Emmanuel Macron became France’s president today. He chose to mark his inauguration day with military symbolism. For example, he broke with tradition by boarding an open-topped, camouflage military jeep, instead of a civilian limousine, for the traditional drive up the Champs-Élysées where he lit the flame in tribute to France’s war dead at the tomb for the unknown soldier.
I don’t assume that Macron is “appropriating” military symbolism for cynical purposes. One of the few virtues of the Socialist government of Francois Hollande (of which Marcron was part until he jumped that sinking ship) was its willingness to use military force to combat terrorism. France has thousands of troops involved in military operations abroad, from west Africa to Syria and Iraq.
For me, the remarkable thing about today is that despite Hollande’s otherwise ruinous tenure, which led to record low approval ratings and the collapse of his party, he is succeeded by a Socialist who served in his government.
To be sure, Macron now belongs to his own party, En Marche (which bears his initials). But during his time in government, he was Socialist and in all likelihood would still be if that party had remained a viable means to personal power.
Barack Obama, not an unpopular president, couldn’t hand off power to Hillary Clinton. Francois Hollande, enormously unpopular, has handed off power to Macron (for more on this, see below).
The next order of business is the parliamentary elections. Macron, having no true party, has thrown together a slate that includes a great many “no-name” candidates. It’s far from clear that this slate will do well enough to give him the majority he needs truly to govern. Rather, as our man in Paris has reported, it’s entirely possible that the parliament will be controlled by a party (or parties) opposed to Macron’s program.
Let’s take a look at France’s two traditional major parties in the aftermath of the election. Of the Socialists, our man in Paris tells me:
It looks like the Socialist Party (PS) if not dead is in the hospital with family and clergy at the bedside. En Marche could be the new PS, with a shinier screen and updated user interface. The resistance to Macron on the right seems firmer, for the moment.
As for the conservative party, Les Républicains, he writes:
Early polls indicate that what sunk Fillon [its candidate] was his abandonment by the traditional (Catholic) right. These are people who are traditionalist conservatives, perhaps not Reaganesque free-market[ers]. . .but solidly against the traditional left – in the US, they would be values-voters.
They were the folks who protested (quietly, decently, as is their wont, but in the hundreds of thousands) against gay marriage. However, the personal scandals that hit Fillon over the last few months (notably, charges of nepotism and corruption) made it impossible for them to support him personally.
Two takeaways: First, as it is likely that those scandals were stage-managed by Hollande, with all the powers of the presidency at his disposal, it’s therefore implicit that Macron directly owes his position to the outgoing Socialist government. Second, the failure of Les Républicains was the fault of a fatally flawed candidate and probably doesn’t represent the rejection of center-right ideas.
These takeaways are critical, it seems to me. If the French electorate has not rejected center-right ideas, but just the individual who championed them, then the prospects of the conservative party in the upcoming election (and beyond) should be good. And to the extent that the electorate believes, or comes to believe, that Macron owes his position to the discredited Hollande, he could be in for a very rough ride.