The New Year's voeux of the président de la République have become a tradition as tedious as it is inescapable, like the American president's State of the Union address. It is difficult for any president to live up to expectations. I've grown tired of criticizing Hollande: on substance the criticisms are predictable and should be directed more at the constraints of the situation than the will of the individual, whereas on style the inevitable complaints about absence of charisma, failure to incarnate the function, want of gravitas, whininess of voice, and sing-song phrasé are no less tiresome for being accurate and, in their way, devastatingly unanswerable. But there's a boorishness in going on about these things that Hollande is powerless to alter: it's like attacking someone's physical impairment. Surely there's something more spirituel to say.
One could of course concentrate on the production values. Le président normal has, on the no doubt sage advice of his media consultants, reinstalled himself in the gilt precincts of the Elysée, in the hope that the majesty of the place will reflect from his earnest forehead and imploring eyes. The gestures were impeccably rehearsed and timed to coincide with the savant switches of perspective from close to medium to wide shots, from high angle to reveal the rich red of the uncluttered desktop to eye-level when sincerity has to be driven home, reinforced by the discreetly pointed index finger of the right hand, hovering just above the surface of the desk. The words were delivered as flawlessly as they can be by a speaker said to be more comfortable with the sarcastic one-liner than with the Ciceronian period.
The familiar presidential anaphora, common to both Sarkozy and Hollande, was of course unmistakable, this time falling heavily on the syllables "la France," repeated in a crescendo of platitudes meant to evoke the themes of the remaining years of the Hollande presidency rather than the disappointments of the years already elapsed to no good purpose.
By contrast, Sarkozy, in his voeux, all slick and commercial, struck again and again the theme of rassemblement, as well he might. He was jaunty and relaxed, whereas the incumbent was all esprit du sérieux.