Cue an explosion of fake anger amongst his opponents at his use of such disrespectful and unpresidential language. Has the President “P**d off” more people than he intended?
I doubt it. Over 92 percent of eligible French are now first vaccinated and 90.5 percent double-jabbed.
The remaining 10 percent are an eclectic bunch of anti-vax obsessives or crazies, stubborn libertarians and a large group of over-80s who rarely leave home and (foolishly) don’t see any point in getting jabbed. Few of them, I suspect, are potential Macron voters.
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Macron’s words were risky all the same. They were clearly not a spur-of-the-moment stumble. His reply to a nurse during a question and answer session with readers of Le Parisien was chatty and vulgar in style but lengthy and considered in content.
The nurse, who works in a clinic for the elderly, said that 85 percent of people occupying the acute care beds in her workplace were non-vaccinated. And yet, she said, urgent operations for vaccinated cancer patients were being postponed for lack of beds.
In reply Macron said the “worst enemies of democracy” were “lies and stupidity”. How could the government reduce the small minority of the non-vaccinated?
“By – and I’m sorry for putting it this way – by p…ing them off even more,” Macron said. “I’m generally opposed to the French being p…d off. I complain all the time about administrative blockages. But when it comes to the non-vaccinated, I’m very keen to p… them off. So we’re going to do it, the end. That’s our strategy.”
New rules going through parliament – held up twice by opposition deputies, even though many of them support them – will turn the existing “health pass” into a “vaccine pass”. Only the vaccinated, and progressively only the booster-vaccinated, will have access to fun or travel.
From January 15th, Macron told the nurse, the non-vaxxed would “no longer be able to go to restos or have a quick drink or coffee or go to the theatre or cinema…”
I don’t believe that Macron’s use of such direct, vulgar language was a spur-of-the-moment mistake.
It was a deliberate nod to the many millions of vaccinated French people who are already “p…d off” with the lies and obfuscations and of the unvaxxed – and by the violent language and actions of a small minority of this minority.
It was also intended as a trap for opposition politicians and rival presidential candidates – a trap that many of them enthusiastically charged into. Macron, they protested, was “Trumpising” the language of French politics. He was acting like a “little dictator”.Maybe but above all he was “acting” – doing something.
Macron’s supporters had already accused his opponents of playing politics with a health crisis because they crassly used a parliamentary manoeuvre to cut short all-night debate on the new vaccine pass on Monday evening.
Now the Macronistes accuse the opposition – including the supposedly pro-vaccine pass centre-right candidate Valérie Pécressse – of using fake and sterile indignation to court the votes of a minority of anti-vaxxers.
Yes, Macron’s language was a little crude, the Macronistes say. But it reflects an anger that many people share. If he speaks formally, he is accused of being out-of-touch. If he speaks colloquially, he is accused of being vulgar. He at least is doing something. The opposition is reduced to playing politics.
Factually, Macron has a point. According to the official figures, non-vaccinated people are 17 times more likely to end up in acute care than the vaccinated.
In the week from December 13th to 19th, 1.5 per million completely vaccinated people were in acute care with Covid (all of them still Delta cases). The figure for the non-vaxxed was 26 in a million.
Could the government do more to get people vaccinated without coercing or insulting them? For most age groups, no. There is, however, a glaring weakness in Macron’s argument: the relatively poor rate of vaccination of the over 80s in France
Octogenarians and above are the age group most vulnerable to Covid, but in France they are the adult age group which is the least vaccinated. Only just over 90 percent have been double-vaxxed, compared to 98 percent of septuagenarians. They are of course also the age-group least affected by curbs on “fun” and travel. The government should be doing more to reach out to them.
But that is not the political risk that Macron was taking yesterday. The real risk was one that I have complained about before: Macron’s evident determination to campaign for re-election from within the walls of the Elysée Palace.
His language yesterday was not presidential. It was the language of someone who was electioneering rather than governing. He is not the first President to seek advantage by muddling the two roles. He is the first to do so when the country faces such an acute crisis.
Macon said in the Q&A yesterday that he was eager to run again but would wait until the health situation was clearer before he formally declared.
I think that Candidate Macron is already influencing the judgement of President Macron on the government’s largely wait-and-see response to the new Omicron wave of Covid.
He may get away with it. He may even benefit. But he could pay a big electoral price if the acute care and death figures spiral out of control in the next month.