Monday, April 23, 2012

The Morning After

OK, people, time to sober up. The first thing to say, as TexExile pointed out in comments, is that we should stop hyperventilating about the FN results. Yes, it's an historic high, but it's only 1 percentage point more than her father managed in 2002 (albeit on a significantly higher turnout, so this somewhat understates the FN's increased strength). But the Brown Shirts are not about to sit in the Chancellery. The initial reports of a 20% Le Pen vote did us all a disservice by distracting from the other historic event of the evening: the loss of a sitting president in the first round. This should have been the headline, and the bizarrerie of Sarko's supporters chanting "On a gagné!" when in fact they had suffered a crushing defeat should have attracted more derisory comment than it did.

Second, Hollande is well-placed to win in round 2. The Le Pen vote is not an anti-Socialist vote or a right-wing vote. It is an anti-Sarkozy vote. Buisson's strategy of droitisation dure only strengthened the extreme from which he sprang; it undermined Sarkozy's principal strength, which was and remains his experience. Hollande still has to traverse the minefield of the next two weeks without a major misstep, but he has shown that he knows how to play his own game and avoid forced errors.

Third, no matter which candidate wins, France will be difficult to govern. The constraints imposed by the state of the economy are severe. To be sure, the electorate's expectations are low. The deep divisions over globalization, Europe, and the euro revealed by the vote will remain, and a solution remains elusive and not within the power of the French president alone. There is much missionary work to be done, especially with Germany, and success is not assured. But Hollande's election will signal the need for change, and if the Germans are wise, they will recognize this.

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