Arthur Goldhammer
19 December 2018

A good friend wrote today saying that he sensed I had become disappointed with Macron and wondered why. Here is my answer:

Yes, you’re right that I’m disappointed in Macron. I should really write this up in a more coherent form than you’re going to get in this e-mail, but here, bleary-eyed before my morning coffee, are a few thoughts. Paramount among my disappointments is that Macron has blown what I believe was France’s best opportunity in a generation, and perhaps its last chance, to achieve both necessary economic reform and long-overdue political reform. I think there was a real chance for success, and I hold Macron personally responsible to the extent that his personal flaws contributed to the failure. The work was always going to be difficult, but it didn’t have to be this difficult.
Second, I hold myself responsible for taking Macron at his word that he really did have a different view of how the French political economy could work. The rhetoric about a “startup nation” was partly hype, of course, but I thought that he had learned from the startup culture of Silicon Valley that the only way to find out what works is to try a thousand experiments and expect many of them to fail. Instead, he reverted to the kind of top-down one-plan-fits-all mentality for which l’administration française has always been famous. To a greater extent even than his predecessors he circumvented the political institutions in order to rule with the administration from which he sprang. I was slow to perceive just how wrong-headed this approach was.
Third, while I applaud Macron’s continued faith in Europe, I hate the way he has repeatedly used it as an alibi for his failure to enact a social component to his domestic reforms. I hate the cynicism that allowed him to cast himself as the implacable adversary of Salvini only to refuse to allow the Aquarius to dock at a French port after Salvini turned it away. I hate the inhuman treatment of refugees who try to cross from Italy to France as well as the policy of prosecuting people who try to help them. I understand the politics, but I can’t stand the hypocrisy and cynicism.
You may be right that his “consultations” with the people will begin his resurrection, but I don’t agree that his pre-electoral consultations were genuine. They were used not to shape policy but to hone the candidate’s message. Good politics in the short run but lack of vision in the long.
Finally, a candidate elected as Macron was, by a combination of incredible luck and antipathy to his last remaining opponent, should have done more–much more–to build an organization, reach out to those who voted for him with the utmost reluctance, and could have offered him advice in exchange for consent. The Socialists in particular were desperate for a lifeline. Think of what he could have accomplished by bringing, say, Hamon in as minister of urban development or some such thing. Here, Macron’s utter lack of political experience hurt him badly, perhaps fatally.
For those who are less disappointed in Macron–or those not disappointed at all–I would be very curious to hear your reasons.


  • Alex says:

    While I agree with pretty much everything above, I’m further disappointed that he seems to have just reacted (and let’s be honest, not entirely genuinely) to les gilets jaunes (with whom I am sympathetic, but as a “movement” do not support) rather than getting out ahead of the demands in a proactive way.

    The propositions on purchasing power are all well and good, but he has to know that his weakness is in being seen as aloof, elitist, and supercilious. So why didn’t he use his response speech–which would have come across as more genuine had it been live and less staged–to announce that he would go visit one rural town per month and hold a town hall there, and then actually go and spend an afternoon literally just sitting with people at the local brasserie and listening? As a -genuine- way to keep his feet on the ground.

  • Ray says:

    I was never a Macron supporter and so can not really say I was disappointed.

    What I understood about Macron was that he would implement all the “structural” reforms expected of France by the EU to gain the “confidence” and crucially the support of Germany to create a functioning currency union. What I really want to know going forward is if he knows when to consider this approach a failure and pass to a more confrontational style with Germany and other northern Eurozone countries, or when to simply leave the Euro if they do not acquiesce to his Eurozone reforms.

  • Alan Klaw says:

    I agree that Macron has been incredibly out of touch with a nation polarized between left and right and has not reached out beyond his base in he larger cities.However as much as I love France and its articulate literate population,I believe many French are spoiled by the social reforms of the 1980’s.Large pensions ,free child care ,free medical care and cost free education have created a spoiled nation. By all means vote him and his party out but the use of violence and border blockades are unacceptable.France could well emulate the German work and save ethic without the large children stipends for which they feel entitled.

  • Thomas , Monique says:

    Mr Allan Klaw: you are right on !

    Macron , so far , as never mentioned the reduction of the Government Expenses and continue to live grand style at the Elysee Palace , Same for all the “Ministres”and their unbelievable perks , no to forget the budget of the Assembly Nationale and the Senate ! It something that cause anybody to faint !
    Clearly Macron should understand that the exemple should come from the top ! If only he could get in touch with the harsh reality of “la France Profonde ” ! Like 1789 , it is more about the abolition of privileges and reduction of the inequality ! Hope Macron will “get it” if he want to save his head . France is badly in need for drastic measure , if he fail, the heavens may help France because the Front National is just waiting …not Marine Le Pen but much more dangerous , the niece : Marion Marechal !!!( she is smart and hard working , she knows her stuff ). Pauvre France …

  • Derek Mather says:

    Macron’s reform programme was never going to be easy to implement but he was making progress eg SNCF. It is much more difficult now because of behaviour which he should have avoided – towards the lad who called him ‘Manu’, the unemployed guy in Montmartre etc and disparaging comments re the unemployed, those who are not ‘successful’ etc. The next phase of his reform programme eg pensions will be seriously problematic because of the negative perception of him on the part of many and because opponents will be emboldened by his partial retreat in the face of the gilets jaunes. He needs to demonstrate genuine humility and a willingness to take time to understand the challenges faced by and views of those who are not well off.

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