Some Socialists are nervous, it seems. After monopolizing the airwaves during the primaries, the party was pushed off the front page by the G20 and by relentless and coordinated attacks by UMP minions. Hollande is "consulting," his aides say, and does not wish to unveil his strategy prematurely. Nevertheless, there he was on France2 last night, strutting his stuff.
As I said in the previous post, he scored a point by forthrightly supporting the EPR construction at Flamanville, rejecting Eva Joly's ill-judged ultimatum and thus showing that he has backbone. On the whole, however, he struck me as over-eager and over-rehearsed. He ran through a series of disappointments with Sarkozy's bilan, as one might expect a challenger to do. But to focus on the incumbent's record, however dismal, is a mistake, in my view. That is politics for normal times, and voters know full well that these are not normal times. What they want is to have a course laid toward a safe harbor, not carping about how the ship of state wound up where it is today.
The UMP has grasped this point. As I said in the previous post, I think it's "austerity" theme is largely a sham. The government isn't making major cuts, but it has chosen to emphasize the negative, the better to contrast its supposed "responsibility" with Hollande's alleged fecklessness. While Fillon dispenses doom and gloom, Copé fairly shrieks: "Eek! Hollande is going to hire 60,000 teachers! Hollande is going to create 300,000 emploi-jeunes! He's going to set the retirement age back to 60! And how is he going to pay for these things? The coffers are empty! The ratings agencies are at the door!"
Hollande has been too quick to rise to this bait. He has an unfortunate tendency to finish his interviewers' sentences before they do. He blurts out his answers in a way that seems rushed. Just as Sarkozy has managed to master an appearance of deliberateness and grim determination, Hollande arrives with the air of an eager schoolboy unable to contain himself. His frantic enthusiasm has the undesired effect of making Sarkozy, of all people, look settled and thoughtful--présidentiel, quoi! This error must be corrected forthwith. But most of all, Hollande must overcome the understandable desire to expose the contradictions in Sarkozy's past policies. There's no shortage of them, of course, but the crisis has changed everything. Everyone was wrong in the past, so the contest will be about whose prescriptions for the future seem more convincing. And if the UMP has chosen to embrace, or at any rate pay lip service to austerity and to the mistaken doctrine of expansionary contraction that David Cameron must already be regretting, then what Hollande must do is emphasize formulas for spurring growth. The trick is to find some that do not resemble pie in the sky.