Why Are the Political Skies Darkening?

9 February 2021

With the 2022 presidential election looming in the middle distance, it seems that everyone in France with the slightest modicum of presidential ambition is launching a trial balloon lately. The skies are full of unlikely lighter-than-air contrivances: Arnaud Montebourg, until recently employed as an apiculturist at the delightfully named Bleu Blanc Ruche, has launched his, trailing a banner emblazoned “Buy French!” in the hope of attracting both right- and left-wing sovereignists who recall his quixotic campaign to nationalize DailyMotion while marketing Frenchness by donning a sailor’s pullover. Eric Zemmour is off to the races, hoping to unseat Marine Le Pen as monarch of the far right, as long as it doesn’t cut too much into his book sales.


Laurent Joffrin, erstwhile editor of L’Obs and Libé, has dipped his toe in the presidential waters with a movement called, hopefully, Engageons-Nous!, which at the moment is not so much en marche as marquant le pas, perhaps awaiting a more seasoned rider to mount the steed that will, if the stars align just right, unite the left. Les mauvaises langues say that Joffrin’s bucking bronco is in fact no more than a docile stalking horse for Bernard Cazeneuve or even–is it possible?–François Hollande, boosted by, as Le Monde delicately puts it, les réseaux culturels de Julie Gayet. So far Mlle Gayet’s powerful networks seem to have pulled in few heavy hitters, unless Benjamin Biolay has recently acquired a political influence I’m not aware of.


All told, the various left hopefuls–Mélenchon, Jadot, Hidalgo, Montebourg, Joffrin-Cazeneuve-Hollande-Gayet-Biolay-etc.–are left to divide with the equally eager contenders of the non-Macronist right (Bertrand, Pécresse, Retailleau, etc.) what is left over after subtracting the estimated 50-55% of the first-round electorate that will be split by Le Pen and Macron, with Le Pen at this point ahead by a neck, unless Zemmour actually decides to make a run for it, presumably taking votes mainly from Le Pen.


With such a crowded and chaotic race, it would be foolish to make any predictions at this point. The sky is so full of trial balloons that they may well turn out to have been barrage balloons, protecting the flanks of one of the dominant candidates from stealth attacks. Or the landscape could change completely, especially if Covid gets out of hand, precipitating an even larger revolt against Macron than already exists, as I speculated the other day. Covid has taken the air out of all other issues. Even Joffrin, who has sallied forth under the banner “Social Democracy Is Not Yet Dead,” can come up with nothing better to characterize his New New New Left than “écologique, antiraciste et sociale.” Instinctively, he recognizes that what people want to hear from their leaders in this time of plague is not the outline of the next Five-Year Plan but the soothing words of a nurse/mother: “You’ll feel better soon.” No candidate has yet struck the right tone.


Photo Credit: Alfred T. Palmer, Barrage Balloon, via Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain.


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