Not everything you want to know about France, nor anything else.
Emmanuel Macron, freshly elected to the presidency of France, was on his way to gaining an overwhelming majority in the National Assembly on Sunday, so we decided to hold the virtual presses at least for this one, you know? What’s the rush? It’s not as if
PARAGUAY, BOLIVIA MASS TROOPS ON BORDER, or
AMERICAN WINS WIMBLEDON.
You, the reader, have plenty of news and non-news to read, so French political news can wait. Ploo sha shonz ploo say la maym, right? Well, the story is this:
FREE MARKET LATEST FASHION IN PARIS
Hundreds of thousands of young Gallic entrepreneurs plan to return from California and London in anticipation of labor market reforms promised by newly elected president Emmanuel Macron, according to leading bankers and economists… etc.; and:
NAPOLEON REDUX AS MACRON TAKES HELM IN FRANCE
After leading his brand new party in a rout of the discredited political establishment, the bold young president, never previously elected to even dogcatcher, stares down Merkel, Putin and Trump as he… etc.
In a word: New kid on the block drains the swamp in Paris! There actually is a neighborhood called the swamp here, the Marais, but that is not the one at issue. What the new young president wants to do is: bring the breadth of liberty into the homeland of the rights of man, precursor to what we now call human rights, and guess how he’s doing it? Har har, by doing a Louis the No. 14 act, the one they called the Sun-King, founder of monarchial absolutism. You can’t beat France for political theater, can you?
Our hero, Emmanuel Macron, is a man on a mission. Handsome, youthful — he is 39; for reference, John F. Kennedy was elected at 43 — wildly popular, he defied all predictions of it-can’t-happen-here, took over parliament with an untested party (reducing the long-tested ones to irrelevance), police functions, intelligence functions, above all military functions, all in his hands. He seduces the ladies, he seduces the men, he seduces the, you know.
Fiercely competitive, he is a top-school grad and a whiz kid private banker, Rothschild’s. He is a family man, too. Check it out, he probably likes animals and plays sports.
The mission? Save France from itself and restore the Grande Nation to its pre-eminent role in Europe, Africa, World.
Granted, an old script. And many have disparaged the sheer chutzpah of it all. And called him a callow youth and worse — a globalist! An instrument of occult forces! This time, however — who knows?
There have been, traditionally, young leaders in this beloved and old country (as Charles de Gaulle addressed it). Joan of Arc, the Maid of Orleans, teenager. Francois I, 16th century war leader, teenager. Louis the No. 14, pre-teen at coronation, Bonaparte, in whose footsteps stalked Napoleon (that’s probably Victor Hugo, but don’t quote me), 20-something. Charles de Gaulle was, at 50, advanced in age by comparison when he raised the Cross of Loraine and declared France would win.
He called his party En Marche, Forward, no apologies for the initials, changed it to La République en Marche to replace a gagful of old bores with a collection of neophyte amateurs in their 30s and 40s.
Low voter turnout, they say. But the French do not elect presidents, they plebiscite kings. Who are chosen. By Providence. For France.
And when you are chosen to rise so high, they add, the fall can be hard. (Bob Marley, sort of.) Fair enough: hence the hurry. Emmanuel Macron is not going to say, as used to say François Mitterrand, Il faut laisser le temps au temps, “Step on it and take your time.”
This, in substance, is what I learned, in between checking out the French Open, from thoughtful and experienced observers of their country during conversations after the grand old tournament was over. I cannot pretend to wisdom. But I will say this: the old farts who ran this grand old country, men — some women — who grew up without indoor toilets, are out. In are what the tennis world calls the NexGen, the new face of France, young people familiar with the use of soap, shampoo, latrines where you do not need a bucket, clean clothes. They come in many colors, because France, in its glory days, was an imperial power of many colors. The whole so-called immigration issue on which the old farts have been delaying the modernization of French politics can be reduced to the opportunistic, mean-spirited, myopic refusal to accept that the best of France lay beyond what they called la métropole, the pré-carré, the hexagone. Or some of it anyway, because Emmanuel himself is in fact from Picardie, than which you cannot be more métropole and pré-carré. Thus. And so. Deal with it.
The president, elected for five years, names a new government from the sitting Assembly, and the people decide if they want to give him a legislative branch majority — give him the power to rule without obstruction from an unruly, embittered, envious, ideologically hostile opposition.
Throughout the Fifth Republic (i.e., since 1958), the newly elected president always won a majority upon dissolving the old Assembly, but sometimes he lost it at midterms. So the establishment parties passed a reform wherein they eliminated midterms: the parliament and the president are both elected for five-year terms on the same calendar. Little did they imagine it would be used by a rebel with a cause: to destroy them.
And save France.
A possible hitch, one of my interlocutors pointed out, is that the new party Macron founded to organize his presidential run is largely made up of people who have zero political, let alone parliamentary, experience. Fresh faces, maybe, but what if they are zeroes? Many young people are, no disrespect. Consider some of these NexGenners who got their rears whipped at Roland-Garros and likely will get another spanking at Wimbledon couple weeks hence. On the other side, consider Aaron Judge. So you must not be prejudiced.
In fact, there is a precedent, not terribly encouraging. There was an anti-statist party long ago, 1950s, led by a man named Pierre Poujade, who won control of the Assembly), and they could not get anything done. Jean-Marie Le Pen, the xenophobe from Brittany admired by our colleagues at the American Conservative, got his first experience as a deputy in the Poujadist movement. Some years later, he founded a race-demagogue party called the National Front, got subsidies from the old ultra-right leader, François Mitterrand, who in the intervening years had migrated to the left. This is called realism.
Macron is ambitious, controlling, fast of wit and no slouch for work. He may be as self-regarding as Donald Trump, certainly he appears more focused. He knows what he wants. President Trump wants what works for America, which is called pragmatism. President Macron wants what works for France, which is called grandeur, glory.
“It was Emmanuel Macron,” one of my interlocutors points out, “who called himself ‘Jupiter,’ the name you see on all the magazine covers this week. We are in Macronmania.” I allow as how I had not noticed. I only read L’Equipe, the sports daily, and I can tell you about PSG and Juventus and the Real Madrid, now coached by one of France’s all-time greats, Zinedine Zidane, but I am unaware of what the political reporters call hard news, such as what nicknames a prez picks for himself. Jupiter. That is really swell.
Zidane now, he is to Real Madrid as McGraw was to the Giants or Stengel was to the Yankees, but instead of dwelling on that, some moron in the press corps asked him, couldja say something in Arab, eh?
To which the great footballer replied, “I do not know the Arab language, monsieur.”
The moron persisted: “Dinitja talk arab as a kid? Like at home?”
“In my home, sir,” he said, polite, “in Marseilles, my parents often spoke tamazigh.”
“The Berber language, monsieur.”
So on the face of it, that the media went big for Macron did not signify much other than that they needed a story. Likewise the French papers go big for local tennis hopes like Jo-Wilfred Tsonga and Kristina Mladenovic, until they fall out of the draw, as they did eventually at the Internationaux. But even allowing for hype, you have to admit Macron was shaking things up without even being in office a week.
Can Macron succeed, meaning fix things so that France can, once again, be a dynamic place, admired and envied, perchance feared?
If half the voters are not voting, and if, as occurred in the presidential election, more voted against the eventual winner in the first round than for him, and if he only won the second round with a minority of eligible voters, then you have to wonder. What sort of support does he really have? And is it support that can last?
Of more interest, support to do what? Apart from doing the normal monarchial thing, which is to concentrate all the military and police and surveillance capabilities of the realm in his own office, why in the world, you may ask, is he starting with labor law reform, when France is under attack from terrorists with a civilizational objective, namely, conquer and destroy the West?
As a former Minister of the Economy, as well as an ordinary observer of the French Situation, the new president knows the devastation wrought by France’s restrictive, constraining, stagnation-causing labor code. The principal damage is to young people, at least 20 percent of whom — we are talking not about teens with Arabic sounding names in lousy neighborhoods but 20-to-35’s across the board — are unemployed or not permanently employed or still drifting around from “apprenticeship” to “apprenticeship” — “stage de formation,” is the term, because of the reactionary nature of these rules, which can be explained only by reference to the medieval guilds. You may think the Middle Ages ended in the 12th century, or the last vestiges of feudalism were wiped out by the French Revolution, circa 1790; foggedaboudit.
Macron himself proposed some serious reforms, passed by executive order against the wishes of a reluctant Assembly, when he was the Economics Minister of the preceding president, François Hollande, viewed as representing the far right of the parliamentary left, now wiped off the political map… by Macron.
But these reforms were ineffective. He is going to try again.
There are three simple reasons why labor law reform is make-or-break. First, because everyone, left and right, has tried, and everyone has failed. And if you fail at this, you fail. Every president and prime minister since the 1980s who tried and failed, failed at everything else. Became lame-duck, lost respect, was finished.
Second, it is needed. Period. France is the world’s fourth, maybe fifth economy. Save all the jokes about long lunch breaks and summer holidays, the French work hard — when they work — indeed they must since they are carrying all the subsidized grifters. France has many leading-edge industries, a rich agricultural sector, fantastic housing stock, tremendous human capital, and this includes the much maligned immigrants, if given the right encadrement (education and training).
School reform. There is that, too, of course. The famed écoles de la République have been eroded by politically correct vacuities that sap the national identity. History is no longer a required subject, nor is Latin taught much if at all.
And third, it’s on the table. So they have to follow through. They had the draft legislation ready, its provisions were discussed in the papers, you cannot retreat now. They’ll go for it right away, at the rentrée, after the summer holidays, the Jewish holidays, the back-to-school, the resumption of the new parliament, if the president lets them take a break in August. One of the most predictable economic facts in the history of the world, even more predicable than cost over-runs in any federal budget proposal, is that France Stops in August.
Observe that, like all other predictable economic facts, this one is not so. France does not stop in August. The bakers, for example, are not permitted to take holidays except according to a strictly regulated rolling time-off schedule (also most bread is price controlled). I can assure you right off the bat that if Macron touches this one, however blatant its statist nature, he’s finished.
And how about the trainmen? Do you think the trains stop? How do people get to the beaches if the trains stop? In their cars? What if they don’t drive? No, the trains keep on rolling.
It is true, nonetheless, that you will not find every man at his post in August, and they have been forced to legislate rolling summer holidays, too, because the rails and the roads were getting too congested to move, but these rarely apply to the Paris elites, which in part explains the Macron phenomenon. He is of the elite, of course, but he is also out of it.
Emmanuel Macron, as well as his wife Brigitte, hails from a posh neighborhood called Henryville, which is in a cute little cathedral city called Amiens, itself located in the northeast region of Picardie, not far from Champagne. This is deep France, the heartland, albeit scarcely 200 km from Paris. Still, he and Brigitte, come from this heartland. He by all accounts adores her — one of the reasons for his success: the French love loving couples.
Not to change the topic, but the story of Charles and Yvonne de Gaulle and their absolute devotion to each other and to their daughters and son, which was never hyped up the way presidential families are hyped up today in France as in America, is one of the most moving stories in the great epic they helped write, the epic of France.
So, the rentrée. There is, of course, a considerable slowdown of activity in many sectors of the economy, though not the ones that benefit the French elites, the privileged, and the other grifters who want to be able to go off to beaches and country and mountains and vales without too many hitches and plenty of attendant help. They drift back to work in September.
And find the labor rules have changed.
War in the streets, as usual? Massive strikes throughout the public sector, including the vaunted trains? One time just a few years ago, the strikes in public transport — admittedly a fine system — caused a bicycle boom, a contributing factor in the development of the municipal rent-a-bike craze that spread throughout the Free World. Even the heavily regulated, Democratic-voting Washington, D.C. has them. They are a great health program, and really why we are killing ourselves with idiotic health insurance reform when we have bike-for-health-programs, it shows how politicians will fool all of the people some of the time (that’s from Lincoln).
And after the massive outcry and the marches and the re-enactments of the barricades of 1830 (that was the time of Les Misérables), which makes some of the most privileged people in the history of humanity feel good about themselves, the government, left or right, backs down. No labor reform. Continuing unemployment if you don’t have the piston, the clout. Too bad, sucker, you can emigrate to California or London, perchance Canada.
Not this time. This time, it’s going to the mattresses.
Let me explain. You have to understand what he did in the days after his win in the presidential election.
If labor law reform is a do-or-die issue, why did the president leave France right after the election? Why not visit farms, factories, labs, offices — places where people work? Show them that, for their own sakes, for their children’s, for the country’s, … etc.
But no. He went to Berlin. Was that because during the campaign he suggested France should look to northern Europe for economic models, including in the area of labor markets?
The silly joke made by that woman, about how no matter who won, France would be ruled by a woman (meaning her, Marine, or Frau Merkel), which the know-nothings at the American Conservative thought so clever? Macron did not even answer it. He went to Berlin, to thank the iron chancellorette, Angela Merkel, for her confidence in the European project, and to dismiss her. The leadership of Europe returns to Paris, and believe me, Frau Merkel is only too happy to cede it.
The Germans always said, a European Germany, not a German Europe; did you ever hear anyone mention a European France?
Then the young president met with Vladimir Putin. Where? At Versailles. Unmistakable symbolism: you tsar, me king, don’t mess with France — or Europe — I’m in charge now.
Then he shook hands with Donald Trump. Did you see that on the TV? No? It was all the rage here. Apparently they met at one of those Bilderberger globalist G-what-all summits in Brussels or somewhere and Trump offered a handshake. Nothing unusual there, except the prez tried to squeeze his hand till it hurt, one of his 1950s-mannerisms that turn our progressives into Teppechfresser’s. And the French prez was ready. Squeezed right back. They say Trump needed physical therapy after, but that’s surely a silly joke that went around. What is certain is that Macron’s hand was fine. And he rubbed it in on TV, said he was not going to let himself be intimidated even by symbolic gestures, you catch the word play, and if America does not want the leadership of saving the planet — this was after Mr T. said goodbye Paris Climate Accord — good heavens (c’est le mot), France would step up.
Shake hands, step up. Boy’s got balls, apparently.
He meant, I may be half your age, mister, but I’ve been on the job a week and I’m in charge. Are you? And I write my own books. Who’s in charge in Washington? You say that to the top capo of the Free World, you know you have to deliver. So, labor law. But wait, there’s more.
And by the by, have you noticed he always wears a blue tie? I admit I did not notice until a friend and source pointed it out. Presidential haberdashery can be interesting, but I was not noticing anything outside the way Rafa Nadal hits his backhands.
He used to run around the backhand to hit a forehand. He has the most powerful forehand in the history of clay-court tennis, and it worked, until a couple years ago, when he stopped winning. Roger Federer was slipping too around this time. It was like when the World Series was no longer New York-St. Louis, a major change, caused stock market fluctuations and political confusion.
Rafa noticed his old pal and rival, who also had some trouble with the backhand, re-invent his backhand. Beat Rafa with it at Melbourne, for the Australian Open. Beat him again in the desert at Indian Wells, California. And then again in the final at Miami, Florida. Amazing. You can keep learning all your life. Except in public affairs.
This should be a lesson to the educrats who cash in on a racquet called “continuing education” or “professional development,” wherein no one ever has developed, more likely has regressed. But not Roger. And so Rafa: why not me? He astonished everybody with the new backhand, used it to fire down the line service returns when they thought they had him with a 125 mph hit over the alley. He won the last point of the tournament with a backhand, a passing winner Stan — the Man — Wawrinka could only stand there and look as it bounced away.
However, as to Macron: He always wears a blue tie, and specifically a royal blue tie. Not a navy blue one, like that woman, daughter of you-know-who, she thought it a cute play on her name to call her movement bleu-marine, and proceeded to flop despite the wishes of American conservatives without a clue to what France is all about.
Royal blue. He was inaugurated where? In the courtyard of the Louvre. Of all Paris’s fancy buildings, you can scarcely get more royal than the Louvre, notwithstanding the glass pyramid and that other modern stuff, which by the way is awfully good — like Rafa and Roger, improve the brand.
Unlike the left presidents, Mitterrand in particular because he was the most “monarchial” did the ceremony at the Pantheon, the most “republican” of the capital’s monuments. No, Macron makes no pretense. He is president of the Republic, but he aspires to royalty and he wants the world to know.
Much more than symbols. So where did he go? He went directly to Mali. Why Mali? Because our troops are there, fighting for France against the terror armies.
I know. So was the 369th New York, but that’s another story, though quite relevant, since they also were on the Meuse-Argonne front in ’18, in French uniform, under the one-armed Henri Gouraud, at the head of the French Fourth Army, a man who appreciated black fighters, saving France. I digress. Tennis, war… Mr. Pleszczynski is going to lose his saintly patience.
He went there to assert that as king, he is also and primarily and above all, the leader of the armies of France.
Likewise, when Americans are at war, the first act of a new president should be to go where they are engaged. But there the similarities end. We have civilian control of the military, itself a huge branch of government, an institution no less important than the department of Justice. Rule of law. The national defense. But that’s us.
The French are not like you and me, and one of the ways in which they are different is that their supremo, republican or royal, is the chef des armées, he must be seen as a soldier. Profoundly different from a war-time president head of a civilian-control-of-the-military committee.
At the same time, he immediately declared the six-month (renewable by parliament) state of emergency permanent and centralized all intelligence at the Elysée palace (their White House.) Message: let there be no mistake. Protest? Terror? I’ll know who you are. And I’ll come down hard.
So Marine never had a chance? She was a joke. Her program was a reactionary flimflam, national socialism in the literal sense of the term, doomed to the trash heap. However, if you count the extreme left, led by the ex-Socialist Party orator Jean-Luc Mélenchon, whose program was essentially the same as hers, soak the rich and kill capitalism, a lot of people seemed willing to buy a bill of goods.
But when the smoke cleared over the second round of the legislative elections, the national socialists of extreme left and right had won far fewer votes than they did at their high tide, which was the dry run of the first round of the presidential poll, the one that caused the alleged observers at the American Conservative to react the way Chris Matthews and David Brooks did when they had a crush on Mr. Trump’s predecessor; remember, their legs felt funny?
It was all over but the Champagne corks popping. The Macron party, called La République en Marche (“Forward, ho, Republic!”), has a majority, about 300 seats in a 577 chamber. Add to them the 30-some seats of the small center party with whom they were tactical allies, and the 150 or so of the old neo-pseudo-crypto Gaullists around the disgraced Fillon and Sarkozy (who hate each other), and you have just a handful at the radical extremes, irrelevant though not without nuisance value, just like Marine’s old dad, the Breton xenophobe Jean-Marie Le Pen.
The question mark in the title of this modest contribution to trans-Atlantic understanding and amity is due to the fact that, some years ago in this space, we referred to the newly-elected President N. Sarkozy as the best since de Gaulle. Admittedly, it was political judgment worthy of Matthews, Brooks, even Bill Kristol. We were fooled by the new guy’s evident energy and all-for-France vigor. Energy sometimes is little other than headless-chickenism, and we know that the Sarko manner was less all-for-France than all-for-Sarko, and when he drew us into Libya — cheered on by another great American conservative, Max Boot, with a line that was essentially a plagiarism of still another’s, Ken Adelman’s “Iraq is a cakewalk” — and then Sarko, he cut and ran, with an attitude toward the millions of people in the region straight out of the Tom and Daisy Buchanan playbook, it stank. It really stank. The man’s a stinker.
That, as it happens, was one of the very rare political prognostications in this space. And the last one. Prognostication and punditry ain’t the reporter’s job. Look at the damage that sort of game has done to our own media, and beyond that our political culture. Granted you cannot blame the messengers, even really, really dumb ones, for the faults that are not in our stars but in ourselves (that’s — but you know who that’s lifted from), but the lesson should be, save it. Instead, we tend to do even more. It’s easier than real work, and it pays well, too.
Anyway, you got the facts now. You, the reader, can decide.
I’m off to Wimbledon. No, I’m not, on account Mr. Tyrrell never. He never got me the in with his buddy Boris Johnson, who anyway is too busy staying in power to pay much attention to tennis, though he was good at that, at writing on it too, when he wanted. So I’m hanging out at the old home courts near South Dakota Avenue and when the guys say, Hey, where you been? I say, oh, out there, you know. Working on my backhand.