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.