Thursday, September 6, 2012

Hollande Bashing

Le Monde today features a piece on "Hollande bashing." Le dénigrement, the paper helpfully explains, for those who don't understand franglais. The article presents the phenomenon as a media fashion, and I suppose I'm guilty in my own small way of joining the bandwagon of bashers. I haven't exactly warmed to either Hollande's policies or his style of governance thus far. All the positive has been in the contrast with Sarkozy.

But I don't consider myself a Hollande basher. I think he faces a very difficult situation and is still feeling his way. I don't think he had a clear road map in mind when he was elected, and I believe that he's been relatively slow in trying to put one together since then, in part because the Socialists are rusty at government, having been out of power for so long. His team is inexperienced and ideologically heterogeneous (consider Montebourg and Moscovici). And no defining opportunity has presented itself.

On the other hand, Hollande deserves credit for remaining within himself, avoiding blunders, and mostly eschewing cheap effects. To be sure, he has kept campaign promises, some of them costly and of dubious merit, but the bashing would be worse if he hadn't. The chief concern is that opportunity is slipping away, but that is based on the notion that a presidency is defined by its first 100 days, which is sometimes true but not always, and can be overblown.

What Hollande needs, what Europe needs, is a galvanizing shock, an event that will create a moment to be seized. If that moment comes, and if Hollande can make the most of it, he will perhaps be able to dispel the morose climate and define himself. But not every president is fortunate enough to be presented with such a moment, and few are capable of taking advantage of it if it comes. Bill Clinton gave a brilliant speech last night at the Democratic Convention, but he was far from a brilliant president. Circumstances must conspire with the man to make a great president. So we should be patient with Hollande. His moment has not yet come--nor has it yet passed.