Caesar Was an Ambitious Man

Arthur Goldhammer
12 January 2021

‘Tis the weeks after Christmas, in the year before the next presidential election, and ambitions are stirring throughout France and Navarre. Le Monde dutifully warns that the French left is in danger of disappearing for want of unity: Arnaud Montebourg is once again engagé, after trying his hand at beekeeping; Ségolène Royal is seeking to recapture the magic of 2007; and Jean-Luc Mélenchon remains persuaded that “la République, c’est moi,” even though Yannick Jadot is convinced that green is the new red. Bernard Cazeneuve is lurking in the wings, discreetly as always, and others stand at the ready in case one of the prematurely ambitious falters.

 

Of course, the conventional wisdom, conveniently encapsulated in the linked Le Monde article, holds that the left has no chance to intrude upon the impending Macron-Le Pen confrontation unless it gets its act together early and united behind a single candidate, which of course will not happen. The same holds true for the center-right, which also has a surfeit of contenders, from Pécresse to Bertrand, along with Philippe, Baroin, the perennial Wauquiez, Sarkozy if he beats the various raps he is facing, and still others too numerous to mention. So in effect Le Monde is saying, Prepare for another Macron-Le Pen faceoff.

 

But in these parlous times, nothing is inevitable. I see numerous dangers for Macron. Among them is the shocking level of anti-vaxx sentiment in France, where skepticism of the authorities has always easily blended with skepticism of authority tout court, including scientific and medical authority. Cell-phone towers, power lines, speed limits, GMOs, pesticides, hydroxychloroquine, vaccines: all of these issues have mobilized movements in opposition to “expert” consensus, sometimes with a respectable rational basis, sometimes less so. At the moment, anti-vaxx sentiment seems poised to blow up into the next headache for Macron and to merge with the already potent anti-government movement embodied by the Gilets Jaunes.

 

If this happens, and chaos ensues, it will no longer be as clear as it seems now that multiple left-wing candidacies cannot be viable. The first round of the 2022 presidential election could become a free-for-all among numerous candidates, with no clear lock on the top two spots. Macron’s move to assuage anti-vaxx sentiment and honor his pledge to “listen” to citizen sentiment by appointing a citizens’ committee to consider the vaccine question could prove in retrospect to have been less cynically adroit than it seemed at first. Covid has had the effect of keeping the political cauldron as tightly locked down as the citizenry, but these early stirrings of the presidential race could be the first signs that the lid is about to blow off.

 

Photo Credit: U.S Department of State, Emmanuel Macron en 2020, via Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain.

 

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3 Comments

  • Anonymous says:

    Dear Art:
    If wishes were horses, pigs would fly, is my take on your analysis of the chances of Macron’s political enemies.
    The anti-vaccine sentiment is not as strong as you might think: BFM-TV today reported that more and more French are signing up to be vaccinated, particularly as the two highly contagious variants have not made landfall in France.
    It is all well and good to quarrel about ideals and goals when life moves along at its petty pace, but emergencies have a way of shoving quibbles into relief when saving lives is foremost.
    What France will look like “post-Corona” is as obscure as what the U.S. will look like (although Dan Senor’s “Post-Corona” podcast is insightful on the latter). My hunch is that for many, there will be a sense of having “dodged a bullet”, living alongside long-lasting grief for those unspared.
    While I don’t know that Americans are capable of gaining perspective on the cataclysm of 2020, my gut tells me the French will recognize post-Corona ,that even with all the losses, the nation came out better than its neighbors, in large part.
    Macron was a factor in that. Perhaps he’ll be like Churchill at the end of WWII –cast off by an ungrateful people. However, Churchill’s complete dominance of the scene in the United Kingdom during WWII was a factor in his rejection: Brits were simply tired of “all Churchill, all the time” –even if he was the nation’s savior.
    Macron doesn’t fit that bill, and Marine le Pen’s effort to pull the rug out from under him seems maladroit at this point. As for the other contenders on Left and Right, they are “leaders of mice, not men”, and deserve ignominy.
    Macron may not be “un homme de pays”, but he is a patriot. And he is young enough –and shrewd enough– to think his program will genuinely benefit France –the competition are just second-raters.
    For now.

  • Anne Davenport says:

    Is it a pure coincidence that Macron is facing « anti-government » populist forces after he stood up to Putin over Belarus and Navalny? Democracies everywhere are in danger as long as we fail to stop Putin’s expert bots…

  • bernard says:

    It is interesting that you chose not to mention the name Hidalgo. The problem with Le Monde is that it is the absolute arbiter of consensus as far as French presidential elections are concerned and systematically wrong this long before an election. I’ll give just one example of this – but they abound. I remember inviting the chief political journalist of Le Monde sometime in the fall of 1994, and I remember asking him numerous times during an excellent lunch : “so, for you, it’s Balladur?”. He eventually realized what I was really saying and finally answered: “you don’t think so?”. Indeed. Every election since then has disproved the early view of Le Monde, and of every one else as well.

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