Monday, April 30, 2012

Pandering to Labor

Last time around it was "la France qui se lève tôt," and the panderer was Nicolas Sarkozy. This time it's François Hollande, who is assuring workers of his "attachment to the values and principles of May 1," by which he means, presumably, not the Haymarket Massacre whose anniversary will actually be celebrated tomorrow but the principle that labor needs to be organized and fairly represented in order to achieve an equitable balance of power with capital. Unfortunately, rather than elaborate on precisely what his attachment to the values of labor might entail in the way of policy, he contents himself with a remarkably bland restatement of what he has already said about the inadequacy of a pure austerity policy as a means of resolving the problems of the euro:
François Hollande affirme vouloir "créer très tôt les conditions d'un retour à la confiance, notamment en renégociant le Mécanisme européen de stabilité pour y introduire un volet de croissance et d'emploi. Rien ne serait pire que de nous lier à une logique d'austérité",
For a man who is within a week of--possibly, even very likely--becoming the next president of France, such a mantra, intended to be soothing, has the opposite effect, at least on me. Because after May 6, it will no longer be enough to intone this reassuring formula. He will actually have to do something, and to be responsible for the success or failure of his proposals. I would like to believe that Hollande's studied vagueness is merely a campaign tactic, but I find myself worrying that he has actually given very little thought to what comes next.

That said, I'm not naive enough to think that any national leader is actually master of the current economic agenda. All of them, Merkel included, are playthings of the gods, and events will surely upset the best-laid plans. So I'm not really looking for a program; I'm looking instead for some sign of intellectual life, for a flicker of intelligent thought about the various contingencies and possible responses to whatever comes to pass. Sarkozy has long accustomed us to governing by the seat of one's pants: what he says today has no bearing on what he may do tomorrow. His inconstancy is characterological. Hollande's is different, or, rather, it's undetectable, because he never pins himself down firmly enough to know when he's changed his mind. Keeping options open is a fine idea until it isn't. Hollande has made a career of indecisiveness, but a week from today, unless the polls are seriously wrong, he becomes "the Decider," to borrow a phrase from George W. Bush (une fois n'est pas coutume). Hollande's slogan is le changement, but somehow I keep coming back to that old saw, "Plus ça change ..."

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