Friday, July 13, 2007

Where to Begin?

François Hollande's position is not an enviable one. Deserted by his peers, challenged by his subordinates, and rejected by his companion of 30 years, he must nevertheless expose himself frequently to public interrogation if the PS is to retain any coherence as a party and claim even a small share of a public space skillfully and abundantly invested by l'opération Sarkozy. So, yesterday, responding to the satisfecit that the president awarded himself as he enjoyed le repos du guerrier at a Tunisian poolside, Hollande bravely mounted two counter-attacks, granting interviews to both France2 and Le Parisien. Unfortunately, the terrain was ill-chosen for the war he needs to fight. The president can develop his program in a series of ample speeches and place his men and women wherever he wishes. The party leader has but a limited opportunity to strike, and his targets are chosen for him by his interviewers, who are in turn driven by the presidential agenda. So Hollande had to spend most of his time responding to questions about Sarkozy's Epinal speech on institutional reforms and Jack Lang's departure from the PS in response to events unleashed by Sarkozy's invitation. He would have preferred to spend more time on the inequities of Sarkozy's tax package, with its reduction of the wealth and estate taxes. He did manage to get in one good shot, contrasting the 14 billion euro cost of the tax package with the mere 25 million allocated for Martin Hirsch's income support measure (the so-called RSA), but it was a mere sniper's round against the continual salvos of heavy artillery from the government.

Meanwhile, Malek Boutih, former head of SOS-Racisme and now a national secretary of the PS charged with social issues (having lost a bid for an Assembly seat), gave an interview to France Inter. Less guarded than Hollande, of whose leadership his endorsement was less than full-throated ("I'm not sure," he replied to the interviewer's question about whether Hollande was the "man for the situation"), he was candid not only about the disarray in the PS but also about what he regarded as positive aspects of Sarkozy's proposed immigration reforms. Although he would not comment directly on his "private" conversations with Sarko, he approved of Fadela Amara's joining the government, said that the emphasis on "economic immigration" was sensible, and defended tightened border controls and cooperation with states losing population to immigration as essential--this was the interesting part--to defending the interests of existing communities of immigrants in France. He also deplored the repeated invocation of the term rénovation in discussions of what the PS needs to do. This risks becoming a new langue de bois, he said, and anyway, what kind of renovation? Just a change of façade, or a complete makeover?

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