In the wake of the terror attacks, François Hollande's popularity has jumped from 13 to 40 percent in a matter of weeks--a historic record. Is this a Great Leap Forward, to borrow a phrase from the late Great Helmsman, or a confirmation of Michel Houellebecq's prediction that Hollande would win re-election in 2017 only to lead his country to its ultimate Berezina in 2022?
As we Americans saw on 9/11, a terror attack can do strange things to a nation's psyche. Democratic judgment, fallible in the best of times, falls prey to the demons of mass psychology. In a consensus of generalized fear and suspicion, few are willing to say, "That way madness lies." Thus far, at least, Hollande has committed no major faults. Many commentators are saying that the events gave him an opportunity to embody the presidential function in a way that has hitherto eluded him. Frankly, I think incarnation is in the eye of the beholder. Hollande has thus far taken no major decisions, unless it was the decision to kill the attackers, which his press service has let it be known was an order issued by him personally. This was not a challenging decision. Those that remain are.
What we still don't know is whether the events of the past two weeks will have affected the balance of power in Europe. Frau Merkel, now facing the dangerous anti-Islam Pegida movement at home, showed unusual emotion when she came to mourn in Paris. At last the two most important leaders in Europe have been forced to take off their accountants' eye-shades and stare at bodies rather than the bottom line. The experience may have reminded them that their economic decisions have implications for the health of the body politic that do not appear in the spreadsheets presented to them by their finance ministers. Since they are facing a new form of terrorism, perhaps they will recognize in time that what is required is not a war on terror but a rigorous exercise regime. They need to recondition their bodies politic. It won't be easy. No pain, no gain. But it's time to get off the starvation diet and start pumping iron. I'd best stop now, before the calisthenic metaphors run away with me. But you get the idea.