I’m going to take a punt and assume few of you are familiar with the works of American showman philosopher ‘Diamond’ Dave Lee Roth. The one-time frontman of rock band Van Halen is, famously, never short of an amusing mot juste and a foil to the kind of music journalist who made the bad mistake of taking themselves, Roth and virtuoso guitar rock just a bit too seriously.
“Yeah, I feel like a shining example.” said the self-styled ‘toastmaster general of the immoral majority’. “I just don’t know what of.”
Much the same, I always feel, could be said of French president Emmanuel Macron.
To a certain sort with a bent towards a centrist, technocratic and turn-left-on-boarding globalist view, he is a model of all the world needs. A bulwark against the slavering hounds of that factotum word ‘populism’ who lie to left and right just outside the doors of government hoping somebody will eventually leave them off the latch and the ‘oven ready’ roast of power lying unguarded on the table.
To others, he is the worst kind of caricature. A petit caporal, playing at an age-old French game. That certaine idée de la France masquerading as European interest, Continental leadership nobly born and a foil to those dastardly Anglo-Saxons forever tying the comely maiden of the rules-based order to their own gauge of railway track.
At home, regarded as remote and arrogant, his final term as president is marked by rubbish-strewn streets, widespread civil disorder, strikes, social fracture and the inexorable polling progress of the very forces of far left and right against which he was elected as, appropriately, La Défense.
A banker and an énarquist to some. A, well, something rhymingly similar, and an anarchist to others.
It would be easy, very easy, quite remarkably easy to see him as a shining example of the elites revealed to controversial effect recently by Matthew Goodwin as so reviled by the electorate over here. Heedlessly pursuing bien pensant agendas a million miles from the concerns of everyday folk and unaware of their essential ridiculousness.
Indeed, brief acquaintance with many of the global ruling or technocratic class from politics to central banking will often reveal little more than a Wizard of Oz act based on credentialism, ambition and bullet-proof self-confidence. In evidence, I give you the state of the world and that most damning American phrase for the over-qualified clueless; ‘smart-stoopid’.
Step forward again ‘Manu’ who, smartly, understands that his reform of the French pension system is absolutely necessary to avoid bankrupting his country. What commentators have described as ‘a Thatcher moment’. Stupidly, he failed to learn from the green tax increases which sparked the gilets jaunes protests, to make sure he secured a parliamentary majority, gauge the public mood and, metaphorically, stockpile the coal.
It may be right, as he has done in various interviews, to claim that doing the right thing must occasionally trump popularity. This is known as principle and is often a high risk political strategy. But without the means of securing your objective, what it largely does is to prove only the old adage that ‘principles cost’.
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Meanwhile, abroad, Macron’s penchant for posturing public discourse again underlines the presidential ability to have a worthwhile counter-orthodoxy thought without any reference to timing or context and the wit to think it quietly.
After his recent three-day visit to China, his remarks to Politico and Les Echos that Europe must not be a “follower” of the US agenda in the region or get involved in “crises that are not ours” are in many ways intriguing.
Of course, the usual ingredients are all there. A reflexive Gaullist anti-Americanism as well as the presumption of speaking for a Europe which, as Ukraine has amply demonstrated, is incapable of the single-entity “strategic autonomy” he fears losing.
However, it is reasonable to assume that many might feel similarly in much the same way as many Americans felt, prior to Pearl Harbour, that Europe’s crisis was far away from the day-to-day concerns of a United States which had, already, tilted the balance in Europe’s most recent attempt to destroy itself. There was, to say the least of it, an active reluctance to get involved.
Macron might feel too, and not unreasonably, that the history of American entanglement in what corporatists are pleased to call ‘the APAC region’ has not been marked by success and that, having worked so hard to oust the old colonial powers from what the US saw, post-war, as its sphere of influence, the US can now get on with looking after it.
He may also have a point in wondering whether Europe really has it in it, given continental reluctance to cough up for its own defence, to rush to the aid of far-away Taiwan.
Meanwhile, the US, pausing only to laugh in retrospect about French indignation over its AUKUS exclusion, might, like Dean Rusk when asked by DeGaulle to remove all American troops from French soil, ask ‘does that include the 60,000 in the cemeteries?’. Another distant intervention France accepted gratefully enough at the time.
Either way, it seems easy to agree that voicing all this – and then demanding Politico take it down from its site – is designed to achieve? Apart from picking a needless quarrel with NATO’s guarantor and giving succour to a China firmly of the view that the West is divided, infirm of purpose and in decline.
It’s often been said that ‘too clever for your own good’ is uniquely British in its anti-intellectual sentiment. Plainly the principle applies universally.
Manu himself, meanwhile, is still with ‘Diamond’ Dave; “An ounce of image is worth a pound of performance.”
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