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Another One-Term President?

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Share the post "Another One-Term President?" Since Jacques Chirac reduced the term of the French presidency from 7 years to 5, no one has won a second term. The approval ratings of both Sarkozy and Hollande dropped precipitously in their first year in office. Emmanuel Macron seems to be repeating the pattern. After just over one year in office, his approval rating has dropped as low as Hollande’s at the same point in his presidency. Didier Fassin’s unsparing critique in the LRB recounts the reasons, which will be familiar to regular readers of this blog. Macron ran as a hybrid of left and right but has ruled almost entirely on the right. He ran as an affable outsider, an anti-system candidate, but he has ruled as a consummate insider, dominating both the legislature

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Since Jacques Chirac reduced the term of the French presidency from 7 years to 5, no one has won a second term. The approval ratings of both Sarkozy and Hollande dropped precipitously in their first year in office. Emmanuel Macron seems to be repeating the pattern. After just over one year in office, his approval rating has dropped as low as Hollande’s at the same point in his presidency. Didier Fassin’s unsparing critique in the LRB recounts the reasons, which will be familiar to regular readers of this blog. Macron ran as a hybrid of left and right but has ruled almost entirely on the right. He ran as an affable outsider, an anti-system candidate, but he has ruled as a consummate insider, dominating both the legislature and the bureaucracy.

Remarkably, Macron has won every political battle he has waged, but, if approval of the citizenry is the measure, he is on the way to losing the war. And there’s the rub: perhaps approval of the citizenry isn’t what he’s after. He was not a career politician before he was elected; he may not be one now. Maintaining himself in power, much less his increasingly irrelevant party (or movement, whatever it may be), may not be his goal. He doesn’t need the presidency, and countless examples show that the world now provides former political leaders with both celebrity and riches, no matter how unpopular they were on leaving office (cf. Tony Blair and Gerhard Schroeder, even Nicolas Sarkozy).

What really motivates Macron has never been clear. Is his ultimate purpose to vindicate his analysis of France’s ills? This would be the star pupil’s ultimate reward: He was right after all! Is it personal adventure? Is he really the president of the rich, who heads the executive committee of the bourgeoisie that first recognized his versatile talent, finance his campaign, and now reaps the benefit? Or does he have a second act in store, in which he reveals the social aspects of a program that he has kept well-hidden until now?

Whatever the answer, he seems to be baffling a fair number of the people who voted for him. He has now lost nearly half of his electorate and displays no particular urgency about winning it back. Of course, many of them said they didn’t want a politician, they were fed up with politicians. But now that they have a president who is sublimely indifferent to their wishes, to all the political winds, they don’t know what to make of him. And he seems poised to go on “winning” just as he has been until the day he finally announces that he is not running, that he has completed his mission and will be moving on to pursuits more amusing than ruling the French. Les Français sont des veaux, his hero said, and Emmanuel Macron was not put on this earth to be a cowherd.

Art Goldhammer
Writer, translator, scholar, blogger on French Politics, affiliate of Harvard's Center for European Studies, writes for The American Prospect, The Nation, etc.

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