Friday, January 17, 2014

Saint-Just Back in Paris

No, not that Saint-Just:

This one:

Wallerand de Saint-Just, lawyer and Front National candidate for mayor. He is also the FN's treasurer.

Hollande en prend pour son grade

Wherever you turn in the US these days, there's somebody who thinks François Hollande hasn't been very presidential. Stephen Colbert tackles his private life. The New York Times editorial page does the same, with fewer winks and nudges. And Paul Krugman still can't get over Hollande's resurrection of Say's Law.

Oddly enough, Krugman dismisses the affair:
I am not, of course, talking about his alleged affair with an actress, which, even if true, is neither surprising (hey, it’s France) nor disturbing.
while his editors see it as the heart of the matter:
But Mr. Hollande may have subjected national tolerance to one too many tests. In his campaign to succeed Nicolas Sarkozy, who irritated the French with his bling-bling lifestyle, Mr. Hollande projected himself as Mr. Normal, who would bring decorum back to the Élysée Palace (despite the fact that he had left Ségolène Royal, the mother of his four children, for another woman, Valérie Trierweiler, and made her his official consort).
For Krugman, the criticism is no less stinging, but the target is "spinelessness" rather than "self-indulgence":
Yes, callous, wrongheaded conservatives have been driving policy, but they have been abetted and enabled by spineless, muddleheaded politicians on the moderate left.
Tough talk, but characteristically one-sided. Like many economists, Paul Krugman believes that if you have the correct economic analysis, the politics will take care of itself. There should be no need to cajole, negotiate, or placate. Yet Krugman knows that such tactics don't play in the real world: the reason he gave for not wanting the job when his name was proposed for Treasury secretary was that he wouldn't be good at it.

I don't intend this criticism of Krugman to be a defense of Hollande, although I don't entirely agree with Krugman's economic analysis either. To be sure, he's absolutely right to call Hollande on his invocation of Say's Law, but who knows what Hollande really thinks about supply and demand? The essence of Hollande's "responsibility pact" is to broaden the base of the tax that pays part of the cost of the social security system, and that much of his policy can be defended (see my earlier posts). Still, Krugman is right to prod him on the demand side of the equation, although his aggressive language isn't going to get him more of a hearing now than he has had thus far in Europe (and no doubt his frustration is the reason for his aggression).

But there is a problem that none of these American commentators touches on. The French journalist Jean Quatremer hits the target squarely:
Ensuite, la vie privée n’a pas le même sens selon que l’on soit un quidam quelconque ou le plus haut personnage de l’État : par nature, ce dernier est la personne la plus exposée de la République, la plus observée, la plus surveillée. ... Autrement dit, la vie privée d’un Président de la République ou même d’une star est forcément plus limitée que celle d’un citoyen lambda puisque la fonction est par nature exposée.
Here is the heart of the matter. It's foolish to snicker about Hollande's sex life, as Colbert does, or moralize about it, as the Times does, or dismiss it as unimportant compared to getting Say's Law right, as Krugman does. The president's role is not to do economic analysis, but it is to persuade people that he's devoting the full measure of his talent and resources to understanding what experts are telling him, to gathering the views of his European partners, and to working his way out of the morass in which the country is mired. If you aspire to the supreme post, then you can be expected to put most personal gratifications aside for the duration of your term. Even Sarkozy recognized this when he said, immediately after his election, that he would retire to a monastery for an ascetic interlude in preparation for assuming his functions. Of course, in the event, he betrayed that understanding by accepting the gift of a yacht in lieu of a monastery and disporting himself in the Mediterranean with his soon-to-be-estranged wife. Hollande promised to be a different kind of president, and he has disappointed those of us who hoped he would be.