Sunday, April 22, 2012

Election Day

Not much left to say. On s'engage, puis en voit, dixit Napoléon. On verra. It's been an unimpressive campaign, in which the major issues have been avoided rather than confronted. Worse, the mettle of the candidates has not really been tested. It's hard to judge how they think or what they might have up their sleeves, other than effets de manche, which have been abundantly on display. Hollande can do the required platform gesticulations and mimic the histrionics that pass for passion on the hustings, but it's not his natural element. I prefer his quiet quips. Sarko has mastered the whole gamut of public postures, from good-sport affability (watch him laugh at Laurent Gerra imitating him) to fulminating demagogue ("Il ment! Il ment! Il ment!"). Mélenchon is in a class by himself, a relic of another era and useful for imagining what the great revolutionary orators might have sounded like. Le Pen comes and goes, sometimes up to playing her part, at other times looking odd in a suit tailored for her father. And Bayrou remains Bayrou, true to himself, not playing a part, other than the part he has been playing for the past 20 years, the virgin who has somehow wandered into a bordello and is shocked to discover what goes on there.

It's a democratic spectacle and as such an accurate reflection of the incoherent nation in which some of you live and which I observe--and no more or less incoherent than my own. It's a spectacle that is no doubt destined to disappoint me, since politics lacks the neatness of a theorem and I have a mathematical cast of mind, but this year the disappointment is particularly acute, because I think the stakes are enormously high. The euro crisis is far from resolved, the fate of the EU depends on its resolution, and social pressures are building. Yesterday the Dutch government fell apart, and there will be early elections at the behest of the extreme-right party there. Spain cannot continue in the status quo, with 45% youth unemployment. So something is soon going to give. It probably won't be France that cracks first, but inevitably France will be caught up in the ensuing maelstrom, so it would be reassuring to think that the person in charge knew what he or she was doing. But even a person of the utmost competence would be hard-pressed to know what to do, because the difficulty of the issues far exceeds the powers of the French president, as vast as they are. What is needed is not only the breadth of mind to grasp the situation but the tact, determination, and persuasiveness to get others to see it the same way. I wish I believed that the eventual winner would have those qualities, but I see little evidence that this will be the case. If I were French, I would vote for Hollande, but without much of a sense of what I was getting. It would be a familial duty: my family is the moderate left, and he is definitely a member of the family. But is he the boring uncle who turns up year after year at family gatherings, or the familiar relative whose true genius has been hidden from the view of his kin for all these years? Point n'est besoin d'espérer pour entreprendre ...

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