A Quick Pre-Anti-Climatic Look At The European Landscape Before The End of the World
Tonight is the one and only nationally televised, face to face debate between President Nicholas Sarkozy and Socialist candidate Francois Hollande. Is a knock-out punch likely? Hardly and yet, Sarkozy, a fighter enjoying all the perks of the incumbent, comes into the ring the decided underdog against the mild-mannered Hollande, a politican with little more than a nice resume. Based on interviews from around the country, it seems that people have given Sarkozy up for dead less than a week before elections. What will happen to the conservative, right-wing and reactionary vote if he loses the election? Main stream journalists pondering a Sarkozy loss and a splintered vote say a battle looms.
The fact is that the vote is already splintered. In fact, I would argue that the reaction to Le Pen’s near 20% of the first round vote was just that, a nervous reaction by journalists who knew that the Rise of Le Pen made good copy. She isn’t a national candidate for anything. If Hollande has little experience beyond the backroom, she has none, and her dubiousaffiliations and non-existent solutions (0% immigration! Everybody out! We want to be alone to sulk in our Nazi regalia!) will never bear scrutiny. The vote "for" her is a chimera. The only interesting question is, beyond the eternal cranks and closet Vichy types, Who voted for her? Somebody did. Read on.
One of the fascinating things you see when you visit a painter or a sculptor’s studio is a work in progress hanging from the wall, sitting on its side on the floor or turned upsidedown (to enhance the perception of volume). In the long route to being finished it gets painted over or hacked apart.
Not so in political reality as commonly described. Things stay as they are and are analysed as such.
Unless, and until, the picture somehow gets turned upsidedown or dramatically rearranged.
Up until about a week ago, Sarkozy’s strong suit was his handling of the European economic crisis.
All that is gone now. He has been revealed as Merkel’s poodle, a man with no new cards to play on that front.
First, a government or two in Europe collapsed, most notably in the Netherlands, where the rightwing coalition couldn’t pass their austerity budget. The Netherlands in austerity? Mon dieu! Something is wrong with this picture. A fiction has been perpetrated on the peoples of Europe.
Second, on Thursday April 26, Ireland’s foreign minister and Labour leader Eamon Gilmore denied that a victory by François Hollande in the French presidential election would make it more difficult to convince people to vote in favour of the EU fiscal pact. "Gilmore said the referendum was all about Ireland being in a position to access emergency funds from its European partners to keep public services running," according to the Guardian’s reporter.
On the very same day, Angela Merkel, carrying out her thankless task of enforcing austerity, advised the French that they cannot, simply cannot, rewrite the existing fiscal pact. Was it engraved in stone on Mount Sinai? Hollande rose to the challenge, telling Merkel that "Berlin does not rule Europe."
When politicians deny the obvious, it means they are desperately trying to hold on to a reality that no longer obtains. Their dearly cherished ‘reality’ has suffered a reversal. All of Europe is now quickly rising up – even the conservative Rajoy in Spain – and the maps have been redrawn, with new colors. The problem with landscapes these days is that they won’t sit still.
All of which brings us to the question of who voted for Le Pen, by way of Greece. Lowly Greece, which is both up for grabs and for elections. Greece, where according to Helena Smith in the Guardian, the openly fascist Chyrsi Avgi party has seen their fortunes rise as "anti- memorandum" fury has grown. They are said to be "shamelessly xenophobic" and increasingly popular among those hit by steep pay and pension cuts. Greece, that ‘laboratory of history’ thrust on a skewer and roasted by Goldman Sachs et al. Greece, where the head of the Socialist Party said, "The alarm bell should have rung earlier. We should have done things that we didn’t understand because we weren’t forewarned."
Who voted for Le Pen in France and who will vote for Chrysi Avgi in Greece? All those outside the political process. The disgruntled, to be sure. The people who hate immigrants, absolutely. But in much larger measure, the disenfranchised – the ones who, after 30+ years of rule by the technocrats, no longer believe a word a politician says. And who can blame them? The Socialists in France spent the 1990s privatising under the guise of ‘normalisation’ (their term) and the Socialists in Greece evidently passed out because they didn’t notice the house was on fire. New Labour in the UK – do I need to rehash their glorious track record? I am struggling not to call them all Pseudo Socialists.
Melénchon in France did spectacularly well for a party leader on the national stage for the first time but if he wants to succeed, he should perhaps spend less time demonizing Le Pen and a little more time finding out exactly who voted for her. They’re up for grabs.
My favorite quote from the days after the first round of elections in France comes from a woman in the countryside near Strasbourg who gave only her first name. Agnes voted for Le Pen, not out of political ideology but because "It was the least ridiculous thing to do. Elle est comme nous, pas snob." Not a snob, indeed! The political class across the spectrum has once again failed the citizens, who realize quite correctly that they are a species apart.
A reader kindly got in my face to tell me that I was selling old hat in my last column regarding the as-yet-unproven Libyan involvement in the 2007 campaign. She offered several reasons for its plausibility, worthy of a debate in and of itself.
My interest was in Sarkozy’s answer to the question during his press conference. He didn’t reply that the charge was contemptible, beneath him or plain impossible. Instead he offered a tortured rationale as to why, if it were true, he wouldn’t attack Libya, an explanation that hovered periously close to a justification for exactly such an action. (I neglected to mention that during the same press conference Sarkozy had owned up to considering helping Gaddafi with nuclear energy, a charge he had previously denied.) All in all, a splendid example of what Sarkozy’s illustrious forebear Richard M. Nixon once called a ‘modified limited hangout.'(Certainly one of the great phrases in the language, employed all husbands at one time or another.) Nixon coined the phrase in response to an aide’s advice that Watergate was progressing so rapidly, he was sooner or later going to have to ‘let it all hang out.’ Nixon demurred.
We shall see how Sarkozy bounces off the ropes this evening. The Accountant is closing in.
J Iddhis Bing is the author of The Apartment Thief, a novel. He lives in Paris.