Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Hollande's First Presidential Speech

Discours de M. François Hollande en hommage à... by elysee

 No one would mistake the new president for the old one. With Sarkozy, the partisan leader was never far from the surface. He could break into fighting mode at the turn of a phrase. Hollande, by contrast, has put his campaign mode aside. He has donned a new persona to signify that he is president of all the people. Gone are the Mitterandian gestures, the hoarse shouts, the hyped-up intensity. As president, he is all sobriety (the TV commentators couldn't help remarking on his gravity), and his first speech as president was intended to consecrate the value of education, which he intends to make a centerpiece of his quinquennat. (Rumor has it, by the way, that Aubry will be named Minister of State in charge of education, youth, and communication, a signal of Hollande's priorities.)

But--how to say this without seeming condescending?--let's be candid. The speech is a bit boring. More than a bit, in fact. It not only celebrates the glory of the Third Republic's crown jewel, l'école gratuite et laïque, it re-enacts a century of fusty school prize speeches. It celebrates education in such a thoroughly pedestrian way that it surely must have reminded more than one former élève of watching the classroom clock and waiting for the hour of liberation to strike. It's a schoolmasterly speech but far from a masterly piece of rhetoric, and it somehow seems fated that Jean-Marc Ayrault, a former German teacher, has been named prime minister.

That said, I'm surely pleased that France has a president who is capable of praising education without attacking teachers, who is capable of praising Jules Ferry and reminding his audience of Ferry's faults in the same breath, who can praise the Third Republic and at the same time denounce the "moral fault" of colonialism. Hollande's intentions are surely good, but somehow I couldn't stop thinking about what it is that good intentions pave the road to. And the speech was only 15 minutes long--much less than five years, and infinitely less than eternity. We may have reason to be grateful that Hollande says he will be a self-effacing president. Too much of such unrelievedly good things as this speech contained could easily become unbearable. And one thing you can say for Sarkozy: he was seldom boring to listen to. Rage at least quickens the heart.

Meunier: Why Foreign Policy Didn't Count?

By Sophie Meunier.

A Normal President with a Normal Bank Account

Arun Kapil debunks the Daily Mail's attempt to paint François Hollande as a wealthy hypocrite. I particularly like this bit:

The Mail then drops this bombshell
Among other assets are three current accounts in French banks – two with global giant Societe Generale and one with the Postal Bank – and a life insurance policy.
Wow, GLOBAL GIANT Société Générale! I guess that really does mean President Hollande is rich. Just like me having an account in the global giant Bank of America must mean that I’m rich… (though if one saw my current balance one would readily understand that I am very, very far from being rich). 

Yes, indeed. In fact, it's a little frightening to realize that I am a good deal wealthier than the president of France, what with my account in (precarious) global giant B of A, not to mention my 401k at (hopefully not precarious) Fidelity Investments. Yes, investments: I am a capitalist, O hypocrite lecteur, mon semblable, mon frère! As untrustworthy as the shifty Hollande with his Postal Savings Account. Geez. You'd think the Mail would have learned something after losing libel suits to Elton John and Tony and Cherie Blair.

The Gods Are Against Him

L’avion d’Hollande touché par la foudre
Lefigaro.fr Mis à jour le 15/05/2012 à 18:14 | publié le 15/05/2012 à 18:07

Touché par la foudre en plein trajet pour Berlin, l’avion de François Hollande, , a dû regagner la base aérienne de Villacoublay (Yvelines), selon une source présidentielle citée par Reuters. Le président a changé d'avion et est reparti en direction de l'Allemagne, où il devrait arriver avec plus de deux heures de retard sur l'horaire prévu.

L'avion qui transportait le chef de l'Etat avait décollé peu après 17 heures de la base aérienne de Villacoublay (Yvelines) à bord d'un Falcon 7X présidentiel pour prendre la direction de Berlin, où François Hollande doit rencontrer la chancelière allemande Angela Merkel en début de soirée.

(h/t TexExile)

Flash! Ayrault is PM

Just announced.

Advice to the President

Jérôme Creel, Xavier Timbeau and Philippe Weil of the OFCE offer economic advice to the new president. Their assessment is quite balanced, I think, and a good point of departure for making policy.

So, What's Up with the Codes Anyway?

I don't know if this will strike anyone else as peculiar, but I've been amazed to read at least half a dozen stories over the past few days about the "secret nuclear code." France2 had a story last night about the code that featured pictures of a military aide carrying a large satchel, supposed to contain the precious code, or red button, or whatever it is. But Le Figaro tells us that Mitterrand left "the code" on a slip of paper in a jacket pocket. Why, one wonders, did he become aware of his lapse? Did he have a moment when he felt like dropping an A-bomb on someone, reached into his pocket, and realized he had left the code at home? If so, where was the military aide with the famous satchel?

When a new president takes office in the US, we aren't treated to such stories. I conclude that the French obsession with "the code" must signify some basic anxiety about the bomb. Maybe the French think that they don't really have a bomb, that their nuclear arsenal is a Potemkin arsenal like Saddam Hussein's famous WMD. That would explain the recurrent code stories: if there is an actual slip of paper on which Sarko jotted down the code to hand over to Hollande, then there must be a bomb, and Parisians can rest easy.

But what if Sarko really believes that his successor is as feckless, mou, and nul as he claimed in the campaign? Would he really hand over the actual code to un capitaine de pédalo? Maybe he transposed a few digits. So when François attempts to bomb Athens tonight after his dinner with Merkel, nothing will happen. And tomorrow, when the irate president awakens the ex-president, wherever he may be (on a Bolloré yacht? on the Côte with Carla?), to complain, Sarko can plead dyslexia: "Désolé, mon pote, tu sais, j'aurais dû écrire 517483 mais j'ai inversé l'ordre 483517. C'est presque biblique: les derniers seront les premiers."

No État de Grâce, Part Two

As for le président sortant, the news greeting his departure is almost as bleak as the storm that soaked Hollande at the Arc de Triomphe. His former collaborator Thierry Gaubert has been mis en examen. No sooner has Sarkozy returned to normal citizenship status and equality before the law than he must feel the judicial noose tightening around his neck:

Affaire de Karachi : Thierry Gaubert annonce sa mise en examen

L'ancien collaborateur de Nicolas Sarkozy a été mis en examen pour blanchiment aggravé dans le volet financier de l'affaire, a-t-il annoncé mardi. Interrogé à la sortie du bureau du juge par l'AFP et iTélé, il a qualifié cette décision d'"absurde". (AFP)

Dommage, M. l'ex-président. It seems that no one will have an état de grâce in 2012.

No État de Grâce, With a Vengeance

I turned on the computer this morning and there was François Hollande, newly inaugurated, standing out in the pouring rain in a soaking wet suit, in front of the Memorial for the Unknown Soldier. Wasn't he just there last week, with Sarkozy, in the sun? Well, tradition is tradition, I thought, but what an inauspicious beginning to his presidency. And now he must fly to Berlin, with Greece about to erupt and the Germans in a panic about losing everything they have invested in shoring up the crumbling Greek state. The cost to France alone of "Grexit," Greek exit from the eurozone, has been put at 66.4 billion euros, 3% of GDP, or roughly the cost of the entire French educational system, while the cost of keeping Greece in remains unknown. Not a pretty picture at all.

Welcome to the presidency, M. Hollande. Not even an inaugural ball, let alone a party at Fouquet's. Just a cloudburst and a ruined suit.