Saturday, April 6, 2013

Times Editorial Calls Hollande "Disappointingly Weak" Leader

He has, in fact, been a disappointingly weak leader since his election 11 months ago. Voters who expected him to push back against demands for more austerity from Germany’s chancellor, Angela Merkel, and other European leaders have been bitterly disappointed. France’s unemployment rate has risen steadily and is now 10.6 percent, the highest in nearly 14 years. And even before the Cahuzac scandal broke, Mr. Hollande’s approval ratings had sunk to a lowly 27 percent.
With more than four years left in his presidential term and a strong parliamentary majority behind him, Mr. Hollande does not need to worry about losing his job. But if he wants to be considered a successful president, he will have to do much better at delivering on his promises of clean government and economic revival.
I would put it somewhat differently. I would say that, like Barack Obama, Hollande has proved to be a far more centrist and far more cautious leader than many who voted for him believed he would be. Unfortunately, he lacks Obama's charisma, which has allowed the American president to retain the support of many voters who disagree with specific policy choices (such as his recent offer to cut entitlements). And Obama has a freer hand than Hollande, because he is not hampered by membership of a currency union whose economic powers are deeply committed to austerity.

But "weakness" is a loaded word to apply to a political leader. It fails to register the real constraints on action and the genuine reasons for caution in dangerous times. It also fails, in the specific cases of Hollande and Obama, to note that both men ran on platforms whose rhetorical and symbolic trappings suggested left-wing commitments belied by the fine-print of their policy positions. It was not hard to predict that Hollande would tack to the center once in office. If there was "weakness," it was on the part of those voters who succumbed to the suggestion (particularly in his Le Bourget speech) that his heart was on the left. It wasn't, and neither is Obama's. That doesn't mean that they don't deserve the support of those who stand to their left, since the alternative is far more disagreeable to contemplate.

1 comment:

Mitch Guthman said...

In the American context what you say is undoubtedly true but I would again note the decreasing utility of simply choosing the lesser of two evils as a political philosophy. Doing so seems to have encouraged Democratic strategy of sailing as close to the rightward shores as they can secure in the knowledge that as long as they are marginally better the majority of Democrats will hold their noses and vote for the lesser evil. It does seem to me that the Democrats (of which I am one) must eventually address the larger question of what have we gained when in each election the choices on the Democratic side are ever lesser and more evil?

The French context seems far less clear cut. By contrast, neither round of the last election presented anything remotely resembling such a stark and unappetizing choice. My prediction is that the next presidential election (whenever it takes place) is going to be a rerun of the last. I think Sarkozy wants to run again and he’s clearly the UMP’s strongest candidate.

Is Holllande really the lesser of the two evils? Not really. On the most important issues, he has been spending the political capital following the policies of Sarkozy and the opinion polls are saying that he’s likely destroyed the hopes of another Socialist president for another fifty years. If the polices of Sarkozy are the right one, it is he who deserves the credit for seeing them through to the bitter end. If they’re disastrous, why should the Socialists take the fall for him?

What’s the downside for the PS voters to sitting out the next presidential election?