The 2017 French presidential election was a very odd affair. To begin with, the two dominant parties put forward candidates who inhabited the same narrow slice of the ideological spectrum. The conservatives, now renamed the Republicans, nominated (by primary) Francois Fillon – Nicolas Sarkozy’s Premier. The favorite of the power brokers in the so-called Socialist Part or SP (who, by the standards of the truth in advertising dictum, should be called the Opportunistic Center Party) promoted Manuel Valls – the hard-line Interior Minister and then austerity addicted Premier under the hapless Presidency of Francois Hollande.
Emanuel Macron had been appointed Economics Minister in a surprise move motivated by Hollande’s desperate desire to give his faltering government a fresh look. The “look” was distinctly business oriented. Macron, a political debutante, had been a success in the sharp-elbows world of finance who was hand-picked by a few high-powered figures in the French business establishment world to lead MEDEF – France’s equivalent of the Business Round Table. Clean-cut, personable, verbal and marinated in neo-liberal orthodoxy he was singled out as a ‘comer.”
The post of Economics Minister is more talk than action. It’s the Finance Minister who makes economic policy. Macron, though, was photogenic, cosmopolitan and impressed by his uplifting, if vague, public remarks generously sprinkled with the buzz words of our time (“start-up friendly environment”). The public’s favorable reaction emboldened him to launch what appeared to be a quixotic run for the Presidency.
He gave his campaign the evocative name: EN MARCHE! The slogan is in the same league as Silvio Berlusconi’s FORZA ITALIA and Donald Trump’s MAKE AMERICA GREAT, AGAIN. These pols all observe and mimic each other; much of Macron’s rhetorical flourishes empty of content echo Barack Obama circa 2008.
The core reality of the French election was that these three candidates were near identical triplets in terms of philosophy and platform. On the most important issues, they shared the market fundamentalist creed.
As one Parisian cynic noted, they were so closely packed ideologically that you couldn’t run a thread of dentifrice between them. As far as France’s conservatives, especially the business community, were concerned, they had the Presidency stitched up. The only fly in the ointment was Marine Le Pen’s Popular Front (FP) which had gained increasing support via its exploitation of diffuse discontents and insecurities over immigration, terror, globalization, and gay marriage.
However, Le Pen never had a ghost of a chance of winning the Presidency. The open question was from which party would she drain the most voters. This simple truth, predictably, escaped most American pundits and all of the media who worked themselves into a lather speculating about a wave of warped populism crashing over the Arc de Triomphe.
The French ‘Left’seemingly was relegated to the electoral sidelines. That proved an exaggeration. In the Socialist Party primary, Valls – the odds-on favorite – lost to Benoît Hamon – a PS veteran who had remained loyal to its social-democratic roots.
His closest ideological ally was Jean-Luc Mélenchon – the more traditional, outspoken Leftist who had run for the Presidency in 2012 with some success. Finishing third in the primary, Mélenchon vowed to run in the general election as the candidate of a new formation. (Mélenchon, estranged from the PS leadership, and treated with disdain, bolted in 2008 to lead the Parti de Gauche (LEFT Party).
This article has been excerpted from: ‘Macron: the Sun President?’