Democrats still have a big crush on Emmanuel Macron — but “radical centrism” is a bust | Spanlish


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Thursday, May 17, 2018

Democrats still have a big crush on Emmanuel Macron — but “radical centrism” is a bust

Getty/Chip Somodevilla

Getty/Chip Somodevilla

After Emmanuel Macron was elected president of France last year, defeating his far-right opponent Marine Le Pen of the National Front to become the youngest president in French history, prominent Democrats and moderates in America seemed almost euphoric about the centrist European politician and his meteoric rise. According to those who had long thrived under the status quo, Macron was just the type of politician that was needed in the Democratic Party to shake things up a bit.

“Macron understood that to challenge the rising tide of ethno-nationalist populism, political leaders must also challenge the status quo,” wrote Neera Tanden, president of the liberal think tank Center for American Progress, in a column for The Washington Post. “Asking voters to choose between the status quo and nationalist populism leaves supporters of liberal democracy too insecure.”

Another influential Democrat, MSNBC host Joy-Ann Reid, praised the French politician for finding “a way to thread the needle between far right and far left populism/socialism” with his “culturally liberal but economically pragmatic” agenda. She even joked on her show that Macron should run the United States government as well.

These kind of sentiments were predictable. Macron appeared to have everything that centrist Democrats could ever want in a candidate; he was young, smart and charismatic, yet also mature and pragmatic (as all centrists are, in the neoliberal worldview). Macron also appeared to be different and innovative, like a political version of a Silicon Valley entrepreneur, and claimed to be “neither left nor right,” as if to have a political ideology was to have an outdated worldview, something like using a flip phone in 2018.

What members of the political establishment loved most about Macron, however, was the fact that he managed to portray himself as an outsider who would take on the establishment, even though he was anything but an outsider — and his policies were anything but innovative or radical. Macron came from a privileged background and attended the elite National School of Administration before going on to make millions of dollars for a few years work at the Rothschild bank (followed by a stint as economic minister in former president François Hollande’s government). Yet because he ran as an independent and challenged the two major political parties, he was widely characterized as an anti-establishment crusader.

It is obvious why this so thrilled establishment Democrats and centrists: Macron’s victory seemed to prove that it was possible to defeat far-right populism on a "moderate," reformist platform — something that Hillary Clinton and Tim Kaine, for example, had failed to do in America. Macron represented a neoliberal comeback of sorts, apparently demonstrating that the political middle ground was still a viable project, as long as it was repackaged and rebranded as something new and radical.

As commentators on the left pointed out at the time, this was an uninformed takeaway from the French election, which was hardly evidence of “radical centrism’s” growing popularity. While Macron easily defeated Le Pen, any other candidate on the spectrum of normal politics -- left, right or center -- could have done the same. (Le Pen was and is unelectable.)

According to an Ipsos poll shortly after the election 43 percent of Macron's voters supported him only to keep out Le Pen, while just 16 percent actually agreed with his agenda. Never massively popular, Macron was simply in the right place at the right time, and even the parliamentary elections in which his party won an overwhelming majority one month later were misleading. They saw the lowest voter turnout in modern French history, indicating widespread voter apathy and cynicism.

One year later, it has become even more evident that “radical centrism” is no answer for the West's political crisis. Although some Democrats are still fawning over Macron (despite his futile bromance with President Trump), in France he is now nearly as unpopular as Trump is in the United States. After passing right-wing economic policies that go after workers and reduce taxes for the wealthy, Macron has been widely branded the “president of the rich,” and his approval rating has steadily declined, now hovering around 40 percent. Not surprisingly, a poll from Odexa found that 58 percent of French people have a negative opinion of Macron’s economic and fiscal policies, while 80 percent feel that his reforms mostly benefit business and the upper crust.

Yet many Democrats continue to regard Macron as a kind of savior for liberalism and the European Union and hope to emulate his “radical centrism” in the United States. Groups like the New Center Project, for example, a collaboration between neoconservative Bill Kristol and Democratic wonk Bill Galston, have formed in hopes of promoting a Macron-style “neither left nor right” agenda in America.

“In place of a politics stuck in the past, we offer an agenda re-centered in the future,” they write in a document outlining their agenda, echoing Macron’s attitude that the left-right divide is outdated. “Not a tepid compromise between Left and Right, but a new way toward the stronger economy, more inclusive society and more effective politics that we all want for the country we love.”

The underlying premise is that ideology is obsolete and that a new kind of “pragmatic politics” should be adopted in the 21st century. The irony here is obvious: Those who want to usher in a post-ideological age are some of the most committed ideologues today -- as is often the case with those who do not recognize their worldview as an ideology. Those who tout centrism and pragmatism are far more dogmatic than they like to think. This is demonstrated by their refusal to see capitalism as anything other than a naturally occurring phenomenon, which results in a failure to recognize how many of the ills that have led to a populist backlash on both sides of the Atlantic are rooted in the capitalist system itself.

Macron promoted himself as both anti-establishment and post-ideological, but his actions over the past year have made it increasingly clear that he is not only a defender of the status quo but an old-fashioned ideologue. The real lesson for Democrats, then, should be that his centrist reign will lead to further discontent in France and likely empower the far right. Although it remains unlikely that Le Pen will be elected in 2022, in a certain sense, Macron is paving the way for that possibility.

Neera Tanden was correct in observing last year that Democrats have to “challenge the status quo” in order to confront right-wing populism, but “radical centrism” is honestly not much of a challenge. Nevertheless, the Democratic leadership seems committed to the middle path, believing that it is inherently pragmatic and holds broader appeal to the electorate. This was made clear in a New York Times report earlier this week, which suggested that in numerous primaries across the country, the Democratic leadership is backing moderates.

Another recent report from the Intercept shone some light on how the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has attempted to undermine progressive congressional candidates in favor of moderates with more financial backing. In a secretly recorded conversation between Rep. Steny Hoyer of Maryland, the No. 2 Democrat in the House, and Levi Tillemann, a progressive who is running against corporate lawyer Jason Crow in Colorado's 6th congressional district, Hoyer asks Tillemann to drop out because a “judgment was made very early on” to back Crow. This kind of meddling has been going on across the country. As Lee Fang notes:

In races in Pennsylvania, Minnesota, Texas, Nebraska, California, and beyond, progressive candidates are finding that the DCCC has mobilized support for moderate candidates with access to early campaign cash at the expense of progressives . . . many first-time candidates are told by the DCCC that before they can even be considered, they have to perform the ‘rolodex’ test to show they can raise $250,000 or more from the contact list on their phone.

For the 2018 midterm cycle, the party has not only courted moderate Democrats and formed a renewed partnership with the conservative Blue Dog caucus for candidate recruitment, but has discouraged candidates from embracing populist ideas, such as single-payer health care.

So much for challenging the status quo! It seems that the Democratic leadership just can’t quit centrism. Of course, they can attempt to emulate Macron and hire PR experts to repackage centrism as much as they want. But in the end, centrism is the new conservatism — and conservatism has always been about preserving the status quo. In an age when the status quo is rightly viewed as corrupt and broken, this hardly seems like a winning strategy.

Why Democrats need unity in the midterms

Former New York congressman Steve Israel counsels Democrats to focus on winning now and settling their differences later.

Source: Democrats still have a big crush on Emmanuel Macron — but “radical centrism” is a bust

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