The quoted words in the title of this post are Pierre Moscovici's, but nearly every Socialist leader repeated one version or another of the same sentiment throughout the evening. Clearly, the word had gone out: Do not deny that we took a beating, do not try to put a good face on things, do not appear defensive, indicate that "something will be done." Well and good. Given the magnitude of the defeat, and given François Hollande's own words when the UMP suffered a similar defeat in the second year of Sarkozy's presidency, any other response would have been a mistake. But what will the actual response be? Un remaniement is inevitable, everyone agrees, and it could come as soon as tomorrow or as late as the Council of Ministers meeting on Wednesday. And some tax cut will probably be announced. But what diagnosis will Hollande offer? How will he explain to himself, let alone to the country, what has gone so disastrously wrong with his presidency?
It would be tempting, I imagine, to compare the collapse of Hollande's presidency to the collapse of Sarkozy's. If you compare the approval ratings of both men over the first two years of their quinquennats, you find roughly parallel rates of decline. Sarko started a bit higher, between 60 and 70 (as against Hollande's 50-60), and didn't fall quite as low, but his peak-to-trough ratio was about the same as Hollande's.
Of course, Hollande can't do this: he would appear to be evading the issue if he did. But I think it is the right explanation: there's something wrong with the French presidency itself. It raises outsized expectations. Its magisterial position, created expressly for de Gaulle and intended to express his belief that national sovereignty stands above politics and national grandeur trumps squabbles over interests, foments illusions of rapid and total transformation: executive power as a substitute for revolution.
Presidents since Giscard, with the exception of Mitterrand, have been trying to tamp down the dangerous illusion of the omnipotent presidency. Both Sarkozy and Hollande sought to "normalize" the presidency: Sarkozy by attempting to assume direct responsibility for everything, eliminating the shield of the prime minister, and Hollande by declaring a "return to normalcy" and shedding, as it was not difficult for his unprepossessing self to do, any semblance of charisma. But both normalizations failed, because le bon peuple really did long for un roi thaumaturge.
The magisterial presidency really has no place in un état gestionnaire, but un état gestionnaire cannot satisfy the expectations of the French people. That is the dilemma of the Fifth Republic.