The Mellifluous Mélenchon
Jean-Luc Mélenchon held a rally this weekend and, by common consent, assembled the largest crowd of the campaign. He has risen modestly in the polls as Zemmour and Pécresse have fallen and, with 12-13%, is now on a level with both. His strategy is clear: to appeal to the 4-5% of those polled who support the Communist Fabien Roussel on the grounds that a vote for Mélenchon is the only vote utile on the left, while guilt-tripping disgruntled Socialists and Greens who see the race narrowing to a re-match between Macron and Le Pen. You may not like me, he intimates, but if you want a lefty in the race, I’m your only choice.
As usual, Mélenchon delivered the kind of oratorical performance that impresses those who like that sort of thing. For example, the editors of Libération had this to say of Sunday’s speech: “ll s’agissait donc d’une mission impossible, et qui fut pourtant accomplie, Mélenchon rappelant ainsi («Voilà que M. Macron et Mme Schiappa parlent de planification écologique. Qu’ils commencent par planifier leurs sorties !») qu’il est le meilleur tribun de France.” Perhaps I have a tin ear for what Libé characterizes as “tour à tour Robespierre du 18 pluviôse et Jean Jaurès de 1908,” but Méluche’s high-left hectoring leaves me cold, and, unlike Libé, I found the speech every bit as predictable and boring as Macron’s marathon news conference, including especially the sally against Macron and Schiappa that left the paper’s editors in a swoon.
Be that as it may, Mélenchon’s fundamental problem remains. Even if he succeeds in picking up enough left-wing voters in search of a useful vote to surpass Le Pen, second-round polling has him performing less well than the far-right candidate against Macron. Such is Mélenchon’s faith in himself that he believes he can defeat the centrist president if only he is given the opportunity to debate him, but I see no reason for such confidence. The vast majority of voters are to the right of Mélenchon in their fundamental convictions, and, whatever one thinks of his speechifying on the stump, a one-on-one debate is a different sort of contest, in which Macron is probably better-equipped than his left-wing challenger. The vulnerabilities that Mélenchon deftly conceals when he has the platform to himself are not so easily hidden when facing a clever opponent rather than a wildly cheering throng. Still, one has to admit that it’s not impossible that Mélenchon will make it to round 2. If he does, it will be down to sheer grit as well as rhetorical talent–and of course to the Socialist demise as well, which remains the central sad story of the French left.
It goes without saying that E. Macron will be reelected President and almost all French are aware of this. Thus the only question is who gets to compete with him in the second round of the election, while knowing full well that this person will be defeated.
I for one had hoped initially that this person could be the socialist A. Hidalgo. However, her campaign has been abysmally bad, to the point where one wonders if she will get even 1% of the popular vote. It is a serious disappointment and, obviously, the socialist party which more or less dominated French politics on the left for 50 years is now dead.
The French ecologists, EELV, so-called led by Y. Jadot – I say so-called because that will likely not last further than the spring of 2022 – believe that they are due to replace the socialist party and become the dominant party on the left of the french political spectrum. They are the only ones who believe that. Fat chance. They will likely poll as usual in a presidential election, around 5%. Certainly not like what they make in elections most people don’t really care about and where people have fun issuing a protest vote in favor of lunatics without much consequence.
I will only mention in passing V. Pécresse, the conservative candidate, who made the classic mistake of trying to outrun the extreme right on its areas of strength, the appeal to racism and xenophobia. On top of this, she tried to sell a program of shrinking the state and reducing civil servants in a country where the majority live from the state and public employment. Accordingly, the instant people focused on her program, her polling collapsed.
We are thus indeed left with M. Le Pen and J.L. Mélenchon while knowing full well that neither will be elected President. The alternative becomes, would we prefer to have a second round competition centering on race, nationalism, identity politics and so forth and do we prefer the second round to focus on social issues etc. I may not like Mélenchon for all the obvious reasons but if he can stand in as a tool to defeat and humiliate the extreme-right, I will be happy to vote for the former (?) Trotskyist in the first round while reverting to E. Macron in the second round.