Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Le Président Thaumaturge

The "hyperpresident" Sarkozy earned that epithet in part because of his hypercaffeinated personality but mainly due to his omnipresence at critical events large and small, from global and regional crises to faits divers of everyday life. François Hollande, the erstwhile "normal" president, apparently feels the need for an image boost to lift his sagging ratings, hence he has been popping up in unexpected places. A woman in labor suffers a mishap on the way to a distant emergency room and there is the president, calling for hospitals closed by Sarkozy to be reopened. It was the sort of shoot-from-the-hip reaction to the fizz of publicity for which many critics reproached Sarkozy. Of course, Sarkozy was saved from many of his more extravagant follies by an almost total lack of follow-through. Hollande may be different in that regard, although budgetary constraints may take the place of fecklessness in his eventual record.

But has this hyperpresidentialism become a structural component of the modern executive? Pierre Rosanvallon has argued that a "democracy of proximity" imposes on leaders the role of accompanying citizens through individual traumas that can be read as symbols of fundamental social issues. A recidivist thus becomes an occasion for considering the flaws of the penal system, while a mother in labor serves as the pretext for pondering the maldistribution of health care resources in France. There is nothing inherently wrong with such executive responsiveness to the quotidian, even if it does suggest a sort of ambulance-chasing practice of national governance.

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