Is self-renewal in politics an impossible mission?
Since its inception, Ve The election of the Republic and the President of the Republic by universal suffrage, the political life of France is shaped by the presidential elections, which must inevitably mark a change, even a break in programs and political practices. In 2007, Nicolas Sarkozy was elected on the promise of “disintegration”. In 2012, Francois Hollande did the same, promising his slogan: “Change is now!” As for Emmanuel Macron, in 2017 he announced the arrival of a “new world”. The results of the 2022 election sequence, with a sharp neutralization and the advance of the opposition forces, necessitate a deep transformation.
In this political return, the losers as well as the winners face this question: how to reinvent themselves in politics without betraying themselves?
Francois Mitterrand: restarting the conquest of power
Several personalities who have been accepted to the presidency of the republic have asked themselves this question, sometimes several times, in their careers, which are marked by personal developments, which are all stages for the conquest and then the preservation of power. Thus, François Mitterrand received three consecutive roles.
Ambitious young former minister IV between 1959-1965.e The République, eagerly branded as de Gaulle’s main rival, has managed to get people to forget its ties to the Vichy regime, rallying behind it a large section of those who claim to belong to the democratic and social left. From 1971 he took control of the Socialist Party and became a socialist – without hiding that this was a powerful personal evolution. In 1969, in my opinion, he made this assurance:
“I was not born a leftist, not even a socialist. It would take the great kindness of innocent Marxist jurisprudents to forgive me. Later, I will complicate matters by admitting that I am by no means precocious. »
However, throughout the 1970s, leading up to his entry into the Elysée, he established himself as an eloquent champion of Marxist-inspired socialism with the persistence of Jaures and Bloom, and after his first statement as first secretary. PS, June 13, 1971:
“Everyone who does not accept the break cannot be a member of the Socialist Party. »
Once in power, Mitterrand must gradually accept and embody this adaptation of socialism to the market economy and its limitations. It is not a question of abandoning socialism – he continued to call himself a “socialist” during the 1988 presidential election – but of inventing a modern, liberal, European version of it. Aiming to establish a long-term left-wing government and create conditions for its re-election, this transformation concerns not only the content but also the form of the president’s speech.
On April 28, 1985, he caused a sensation when he presented himself as a “wired” (and no longer “connected”) president during a television interview with Yves Mourousi, deliberately positioned on the border between information and entertainment; – then it was a real first.
Jacques Chirac, politically damp?
In his national political career, which spanned more than fifty years, François Mitterrand’s position did not change much. However, they have contributed to questioning the sincerity of the commitments of a man often described as “certain” – or, to use the words of one of his biographers, Michelle Winock, as a “fluctuating personality” and a “master”. of uncertainty’.
But what about his two successors? Because of his consistent and contradictory positions, Jacques Chirac has been compared to the Italian actor Leopoldo Frégoli by several of his contemporaries, notably the socialist Jean-Louis Bianco or the journalist Jean-Marie Colombani.
He advocated conservative Gaullistism with his mentor, Georges Pompidou, and later denounced the disunity of the French nation with the 1979 “Cochine Appeal” to distance himself from Valéry Giscard d’Estaing. Europe. Eager to consolidate rights after 1981, he moved to the European establishment and championed a neoliberalism inspired by American and British models before denouncing “social fracture” in the social service, the final metamorphosis that allowed him to be elected in 1995.
Nicolas Sarkozy, rupture theorist
His successor, Nicolas Sarkozy, does not try to relativize the evolution of his position and speeches.
On the contrary, he takes them on and stages them – because he knows full well that the French electorate at the beginning of the 21ste The century seeks change and systematically punishes those who are part of the continuum. During his victorious presidential election in 2007, he campaigned on “disintegration” despite holding key positions (Minister of the Interior, then Minister of Economy) during the five-year term that was ending.
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During a grand speech at the Porte de Versailles in January 2007, the start of his campaign, he insisted at length that he had changed, both politically and personally.
“I changed because the presidential election is a test of truth that no one can escape […]. I have changed because the trials of life have changed me. »
Running for re-election five years later, he is trying to tap into that wellspring by saying, “I learned,” assuring voters that he has learned from the exercise of presidential power and will change the way he embodies the office. And when he returned to the political scene after withdrawing following the 2012 debacle, he sought a new way to reinvent himself, confirming that with age he had found the “wisdom” and “resilience” he had previously lacked.
Stand out with powerful moves
Reinventing oneself in politics is not just about influencing one’s speech. This also requires strong movements, especially through breakouts. Thus, in August 1976, Jacques Chirac was resigned as prime minister by Valery Giscard d’Estaing and launched the Gaullist family to seize power with a new party (RPR), a new militant base, a new program. .
In November 2008, Jean-Luc Melenchon left the Socialist Party, where he had led its left wing for twenty years. Mélenchon does not present this break as a change in his position, but rather as a sign of commitment to his commitments, which are incompatible with the Socialist Party, which is now in the grip of a “liberal slide.” But by doing so, he contributed to a new political proposal that played an increasing role on the left and then in French political life for the next fifteen years.
The rally is another form of reinventing the political position of the individual. By endorsing Emmanuel Macron in February 2017, Francois Bayrou ended fifteen years of isolation from the centrist political family and began to tie the future president to the center-right.
In October 1974, Michel Rocard joined the PS on the occasion of the Assises du socialisme, accompanied by many executives and militants of the United Socialist Party (PSU). Later, he left his own marginal position in the political sphere and became the standard bearer of the “second left”, decentralization and modernization within the PS, as the main leader of a party identified with the extreme left, and quarreled with the leadership. Francois Mitterrand. This great political act, in addition to making Michel Rocard a potential candidate for the presidency of the Republic, constitutes an important stage in the evolution of French socialism.
Self-reinvention in politics is not the prerogative of individuals and can also characterize the collective approach expressed by the creation of a political party for a long time. However, during the last forty years, a single new political force has emerged and has become a political party with the desire to change political and partisan practices and to bring forth new themes (ecology, participatory democracy): these are environmentalists. In 1984, history and various strategic and partisan evolutions created the Greens, who would struggle to fully deliver on this promise of renewal.
The political landscape of France Ve Therefore, the Republic is distinguished by the evolution of existing political forces rather than the creation of new organizations. These inner developments often result in name changes, as if to demonstrate a desire to reinvent oneself. These changes marked the end of a generation between 2002 and 2015, especially on the right, which seemed to mark the rivalry between Chirac and Giscard: UMP, LR, MoDem, UDI thus emerged without undergoing radical changes. the identity of their political family.
2017 and the limits of renewal dynamics
The only significant development concerns the National Front, which became the National Rally in 2018: the name change is part of the “demonization” strategy adopted by Marine Le Pen. Above all, what happened to the FN in 2011, it wants to normalize and legitimize a political force that has essentially changed little since the bitter failure of the second round, but is committed to the logic of seizing power. 2017 presidential elections.
The 2017 presidential election also highlights the limits of the renewal dynamic, which nevertheless seems to have benefited from a favorable context: a young president committed to breaking with the “old world” and reforming French society by breaking with conservatism; a parliamentary majority formed around the new organization and often newly elected deputies from civil society; the desire to renew the practice of presidential power and to involve citizens more in public debate… At these various points, the results of Macron’s first presidency were mixed, which largely explains the lackluster results of the spring of 2022.
This structural impossibility in reinventing politics is due to both the conservatism of the ruling elite and V.e Republic. This exacerbates the democratic disenchantment that grips French citizens at the beginning of the 21st century.e century
Mathias Bernard, historian, University of Clermont Auvergne (UCA)
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