–Macron at 37, and Le Pen at 31).
It’s an ignominious end for the Socialist Party, which never really regained its footing after Jean-Marie Le Pen knocked out Lionel Jospin in 2002, despite Hollande’s Last Hurrah in 2012.
Surprisingly, it seems that Hollande himself wasn’t quite prepared to accept his defeat at the hands of his protégé Macron as putting the final seal on his Last Hurrah. Le Monde yesterday reported that he had been plotting a comeback candidacy, in which Hidalgo would have recognized the hopelessness of her campaign and stepped aside in time to allow the former president to present himself as a socialist better equipped to share a beer with l’homme moyen sensuel, at least if that homme moyen happened to be a journalist. Alas, Hollande did not reckon with Mme Hidalgo’s tenacity.
But even if she had proved less committed to going down in glorious flames, one is permitted to doubt that Hollande’s self-resurrection would have revived the flagging fortunes of the PS. (Another question is why former PM Bernard Cazeneuve, who was also rumored to be plotting a run ever since 2017, did not step forward. One suspects indefatigable loyalty to Hollande, which prevented Cazeneuve from contemplating a candidacy as long as Hollande refused to renounce.)
What next for the left? It is perhaps too optimistic to hope that this will be Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s last round. Once again, he leads the beleaguered left-wing camp on the strength of blood-curdling charisma and undeniable oratorical gifts, while even his inveterate anti-Americanism, which had in the past led him to evince greater sympathy with Mother Russia than was prudent, has not burdened him unduly in the changed climate of the war in Ukraine.
The surprisingly good performance by the Communist Fabien Roussel is perhaps another indicator that what the left lacks is not so much a unifying ideology–although it certainly lacks that–as a unifying personality. Roussel passes the “beer test”–he is in fact tied with Mélenchon at 24%. This is the only explanation for his polling almost 3 times as well as Hidalgo, whose experience as an executive is beyond compare.
Yannick Jadot (20% on the beer scale) hasn’t made an overwhelming impression, nor has he been helped by the fractious squabble with Sandrine Rousseau, which led to her expulsion from EELV in mid-campaign. The French Greens stand to benefit if only they can come up with a duo as dynamic as the Baerbock-Habeck pairing at the top of die Grüne.
In short, as they say in baseball, this season will likely prove to have been a time of team rebuilding on the left. But will results depend on finding a young phenom with a 100-mph fastball or on statistical work in the front office leading to a better strategy and an all-around stronger team? In the meantime, the fans continue to drink beer in the stands (or more often at home in front of their TVs) and to vote accordingly.