I was sent this story, about free-market reformer of socialism within France’s Socialist Party:

Previously an aide to French President François Hollande, he was appointed as Finance Minister with a mandate to, in a word, liberalize France’s economy in a desperate bid to boost employment and rescue Hollande’s abysmal poll ratings. Macron then embarked on a frenzied program of free market reforms, in a country that is one of the most anti-market in the developed world, and which voted in a Socialist president and parliament three years ago.

Macron has been unashamed. Instead of keeping his head down, he keeps making remarks in the press almost designed to rile up his own side. He has called for reforming civil service rules, a longstanding demand of the right and anathema to the left. According to reports, he said privately that Hollande’s plan to raise taxes on the rich would make France “like Cuba but without the sun,” and almost resigned as presidential advisor because he felt a pensions reform plan didn’t cut enough. He talks about being part of the “reality-based left” and of being a “left-wing supply-sider.”

I’m not really going to explore the French political aspect of this, but the link got me thinking about party names. Specifically, the slight oddity that a party that calls itself the Socialist Party would have a free-marketeer at its financial helm, and more than that about party names. {Note, this post contains minor spoilers for Harry Turtledove’s Southern Victory series, mostly as a jumping off point.}

In Harry Turtledove’s Southern Victory series, in the 1880’s the Republican Party having been elected only twice and twice having presidents lead them into losing wars becomes so disgraced that it is considered beyond redemption. Abe Lincoln, one of the two presidents to lose said wars, turns coat again and helps found the Socialist Party, which over time replaces the Republican Party as the second major party. Even without the southern states, the country is not ready for a the sort of Socialism that the party offers and while the Socialist Party and Republican Party split the opposition the Democrats have the presidency completely uninterrupted from 1885 to the 1920’s.

Now, as a matter of political science, Turtledove is far too comfortable with one-party rule as there is a similar dynamic in his Confederacy where one political party, the Whigs, obtain uninterrupted power from the formation of their parties (whenever that occurred) to the 1930’s. The dynamic in the Confederacy is explainable in part due to corruption as well as a minority party (Radical Liberals) whose base of support is both regional (Chihuahua, Sonora, and Cuba) and a disregarded minority. In the United States, it’s mostly due to the spoiling Republicans and the intransigence of the Socialist Party. The best I could do to justify that occurance is that a party so built on an unwavering socialist foundation wouldn’t be able to expand its support to a majority (indeed, throughout the novel they seem to mostly be speaking a foreign language, though presumably the tenets and terminology of socialism are at least somewhat more familiar in that timeline).

What occurred to me is that by calling themselves Socialists, they sort of painted themselves in a box that made it extremely difficult to win. Perhaps if they’d gone with Social Democrats! That would, at least, give them room to have more than one wing to try to cobble together a majority. While Social Democrat has a particular meaning, it is one that at least seems more subject to evolution over time. And indeed, it has evolved over time. Christian Democrat is the conservative alternative in Germany, though as a name it may make it harder to bring Turkish-Germans into the coalition.

I may not be a fan of the two political parties we have, but I will say this for them: They have good names. There is nothing in the word Democrats or Republicans that nails them down to supporting a particularly ideology. There will never be the oxymoronology of the free-marketeer Socialist. The coalitions have changed considerably over the years, but the names have never become as disjointed as with the conservative Liberal Party of Australia or Liberal Democrat Party of Japan, nor as awkward as the Labour Party’s transition to being the party of the university and the professional class that has to watch what it says about the working class? And unlike the Tories and the two major parties Canada, it gives us room to talk about the conservative wing of the GOP versus the moderate, without having to constantly specify “lower case c” and “upper case C” and so on. Ditto for their Liberals (which have been using that name for considerably longer). Though, how long will the New Democrats be new?

The rival party to the Socialists in France go by the name Republicans, though that is something of a recent development. The name of the Gaulist/center-right party has changed over time through some splinters, mergers, and rebranding. That also works and it would actually be a lot easier if each time a coalition died the next coalition came back under a different name (like Federalist to Whig to Republican) instead of the same name with a different meaning (Democrat to Democrat). But if the party names are hard-coded in there, I’m not sure we could have better names.

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