The Long March Stops Short

14 September 2018

Two years is an eternity in politics. Two years ago, Macron’s En Marche! was not a party but a movement, full of youthful vigor and enthusiasm, in the image of its founder master. Lately, however, dispatches from the field paint a very different picture. Some marcheurs have simply fallen by the wayside and quit; others are disillusioned; still others complain of top-down control and no outreach.

It was predictable, many will say. There were countless naysayers from the beginning. When I was in Paris reporting on the election, I found people divided among enthusiasts; doubters, who thought it was mainly a media bubble that would eventually burst, but perhaps not before the election; and scoffers, who thought it was nothing but hype.

I was not an enthusiast, but I was not exactly immune to the enthusiasm either. Although I saw little of substance that was new in the Macron campaign, I did see a difference in style and was impressed by the novel combination of talents that the candidate brought to the job. I listened to people who despised Macron, but I also heard from many others who knew him better, some who had worked with him, who agreed that there was something about him they hadn’t encountered in anyone else. So I willingly suspended disbelief–something I vowed I wouldn’t do again after 1981. But when times are desperate, one wants to believe, especially when the alternative seems to be the extreme right.

So I can understand the disillusionment of these marcheurs. The question is how Macron responds. He cannot be unaware of the danger that the desertion of some of his most committed supporters poses. He is a student of past French presidencies, and of their failures. He knows that the unique power of the presidency rests on a unique bond, as de Gaulle liked to say, between a man and a people. All is not yet lost. And if two years is a long time in politics, four years–Macron’s remaining time–is twice as long.

The poverty program proposed yesterday is a step, with some promising features and real resources behind them, but it’s not enough, and once again Macron seems to be demanding an effort of the poor that he has by no means demanded in proportionate measure of the rich. His acknowledgment of French responsibility for torture in Algeria is also creditworthy, but it’s not going to rekindle the enthusiasm of the lost marcheurs. The president needs to re-imagine his relation to the office and to the people who elected him. This will be the real test of his political mettle.


Photo Credit: R. Bury, Long march Mao, via Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain.




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