La Droite “Humaniste”

Arthur Goldhammer
13 August 2018

What better time to launch a few trial balloons than the August doldrums. A Le Monde interview with former prime minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin is rich in instruction as to thinking of this stalwart of what Raffarin himself likes to call la droite humaniste. One finds M. Raffarin in a generous mood. He has kind words for everyone, including President Macron, whom he credits with “forcefulness” and “skill,” a tenure “nearly without fault,” except for the unfortunate mismanagement of the Benalla Affair. But this he dismisses as a mere “accident.”

As for Laurent Wauquiez, the leader of what remains of the party of Raffarin and Chirac, Raffarin has mellowed since he accused Wauquiez of dispensing nothing but “populist claptrap.” Lucidly, he now credits his nemesis with a “strategic” vision, which consists in waiting for French public opinion to curdle further as a result of continuing immigration while hoping for anti-Macron sentiment to grow ever more intense while the two extremes, far right and far left, cancel each other out, allowing the lately disinhibited Wauquiez to carry the day. One imagines Raffarin speaking these words with a smile on his lips.

Meanwhile, he (perfidiously) credits the Benalla affair with having created a space for “dialogue” between Mélenchon and Le Pen. Dialogue suggests that the two extremist leaders are talking to each other rather than, as is in fact the case, merely about the same thing, which it is in the interest of both to magnify as much as possible. The only dialogue created by the affair has been rather between Mélenchon and the Socialists, who have indeed been exchanging cordialities of late. Mélenchon, who once ridiculed Hollande for being the captain of a pedal boat, has lately appeared to be the captain of a becalmed schooner, while Olivier Faure, the Socialist leader, has been adrift in the party dinghy without a paddle. Hence there may be a common interest in allowing their respective vessels to drift closer together. Nevertheless, both remain in irons, as sailors say, utterly bereft of wind.

It is true, however, that Raffarin also alludes to the possibility of an “Italian scenario” for France, namely, a convergence of the populisms of left and right and a surge of anti-system voting creating a coalition government of strange bedfellows. He lets this remark drop without elaboration, perhaps to sow the seeds of terror in the minds of readers of Le Monde. In Italy, the consummation of this scenario took two generations and the sidelining of the historic leaders of the Lega and Five Stars. In France one might envision variations on the theme involving some combination of Wauquiez, Marion Maréchal, and a leader of the left populists yet to be named but certainly not named Mélenchon. But the odds remain long.

Meanwhile, Raffarin has floated the notion that he and Juppé and other “humanists” of their ilk may launch a list of their own in the Europeans. Or then again, they might throw in their lot with Macron’s LRM. Or, in a pinch, they could even reconcile with LR, which both he and Valérie Pécresse credit with second thoughts about the wisdom of “euroskepticism” in a period of “global disorder” marked by “tensions” with “the United States and China” (curiously, Raffarin omits Russia and Turkey from this list and says nothing about intra-European tensions).

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