Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Update: Which French Political Party Would You Vote For?

Yesterday I posted a link to my friend Arun Kapil's (excellent) blog about French politics, particularly to his translation into English of a Sciences Po questionnaire designed to see which French political party you would vote for, were you French. I promised to offer my results and thoughts about them today. Voici
I found this test especially interesting because on more than one question -- in fact on most of them -- I strongly agreed with more than one answer, and found it very hard to decide which statement I most agreed with. For example: 

1. Whether or not one is religiously observant, one must not neglect the moral values conveyed by religion.
2. One must tolerate all types of religious practices so long as they are freely consented to, even when they may be shocking to some.
3. Religious morality should be combated, as it prevents people from living and thinking freely.
4. Religion may sometimes be incompatible with personal freedom but it can, at the same time, offer answers to the profound questions of human existence.
5. The message of religion is primordial, as it helps us distinguish good from bad in our lives.
I don’t agree with (3). But (1), (4), and (5) all seem like good answers to me; and in most cases I agree with (2), especially as an American who takes religious freedom seriously -- though we come up against some very hard cases when religious practices shock majority sensibilities or are in conflict with the law or with other religious beliefs. So I eliminated (2) as “too difficult,” and went with (1).
I found that if I went back and changed my answer in just a few places to one that I thought was “almost as good, or maybe better,” it moved me from center-left to liberal-republican and then, the third time I tried, back to center. So: small change, big variance.
But I think my responses are going to be different from most American's or non-French readers', because try as I might, I can’t separate “my own political principles” from “what I might think if I were French” (as I instructed readers to do). By this point, I’m just too familiar with French problems not to have an opinion about them. So whereas I suspect most readers would have gone with an answer other than this one, which I chose:
3. To facilitate the integration of immigrants it is necessary to fight against unemployment—which hinders their integration—and to make sure that the rights of immigrants are respected in countering discrimination of which they may be victims.
I chose it strongly over the others (probably pushing me toward “center” or “center-left”) -- because I firmly believe, after seeing it and the effects of it every day, that excessively strict French labor laws keep immigrants out of the labor market and unemployed; that this consigns them to ghettoization; and this in turn makes it vastly more difficult for them to integrate. I also find this to be a form of discrimination, of which immigrants here are very much victims. The consequences of this have become a serious problem in France.
If I were taking this quiz in America, though, I’d probably answer:
4. In order for the integration of immigrants to succeed they must not suffer from discrimination but, at the same time, they should respect the values of the host country.
I don’t think immigrants to America suffer from a want of entry-level jobs, or that the lack thereof is the source of huge social problems. I think statement (4) best describes what we might call the “basic American integration compact.”
(Also, I’m pretty sure I skewed things by giving myself the vote. Why not? I pay taxes, I’m integrated, I obey the laws, and I’m very much affected by what French politicians decide — why shouldn’t I be represented? But I reckon I’m the only American respondent who’d let me vote, though, at least, the only one who doesn't live here. That pushed me to the left on one version.)
Now that everyone's had the chance to take the test without being overly influenced by Arun's interpretation or mine (and if you haven't, go take it, first), here's Arun’s interpretation.  I think his observations are pretty much right on, especially the parts I’ve marked in bold:
One day in 2005 or thereabouts I was watching a political talk show and in which one of the guests was a well-known American journalist in town and regular on TV and radio (he had carved out a niche for himself as a great explainer of America to the French, but also as an observer of the latter, writing humoristically about the natives and their us et coutumes with his œil américain; his books sold well, which I found mystifying). During the show this journalist asserted that the French equivalent of the US Democratic party was the UDF—the centrist party led by François Bayrou and that had long been allied with the right (and never with the Socialists)—and that there was no significant electoral force in American politics on the left side of the political spectrum such as it existed in France. Hearing this almost caused me to fall out of my chair. To equate the US Democratic party with the UDF betrayed an ignorance of the latter—a party with Christian Democratic roots, a moderately conservative sensibility, and mainly provincial bourgeois voting base—and of the former as well. There was, moreover, the implication here that mainstream American Democrats in France would gravitate toward the UDF—which, despite its claimed centrism, was marked in the public mind as moderate right—over the dominant party of the moderate left, the Socialists. It had, in fact, long been my hypothesis that American Democratic party voters would find their natural political home in France to be the Parti Socialiste—and with left-wing Dems leaning toward the left-wing of the PS (now Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s Parti de Gauche) or Jean-Pierre Chevènement’s MRC—, and with Republicans naturally identifying with the UMP. In other words, that the American liberal-conservative/Democrat-Republican cleavage would find a near precise correspondence in France with the left and right. Now with the Politest, I could test the hypothesis.
So I translated the questionnaire into English and e-mailed it, along with the Politest link, to friends and relatives in the US, who could follow the translation while taking the test, and requested that they report the results back to me. My hypothesis was confirmed, based on the fifteen or so responses I received. Liberals were identified primarily with the PS or center-left PRG, those more to the left with the “gauche du PS” or MRC, and the Republican or two in my sample with the UMP (a couple of the results were unexpected, e.g. a relative of the older generation and from the American heartland, a yellow dog Democrat but with unprogressive views on several issues—her kids accuse her of being a secret Republican—, turned out to be closest to Chevènement’s MRC, followed by the Communist party! provoking both stupefaction and hilarity).
A few qualifications, though. For several of my liberal, Democrat-voting friends, the test result specified that though they were closest to the PS no party entirely reflected their views. I interpreted this as signifying some political-cultural differences between Americans and the French, notably with the cult of the state and Jacobin reflexes one finds on the French left, which even big government sympathizing American liberals do not entirely relate to. Mainstream American Democrats are more libéral—in the classical economic sense—than mainstream French Socialists (though the gap here has narrowed over time; and there have long been leading social-libéral PS politicians—e.g. Michel Rocard, DSK—with whom American liberals could identify). At a dinner-debate in March 2007 of the Paris chapter of Democrats Abroad—on the subject of the French presidential campaign, and in which I was one of the speakers—the question was posed to the 80 or so present—a certain number of whom had acquired French citizenship—as to which candidate they were supporting. Ségolène Royal came in first but a significant number of hands went up for Sarkozy and François Bayrou (Democrats Abroad members, most of whom are high-income professionals, tend toward the center, particularly on the economy; and it should be noted that a certain number of PS voters in the 2007 election defected to Bayrou, and even Sarkozy). I could understand the appeal of Sarkozy at the time for Americans, in view of his atypical profile and pro-Americanism. In this regard, I noted in the 1990s through the 2002 election the attraction of some American Democrats in France—including myself, to a certain extent—to Alain Madelin, a solidly right-wing politician but whose economic libéralisme—the alpha and omega of his discourse—, pro-Americanism, and sunny optimism were a breath of fresh air in this country. But the interest here was with the personalities of Sarkozy and Madelin, not with their parties or larger political families (e.g. I would be most surprised if US Democrats in France who liked Sarkozy also feel the same way about Jean-François Copé, let alone the UMP as a whole).
A new hypothesis: with the mutation of the residue of François Bayrou’s erstwhile UDF into the MoDem—which loudly proclaims its centrism, is not allied with the UMP (and is shed of the ex-UDF’s right-leaning elements), and has made local electoral deals with the PS—, it is possible that some moderate US Democrats may identify with this over the Socialists (and particularly as the incriminating UDF label is now gone). Personal disclosure: in the 2007 legislative election, I voted for the MoDem candidate in the first round in my safe UMP constituency (a throw-away vote, and mainly because I was more impressed with the candidate personality-wise than the PS one).
One of the points I’d stress, generally in agreement with Arun, is that the impression many Americans have of France being a socialist country in the sense that the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics was a socialist country is wildly off-base. The socialist party here is very close to the mainstream wing (not the far-left wing) of the American Democrat Party. And there are many parties here in which a Republican or a conservative in the US would feel at home, including a number described by Politest as “centrist.” France is — this is the key point — a lot more conservative than Americans tend to think, partly because the word “socialist” throws them, and partly because the French left is disproportionately noisy and disproportionately popular in the US. Far more than it is, in fact, in France.
Also, as I expected, not many Americans on Ricochet (a polite discussion site for Americans on the center-right) found themselves in the National Front camp. Only two of them did, and I honestly don’t know how, because to support them you'd have to want a welfare state that's stronger than any American conservative would find congenial, and you’ve got to believe in things no normal American -- of any political stripe -- would believe.
For example, you might be put in that category if you believe that under no circumstances should anyone be allowed to become a French citizen unless he or she descends from at least one French parent by blood. That would rule out citizenship even for someone born, raised, and completely integrated in France, someone who has no other country (or language, or culture) at all — someone who’s served in the French military, even — but who happens to have, say, Portuguese immigrant parents. Maybe there’s some permutation of answers to the other questions that can land you into that camp, but I played around with the test a bit and couldn’t figure out what it might be. (It’s possible that prioritizing “defense of rural life” above all other issues gets you there, but I can’t imagine that ideal warming the hearts of American conservatives more than the other possible answers to the question at hand.)
Most American Ricochet members found that they would be natural voters for Les Républicains of the "liberal tendency." (Meaning economically liberal, in the classical sense.) François Fillon is the LR candidate this year, so they discovered they were Fillon enthusiasts. But alas, this result is, I think, misleading. The test was written way before this election, and didn't include what I'd think were highly relevant questions for Americans -- ones that would have moved many of them, I reckon, sharply away from Fillon. 
I suspect for most of them the attitude the candidate has toward the United States would be quite decisive. Fillon, regrettably, is very close to Putin, and short of Le Pen (who’s Putin’s girl, 100 percent), he’s the candidate — or at least, the only candidate with any chance of winning — who's least favorable to the US, and closest to Russia. He often talks, for example, about taking a strong stand against “American imperialism,” or uses other similarly and weirdly anachronistic locutions to describe the US position in the world. I’m sure he’d be a complete pain in the tuchus to us were he elected. So I wouldn’t vote for him, if I had the vote, unless the only alternative were Le Pen — which I very much hope it won’t be, but it might.
This is especially true since, sadly, we learned after the primaries (when it was too late) that Fillon is corrupt as the day is long. This was both deeply disappointing and genuinely shocking. Even though Fillon's wobbly to the point of dangerousness on foreign policy, I did like some of his economic proposals, and I thought some of them might do the country good. I also liked (what I thought was) his stature as a serious, dignified politician from a traditional French Catholic background, one with the experience and gravitas suitable for the Presidency and the ability to siphon off right-leaning votes from the execrable Le Pen.
I must confess, too, that I like the French electoral system, with its broad spectrum of parties and its two-round vote runoffs. I think it has some advantages over the US system: It does a good job of giving a voice to people who’d have nowhere to go in a strict, two-party system. This year is, of course, very unusual because we might see a runoff between two candidates from parties that have never held power before. But that this can happen at all shows the way this system has the potential to be more responsive — in a healthy way, I think — to voters' concerns, while still ensuring a very low likelihood that a malignant figure such as Le Pen (père or fille) will actually end up winning.
Even though (depending on my response to a few questions on which I could go either way) I generally fall under the “liberal-wing Républicain” penumbra, I’m close enough to the French center that if I could vote here, I’d vote for Emmanuel Macron. He’s positively-disposed to the United States, he doesn’t shoot his mouth off about France not being responsible for the Vel d’hiv (I have a great deal more to say about that comment and how sinister it is in the context of the National Front’s history), and he seems to understand, basically, that France simply must liberalize its labor market, cut spending, and lower taxes. I think, too, that he’d work well with Merkel to reform the EU in the ways it must be reformed without altogether destroying it -- which is a subject for another post, for another day. I have reservations about Macron, to be sure, but in a contest between Macron and Le Pen, I would -- like most French voters, if the polls are to be trusted at all -- have no hesitation whatsoever. He will be at worst a disappointment, not a wholesale catastrophe. 
Here's a nice Macron moment, one that suggests why he might appeal to someone like me:

D’un côté, une gauche communiste prétend vendre des rêves... mais avec votre argent. 
He reminded me (just a little) of Thatcher there. (I apologize for the lack of subtitles on the clip; if any of you are studying French and would like to translate it as a homework exercise, please do; I'll correct it for you -- if necessary -- and post it. Otherwise, I'll translate it later this week.) 

(By the way, if the mechanics of French elections confuse you, you're not alone. I've written a simple explanation of how they work, here.)


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