Thursday, February 20, 2014

The President's War Room

Le Monde has what journalists call a "tick-tock," a detailed, minute-by-minute account of the most momentous night in recent French history. Was it the eve of the Malian incursion? A night of feverish planning concerning prior to the announcement that President Hollande was recommending armed aid to the Syrian rebels? A gathering of advisors to consider the repercussions of the proposed Responsibility Pact? No, it was the white night during which a small group of énarques put their collective years of climbing the competitive ladder to the top of the elite to the supreme task of controlling the damage from the impending disclosure of the president's affair with an actress.

There's not much news in this piece by Raphaëlle Bacqué and Ariane Chemin. There is a good deal of winking and nodding about who's in and who's out at the Élysée. There is plenty of innuendo concerning the allegedly abominable state of relations between the president and his prime minister and the president and erstwhile supporters such as François Rebsamen. There are titillating details about how Mme Trierweiler was hustled out of the Élysée and into a hospital with the aid of various accomplices. But the key point to make about this article is that what counts is not its (anonymously sourced) substance but its tone--a tone of open mockery of a sitting president by his advisors and the press:
Comme si ce soir, au-delà de la « crise » qui les réunit, les conseillers du chef de l'Etat avaient compris que le principal problème de François Hollande, c'était François Hollande lui-même.
This is an extraordinary thing in a regime in which the president normally dominates. With his ill-considered affair President Hollande has achieved the impossible: he has deflated the presidency of the Republic, abdicated his power without leaving office, and made himself hostage to the team of rivals cutthroats he calls his cabinet. Yes, indeed, as Le Monde says, François Hollande's main problem is François Hollande himself. It's now too late to save himself by throwing Ayrault to the wolves, though that will no doubt be tried after the next elections. It's too late to save himself by appointing a  prime minister more popular than the president such as Manuel Valls, though it may not be too late to boost Valls' chance for the nomination--or to ruin him, as Mitterrand did to Rocard, by demonstrating that image isn't everything, or even anything, when it comes to governing. As François Hollande, with his 35 years of experience at the center of French politics, should have known without having to read it in Closer.


Anonymous said...

More significantly still his loss of face and authority leaves the country adrift and at the mercy of the street. The man is trenchantly ridiculed across social networks and is becoming a dangerous political liability. Meanwhile the 'cut-throats' of his faction-riven party back-stab and plot in an orgy of destructive self-interest. So far removed is their Machiavellian world from the real concerns of the recession-hit voters, that there should be little wonder at Front National's ratings! Pauvre France!

Mitch Guthman said...

This is absolutely unbelievable! Even I, with my poor French, can tell that Hollande and his clown show are being mocked mercilessly and rightly so. Beyond that, it’s way too much “inside baseball” for me to really grasp anything more than at a very superficial level; I feel as though one needs to have a much more intimate and detailed knowledge of the courtiers and rivals surrounding Hollande to understand what’s really being said, except that they all are shown to be scheming, opportunistic careerist clowns.

I do have a question about the article. As I began to work my way through a second, more detailed reading, the hospitalization of Mme Trierweiler struck something of a wrong note. The reporting at the time strongly suggested Trierweiler had suffered a severe mental disturbance and sometimes implied that she perhaps had attempted to harm herself. But, in any case, her hospitalization (as opposed to, say, a vacation away from Hollande) was portrayed as being both necessary and involuntary even though the reasons remained vague.

Yet, I read the Le Monde article as implying that something more peculiar was going on. If Valérie Trierweiler was in such bad condition that she needed to be taken to the hospital at that hour (and the writers made a point of telling us the time at every opportunity), how is it that she was sufficiently composed to go with Mme Taittinger in her car? Surely that’s a very strange and dangerous way to transport someone mental state demands emergency hospitalization at that ungodly hour?

Again, why to the Pitié-Salpêtrière instead of to her own apartment or to the villa near Versailles? Why did she require hospitalization? Why couldn’t she remain in the palace or go to her own home and receive medical care there? How did the people mentioned as medical experts become involved? Did Serge Morel or Roland Jouvent examine Trierweiler? When and at whose instigation? Did they order her hospitalization?

Was it Trierweiler's idea to go to the Pitié-Salpêtrière, perhaps as a dramatic way of hitting back at Hollande? Or was it instead a choice of Hollande’s advisors seeking to marginalize and isolate her, who catastrophically misjudged how Trierweiler’s hospitalization (reportedly under doctor’s orders barring Hollande from visiting), would play in the press?

Am I misreading something or perhaps reading too much into what I think has been left unsaid about Valérie Trierweiler and Hollande’s nuit blanche?