Monday, April 11, 2016

The Cruelty of Politics

The profession of politics is hard on its practitioners. Their audience is fickle. Often it wants to be deceived. Seduction must be accomplished at a distance with the crudest of instruments. Rehearsal is difficult: one can perform well in committee or before a small audience yet fail dismally when attempting to look an entire nation in the eye.

The latter trick is one that Emmanuel Macron attempted to perform last night on France2. At several points in his interview with Laurent Delahousse, he turned from the interviewer to stare directly into the camera's gimlet eye as if to speak one-on-one to each person in the audience.

He did this only some minutes into an interview that started off awkwardly, He seemed slightly ill-at-ease, despite evident practice with a media coach. The real thing is never quite what you expect. But eventually he settled into his role of glibly repeating talking points with appropriate hand gestures, projecting forcefulness, and fending off Delahousse's feckless attempts to get him either to announce for the presidency, disavow Hollande, or declare war on the Socialist Party. Macron was prepared for all these lines of attack and batted away the interviewer's questions easily, leaving Delahousse looking increasingly frustrated.

So we learned only that Macron had cleared his launch of En Marche! with both Hollande and Valls--where "cleared" undoubtedly means that he told them to expect a slap in the face and, if they didn't like it, he would resign. Macron is--fortunately for him--in a can't lose position: having catapulted himself ahead of all the other quadras of both the center-right and center-left and launched a movement that explicitly declares itself to be ni-ni, he is in a position to remain as minister (or become prime minister) no matter who wins or to run for president should Hollande drop out. His commitments to apple pie and motherhood--or should I say crème caramel and motherhood--were stunningly bland, though delivered with soulful eyes caressing the camera's lens: I'm working for a better tomorrow for each and every one of you, etc. It can't be easy for a man reputed to be equipped with a penetrating mind and a sensitive ear--his piano teacher trained him so well that he married her--to reduce himself to such shameless and tin-eared simple-mindedness, mais il fait à la France le don de sa personne. Greater love than that hath no man.

And you know, France is in such a parlous state that one can't help but wish him luck. He's far from the worst on offer and perhaps even one of the best, though I really can't be sure of that because so far the hype has exceeded the performance by a wide margin. But caught as he his between a rock (Valls) and a soft place (Hollande),* what else could one expect?

* For the benefit of my French readers, I note that the English play on words could be translated into French as "entre le marteau et la brume."