Thursday, August 9, 2012

Comparing Presidencies at 100 Days

So, Hollande has passed his first hundred days. If any of you readers are obsessive enough to monitor my blogging output, you will probably find that the average number of posts per day has diminished since the election rather than increased. Indeed, my output is probably at a nadir in the five years that I have been keeping this blog.

It's interesting to compare the past three months with Sarkozy's first hundred days. To be sure, the blog was new back in August of 2007. Blogging fatigue had not yet set in, and I was still eager to build an audience, so much so that I recall blogging from hotel lobbies in Greece while on vacation, lest I miss a day's news and disappoint my then small but dedicated band of readers. But still, there was no shortage of news to fill my day's quota of posts. Sarkozy was a president who believed that in every presidency there is but a brief window of opportunity to lay down the broad outlines of policy change. He was determined to make his mark at the outset, and practically every day brought a new announcement. To be sure, governing by press release (le coup d'éclat permanent, as François Hollande quipped at the time) turned out to be not only the essence of the Sarkozy style but also the Achilles' heel. There was no follow-through.

Five years later, things could not be more different. The change is not solely due to blogging fatigue. And I think that Hollande's self-effacement is not just a matter of temperament; it's an entirely different philosophy of government. He seems to have rejected the whole "100-day shock therapy" approach. He thinks that the way to lasting change is to build consensus (in his own notoriously fractious camp, not across the board, which would be impossible), and this takes time. He knows that he can make headlines whenever he chooses--he did so during the campaign with his announcement of a 75% maximum marginal income tax rate, for example (see yesterday's post on the subject)--but he has also concluded that getting in people's faces this way gets their backs up too often and is ultimately unproductive. So he's moving slowly and cautiously and unobtrusively. And therefore, most days, there is precious little to blog about the chief executive, unless one wants to recount his trek across the beach, fully clothed, near the Fort de Bregançon.

The news, such as it is, is the inexorable news of economic austerity, currency crisis, and continental drift. A factory closing here, layoffs there, an ECB announcement one day, a "petite phrase" from Juncker the next (a Greek exit from the euro would be "manageable," the financial wizard tells us--yet another nail in Greece's coffin, even as Draghi hints that no one will leave the Eurozone on his watch), etc. etc. August is of course the cruelest month for newshounds, but this August seems particularly quiet, an ominous lull before what I expect will be a fall storm in Euroland.

The tale of two presidencies is thus inconclusive. We know that Sarkozy's shock therapy didn't work, but we don't yet know whether Hollande's "return to normalcy" will fare any better than Warren G. Harding's.