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“Hey, How’m’I doin’?”

Summary:
When the late Ed Koch was mayor of New York, he was famous for approaching people on the street and asking "Hey, how'm'I doin'?" Emmanuel Macron, seeking to emulate the august aloofness of Charles de Gaulle, eschews the folksy Koch touch, but he is no less keenly interested in how he's doing. And the signs from the month of July have not been good: a sharp fall in approval rating (not only for Macron but for Edouard Philippe as well), a polemic over the firing of a general, some dissension in the REM ranks, stiffening union resistance to his labor code reform plans, a perception that budget cuts have taken precedence over everything else, and a dust-up over a 5-euro a month cut in the housing allotment.Now, it's possible to defend the new government's actions on all these matters. Budget

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When the late Ed Koch was mayor of New York, he was famous for approaching people on the street and asking "Hey, how'm'I doin'?" Emmanuel Macron, seeking to emulate the august aloofness of Charles de Gaulle, eschews the folksy Koch touch, but he is no less keenly interested in how he's doing. And the signs from the month of July have not been good: a sharp fall in approval rating (not only for Macron but for Edouard Philippe as well), a polemic over the firing of a general, some dissension in the REM ranks, stiffening union resistance to his labor code reform plans, a perception that budget cuts have taken precedence over everything else, and a dust-up over a 5-euro a month cut in the housing allotment.

Now, it's possible to defend the new government's actions on all these matters. Budget minister Gérald Darmanin, for example, offered a pretty good defense of the APL cut after it was attacked in characteristically showy fashion by Mélenchon's lieutenant Alexis Corbière, who in his speech referred to Mélenchon as le président Mélenchon (he is president of his parliamentary group, after all!), a nice rhetorical touch. Corbière used as props a collection of items that could be purchased for 5 euros, the amount of the APL cut. Good theater, even if the collection itself was unlikely to impress even le peuple d'en bas at whom it was aimed. Nobody missed the real point, which was that this was, in symbolic terms, a stupid move by the government.

And Macron appears to have taken the point. He called a meeting today in which he asked everyone concerned to reconsider their approach not so much in terms of substance as in terms of optics, which had become too "Bercyized," as one wag put it. The point is not to meet quotas in budget reduction; it is to persuade people that the ultimate outcome will be positively redistributive. But the question that remains as to what meaning Macron attaches to "positive." Does he intend to redistribute upward, to the richest, or downward, to the poorest. The APL cut lent itself to the former interpretation, and the Mélenchoniens were quick to seize the opportunity. Macron cannot much longer remain in the ambiguity of en même temps upward and downward redistribution. Gouverner, c'est choisir.

And in one respect, at least, a choice has been made. That there are limits to Macron's neoliberalism is now clear. Lemaire has nationalized the shipyards to ensure that jobs will not be lost to Italy--much to Italy's dismay. There will also be export subsidies for grain growers. The free market is a wonderful thing, except when it isn't. This is France, and le nationalisme économique is always on the agenda, no matter who is in power. This, too, is part of the Gaullist legacy in which Macron wishes to wrap himself. Today's meeting marks a first and necessary course correction. He is learning on the job. Reports of his early demise are greatly exaggerated. But no one is still describing the transition from Hollande to Macron as sans faute.

How is he doing? OK so far, but he's gotta keep his eye on the ball.

Art Goldhammer
Arthur Goldhammer (born 1946) is an American academic and translator. Goldhammer studied mathematics at MIT, gaining his PhD in 1973. Since 1977 he has worked as a translator. He is currently based at the Center for European Studies at Harvard.

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